August/September 2020
CREATING STEVEN AND OLIVIA

I love finding a series with characters that grab me, making me want to follow their story over multiple books. That’s what I’m creating in The Blackwell and Watson Time-Travel Mysteries.

In Doorway to Murder, Depression-era cop Steven Blackwell comes face-to-face with 21st-century journalist Olivia Watson when time folds over in the house where they live−he in 1934, she in the present day. Because of her work, Olivia has recently researched time travel and recognizes Einstein’s theory: there is no past, present, or future; all time happens simultaneously; and time can fold over, revealing another “time.” Olivia tells Steven she thinks that’s what they’re experiencing. The skeptical detective, however, is unfamiliar with the theory and demands physical proof. “Hard evidence,” he says. Olivia easily provides it. Thus, they begin a magical journey together.

Steven and Olivia reflect their own time but have the potential for a strong bond and an understanding of each other.

Steven is fascinated by the future and reads science fiction−he especially likes Jules Verne. In Doorway to Murder, he and Olivia make a plan for him to visit her in the 21st century. He compares himself to two of Verne’s characters:

Steven enjoys reading science fiction. Olivia likes movies from the 1930s.

Although he wasn’t going twenty thousand leagues under the
sea like Professor Aronnax, traveling from the Earth to the moon
like Michel Ardan, or journeying to the center of the Earth like
the famed Professor Von Hardwigg, this would be just as exciting.
Just! What was he thinking? They were only books, fiction. He
would be living it!

Steven embraces all the latest crime-solving methods and technological advances available to him in the early years of the 20th century. He’s excited about J. Edgar Hoover’s new Federal Crime Lab in Washington, D.C. and everything the scientists there can do. He tells Olivia the Feds are compiling a list of fingerprints from all over the United States and that he, Steven, shares information and results pertaining to his cases. He exclaims, “This is the best time to be a cop!”

Olivia enjoys a nostalgia for the 1930s. She dreams about The Golden Age of Travel,

Packed and ready for a grand tour.
when well-to-do travelers packed hat boxes, suitcases, and trunks and embarked on lengthy sea and rail voyages to exotic places. She’s hooked on Charlie Chan, Mr. Moto,and The Thin Man movies. She even named her kitten Mr. Moto!

To make it easier for Steven to believe what’s happening to him and Olivia, I wanted him to be at a vulnerable point in his life. When Doorway to Murder opens, he’s reeling from the recent unexpected and devastating death of his mother. Like other unmarried people of his time, Steven lived at home with his French-artist mother. His father is an admiral in the U.S. Navy who lives and works in Washington, D.C., only coming home on occasion. Because of the long hours and demands of his job, Steven has little social life. His mother had become his companion and confidante. Now, he’s lonely and misses their lively conversations.

Olivia is focused on the adventure of meeting Steven, rather than Steven himself. At the start of the series, she’s getting over the betrayal of her ex-fiancé. She’s finding herself again and enjoying her active single life. She has no interest whatsoever in a new relationship. Olivia left her job as a reporter five years ago to form The Watson Agency, a research enterprise. Its success and her free-lance travel-writing career give her the opportunity to travel overseas, which she loves, and the freedom to set her own working hours, which allows her plenty of time to interact with Steven. When Olivia meets Steven, she boldly seizes the chance for the ultimate trip−one which will take her back in time.

Unlike many characters created by writers, Steven simply was. With the exceptions noted above, Detective Sergeant Steven Blackwell came to me fully formed. I didn’t have to work on him. I was stunned when I realized that I knew him the first time I “saw” him. I had a strange experience (that’s a story for another time!) nearly fifty years ago when I saw the image of a young man. He was of average height and build with dark brown hair and eyes. He was dressed in a plaid flannel shirt and dark corduroy pants.

As I wrote Steven’s story, he grew organically. Detective Sergeant Blackwell is a man on a mission. Whatever the circumstances surrounding an investigation, Steven drives himself to uncover the truth and get justice for the victim. In Doorway to Murder, the difficulties of the case lie in the absence of clues. In Threshold of Deceit, Steven must ignore his disdain for the victim and his admiration and respect for his two main suspects in order to solve the murder.

A classy 1934 Ford V-8.

In some ways, Steven and Olivia are quite different, but in their differences they balance each other. Where he is circumspect and weighs all sides of an issue, she is impulsive and often acts without thinking. He gets comfort from the order of rules and a daily routine. She is a free spirit and goes where the moment takes her.

To help in their understanding of each other, I wanted to be sure they shared some traits. They are both fiercely loyal and expect loyalty from those around them. They are bold, adventurous, and exceptionally curious about the world around them. While each is a product of their time, they both have a strong sense of what is right for them and have created a life unique to themselves. Thanks to Steven’s bohemian mother, he is open-minded, non-judgmental, and more tolerant than many of his contemporaries. Although Olivia is interested in getting married and eventually having children, right now she lives the life of a professional business woman and world traveler.

Over several months, Steven and Olivia have forged a strong bond of friendship. He has told no one about her. She has confided in her two best friends. When one of her friends asks about any hint of a romance, Olivia shakes her head and says, “But, how could we? In his time, I haven’t even been born yet. And right now, he’s probably been dead for years.”

Steven Blackwell and Olivia Watson still have a long road to follow. But we can be sure it will be filled with exciting adventures most of us can only dream about.

In Threshold of Deceit, Olivia subs for a day in the local high school.
Threshold of Deceit takes place in April 1934.
I gave Steven my grandfather’s love of Chevy cars and baseball. circa 1934

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