My protagonist, Kate Jasper, lives in Marin County, California, a very strange place. I like to call Kate, "Marin's own, organically grown, amateur sleuth."
Marin County, for those of you who haven't been here, is filled with people who still think the New Age is really new. There's a lot of money here too, not to mention an attitude of spiritual elitism. (In Berkeley across the Bay, people like to be politically correct. In Marin, they like to be spiritually correct.) So Kate Jasper tends to stumble over dead bodies against this particularly touch-feely Marin backdrop: a human potential discussion group in Murder Most Mellow; a chiropractor's table in Adjusted To Death; a lethal health spa in The Last Resort; and a psychic seminar in Murder on the Astral Plane (just to name a few). Kate has a serious side too. She recognizes the dichotomy of spiritual correctness in collision with poverty, crime, injustice, and despair, collisions that often end in murder in Kate's world.
Yet Kate Jasper is definitely a product of mellow Marin County. Kate's a vegetarian. Since I was a vegan for fifteen years, it's easy for me to write the semi-orgasmic food scenes. And of course, her vegetarianism gets her into trouble. There's a lot more comic potential in vegetables than most people realize. In Fat-Free and Fatal, Kate attends a vegetarian cooking class along with her psychic friend, Barbara Chu. Unfortunately, Barbara isn't psychic enough to avoid tripping over a murder victim on her way to the restroom. The murder weapon? A little hand-held electrical appliance used to grate vegetables, called a SaladShooter. But don't worry, the victim wasn't shredded to death. Now if you want to find out exactly how to murder someone with a SaladShooter, you might want to read Fat-Free and Fatal.
Kate Jasper also practices tai chi, a meditative martial art form that I'm certain no tough P.I. would deign to use. But believe me, it's effective, especially for Kate. In tai chi, the person who is the most relaxed and centered wins. Not the big guys with all the muscles! I've practiced tai chi for over twenty years. And I've done a kind of tai chi sparring called "push hands" in which I was consistently pushed over by a woman twenty years older and much smaller than myself. And in turn, I was always able to push over this young muscular guy who was about six-foot-three. The poor guy kept trying, but he was just too big and tough. I love it. And it's even more satisfying in fiction when Kate uses tai chi to protect herself. In one of the books, Kate uses a particularly elegant move which is meant to strike a person in the groin and the throat at the same time. Unfortunately, she misses the throat of the thug who has been terrorizing her, but what the hey? The man's writhing on the floor, clutching his crotch. Fictional tai chi can be so much fun!
Kate owns her own small business, a gag-gift business called "Jest Gifts." Jest Gifts sells specialty items to professionals, things like shark mugs for the attorneys and shrunken-head earrings for the psychotherapists. She's easy for me to write. I once owned a company called "Jest Cards" which manufactured greeting cards featuring terrible puns. It's also a great position for an amateur sleuth. It's Kate's own company. She can take time off to investigate murder, even though she does have to work late to make up for it. And like most people who own their own business, she's both determined and a little crazy, crazy enough to follow up on her misguided investigations. So far I haven't had a gag-gift murder. No one's been strangled with a psychotherapist's "Uh-Huh" tie or brained with a doctor's quack cup, but you never know.
Kate is too busy with gag gifts to be a professional detective, so why does she keep sticking her nose into murder? Her friends tell her it's her karma. But of course, they're from Marin. The real truth is that Kate Jasper is a caretaker. Unlike the lone wolf detective, she has a lot of friends, and when her friends are in trouble, she tries to help them out. Kate even helps out her ex-husband, Craig, in The Last Resort. He and his new girlfriend, attorney Suzanne Sorenson, have taken a trip to a health spa. Suzanne is not only the woman who broke up their marriage, she's the one who filed the divorce papers. She's found dead, face down in a mud bath. And the police suspect Craig. Kate gets on a plane and flies down to help him. Now that's a caretaker!
I know what makes Kate Jasper tick. Sometimes, she's too close for comfort. She's the kind of character who gets a phone call from a friend in need, say a friend who says her boyfriend's going crazy on her. And Kate says, "Oh that's terrible, why don't you come stay with me?" So the friend does. Then the boyfriend comes over, and he really is crazy. And his friends come over and they're Hell's Angels. And his family members are from another planet entirely, and his dog's a Doberman pinscher, and, well... you get the idea. That's Kate Jasper.
At least, that's how I think of Kate Jasper. Here's what a few others have said:
"Kate is a heroine with backbone, heart, and a sweet sense of humor."
"She's smart, funny, vulnerable, and unpretentious."
—Marilyn Wallace, editor of the Sisters in Crime series
"Clever, smart, and resourceful, Kate is an ideal amateur detective."
—Silk Stalkings, Nicholas and Thompson
"Kate is smart and funny and independent and all those other things we like our protagonist to be. But one of the things that makes her special to me... is that she is a kind and loving person."
—Kathleen Swanholt, editor of Mysterious Women
I'll be curious to find out what you think of Kate. And of course, Kate will be curious about you.