My readers often ask, "Are you Gus LeGarde?"
I laugh and tell them, "Hardly. Gus is a much better man than me."
I genuinely mean it when I say it. But is it really true?
When I started writing the LeGarde Mystery series, I planned to base Gus on my father - a wonderful Renaissance man and a talented pianist/music professor. At the time, he'd just passed away from cancer, and I was overwhelmed with grief. The idea of starting the series as a testimony to him was appealing, and it provided some serious therapy.
Dad and I were a great deal alike. We were passionate about French Impressionist art, nurtured huge gardens, cooked like maniacs, and loved our dogs. So, as I began to write, particularly in the first person POV, Gus ended up being a lot like me.
But am I Gus LeGarde? And is he a better man than me?
Gus and I are very much alike. So much so that my friends always think it's me in the stories, and I often get asked questions like, "What was the name of the book where you and Camille went to Europe with Siegfried?"
We do look alike. We have the same wavy dark hair with silver sprinkled at the temples. The same hazel eyes. The same shoe size. But he's twenty pounds thinner and more fit than I am. (Hey, I'm allowed to dream, right?)
Gus and I grow expansive gardens, cook lush feasts for our families, adore our grandchildren, and dote on our dogs. We're good husbands, and responsible citizens. We live in big old houses in the country, and are crazy about nature, particularly the Genesee Valley and Finger Lakes regions of upstate NY. We love to ride horses and love to swim. We devour mysteries and read in bed before going to sleep.
However - Gus can run for miles in the woods without getting an asthma attack. He can hold his own in a fistfight, lucky devil. I get out of breath walking up stairs and I've never been in a fistfight in my life. Call me a pacifist. I've always used words better than fists, I guess.
Gus also plays a flawless Chopin etude without even looking at the music. His artistry is perfect, his skills precise. I struggle through the simplest Chopin waltz.He is drawn to trouble, ferrets out the villains, and fights to uphold honor for the common good. I struggle get through my day to day existence and only write about courage and upholding justice. I sure believe in it, but I don't really participate, do I?
Let's talk about church. Gus is a better parishioner than I ever was, even when I regularly attended our local Methodist church. He's on all the committees; plays organ for church services when needed at local nursing homes and prisons, and is an outstanding parish leader. I used to do some of that, until the committees took up far too much of my writing time and we lost the best pastor we'd ever had. I became discouraged and let the organized religious part of my life go - especially when my grandchildren moved in and going to church meant losing precious hours with them. Right now, they're foremost in my life. I know God understands. ;o) And I will go back to church when they're older and life settles down a little. I miss it.
Wait just a minute, now. Gus has a lot more time than me, doesn't he? Hmmm. There may be something to this line of reasoning. He lives five minutes away from his job where he teaches music at the local university. I drive one hour each way to work, twice a day. That's a lot of driving. And he teaches a few classes a day and is free to hunt scoundrels and investigate evildoers to his heart's content. I'm stuck at work at least ten hours a day.
Now I'm starting to get jealous. Which is really sick, since he's my own invention.
Gus also has Siegfried, his gentle giant brother-in-law who chops his wood, mows the lawn, feeds the livestock, and cleans out the horse stalls. Wow. Gus really has it easy. No wonder he has time to chase down the villains!
I'm warming to this angle. Let's see...
Gus has another advantage: Mrs. Adelaide Pierce! I'll admit, I always wanted the "real" Mrs. Doubtfire, and I invented Adelaide because I longed for her in my own life. During the weekdays she shops, helps with the grandkids, does mountains of laundry, cooks meals, and cleans the house. Sigh. Those jobs fall to me most of the time, since my wife is disabled. And I do lovingly care for my sweetie pie (see below), bringing her meals, monitoring her meds, and generally loving her a whole lot. We both weave chair seats on the side, to make extra money. Hey! There's something Gus can't do!
And I just thought of one more thing. I take photos. Some of them are nice. And Gus doesn't have a clue about photography. He's got a good eye for art, but he leaves the photography to his adopted father figure, Oscar Stone. But Oscar's a better photographer than me. He's published coffee table books galore. Wait a minute, let's not get off on that tangent...
We really are one and the same soul - with a few minor perturbations. His thoughts are my thoughts. When he mourns his first wife, I tap into the feelings of fear and grief I experienced when my wife almost died, when the threat of her demise hung over our family. When Gus mourns his father's passing, it's my grief he's feeling. He cherishes his grandkids like I do mine, with the same fierce sense of adoration and protection I feel toward my little buddies, Julian and Gordie. And when he picks his sun-ripened tomatoes, or his juicy plums, or his aromatic basil, he's raiding my garden. Each meal he cooks has been my real-life creation, and every book he reads I've read.
The next time a reader asks me if I'm Gus LeGarde, I might hesitate before spouting my usual answer.
After all, he may be a better man, but there is no Gus without me. ;o)
Visit Gus on his website at http://www.legardemysteries.com/.