We’ve had a lot of company and seen a lot of people over the holidays. Most of our friends have retired and their kids are grown. But all of us can still be rattled when our kids hit a bumpy patch, friends hit snags, or health problems knock us sideways . It’s frustrating to feel helpless. The thing is, there are a myriad of things we can’t do much about.
Once kids grow up and move away, there’s only so much you can do to help them. Sometimes–and this is even worse–you have to watch them make mistakes, get hurt, and lick their wounds. It’s hard. When you really care about people, the first instinct is to fix things for them. But often, that’s not possible. It’s not always even the best thing to do.
One of my friends is a therapist, and he uses the term “helicopter parents.” They hover over their children, trying to protect them and shield them from being hurt or disappointed. They think they’re helping. They’re not. Life isn’t always smooth or easy, and kids need to learn to deal with that. But, if the problem is too big, and you CAN make a difference, wouldn’t you be tempted?
In the mysteries I write, my protagonists are usually dragged into trying to find a killer because they’re trying to help someone they care about. In all three series, my protagonists are amateur sleuths, so the stakes have to be high enough to make them get involved. In my Jazzi Zanders series, Jazzi usually knows the person who was killed or the person who’s a likely suspect and might be blamed. In Muddy River, Raven’s the area’s enforcer. It’s his job to find a culprit and punish him. But Hester’s a teacher and the leader of the town’s coven. She joins in trying to solve the crime because she takes any injury to someone in Muddy River personally. In the new series I’m working on, Lux is a journalist who’d rather report a crime than try to solve one, but when her friends are in danger, she digs deeper to find the killer before someone she loves gets hurt.
I’ve read mysteries–and enjoy them–where the amateur sleuth takes risks just to satisfy her curiosity. I’m sure there are people like that, and writers can make them believable, but myself, I’d steer clear of anything that might cause me bodily harm unless I was REALLY motivated. That’s my protagonists’ approach to crime solving, too, and I think watching a loved one suffer for whatever reason–fear of going to prison, blamed for a crime they didn’t commit, fear that they might be the next victim, or grief because someone they loved died would be enough to make them jump in to help. They’re not helicopter friends, but the type of friends you can count on in your time of need.
My protagonists aren’t the type to stay on the bench when they can make a difference. They can’t stand sitting on the sidelines. In life, sometimes, that’s all a friend can do. And it’s awful. We can’t fix the problem or make it go away. The most we can do, at times, is to be there for moral support, to listen, and to share part of the burden. But in mysteries, sleuths find the clues they need to solve the crimes. And that’s the beauty of them. As writers, we can make justice prevail and provide a satisfying ending.