Welcome Wednesday guests for July: Edith Maxwell 7/2, Kendel Lynn 7/9, Leslie Budewitz 7/16, Krista Davis 7/23, Janet Simpson 7/30.

Gloria Alden's latest publication is nonfiction. Boys Will Be Boys: The Joys and Terrors of Raising Boys. Edited by Cher'ley Grogg was recently released and available on Amazon. Gloria wrote three essays and two poems in her chapter included in the book.


Congratulations to four of WWK’s bloggers whose books were released in the last two months. Look for Jim Jackson’s second Seamus McCree novel, Cabin Fever; Linda Rodriguez's new Skeet Bannion mystery, Every Hidden Fear; KM Rockwood's new Jesse Damon novel, Brothers in Crime; and Gloria Alden's third Catherine Jewell Mystery, Ladies of the Garden Club. All of the novels are available at bookstores in print and ebook.

Paula Gail Benson's short story "Confidence in the Family" is featured in the Mystery Times Ten 2013 anthology, which can be bought at Amazon. http://www.amazon.com/Mystery-Times-2013-Linda-Browning/dp/0984203583/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1387240857&sr=8-2

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Saturday, June 9, 2012

How Do You Decide Who To Kill?


In the middle of a crazy schedule where I’m still doing promotion for Every Last Secret, I’ve received edits and deadline for the sequel, Every Broken Trust, and I’m writing the first draft of a third novel, because that’s the way this writing-career thing works, it turns out. Right now, I’m working out who’s going to die and why in this new book. I’ve written enough to have several different options to choose from.

One of the questions I’ve encountered during events to promote Every Last Secret is, “How do you decide who to kill in your books?” I’m afraid I’ve been guilty of giving a less than serious answer to this one when it pops up.
This question is made for jokes and humor—“Whoever’s pissed me off lately” and “You know that guy who hops lanes without signaling and cuts you off in traffic?”—and I’ve too often settled for what will please the audience and make them laugh. But it’s a serious question and deserves better than that.

How do you decide who to kill off in your books? I would like to say I have a rule to live by in this circumstance, only pedophiles or crooked politicians, but I don’t. Some of the people who die in my books are perfectly nice, ordinary people, some are crooks, and some are truly evil (they usually only die at the very end while trying to kill my protagonist). Isn’t that the way it happens in real life?

We’d always like to think that a murder victim must have done something to bring it on himself or herself, and the media will dig to try to find connections or past bad behavior to explain it. This happens because none of us reading or hearing about a real murder wants to think that it happened to someone just like us. We want to think that, if we’re living a good, law-abiding life, nothing bad—certainly not as bad as murder!—will happen to us.
 
Of course, murder happens all the time to criminals and those who run around with criminals. We’d like to think it happens to the truly evil also. Though that’s something we’re less sure of. A lot of really evil people doing really evil deeds seem to continue and prosper for a long time. They usually get caught only by accident—which makes us wonder how many other truly evil people are out there getting away with their foul actions. That’s a little creepy, but we can live with that. It’s why we have mysteries and thrillers, so we can see the Big Bads getting caught and justice being done.

Murder of the ordinary, murder of the good, is something that shakes us up a bit more. When we read or hear of it in the news, we shudder a little inside. If such a terrible thing can happen to them, it could happen to us! Following the rules and laws, trying to be a good person won’t keep it at bay. We see bleakly that it’s purely the luck of the draw whether we stay safe or not.

I had this brought home to me when I was a very young mother with one baby and another on the way. Our little house was squashed in among old apartment houses in a not-great part of town where lots of young people lived because we couldn’t afford better. I’d sit out in my front yard with the baby in her playpen, so we could both bask in the sun and the fresh air (and I could read). In one of the apartments right behind my house lived a nice woman about my age. We’d met several times. Her boyfriend used to walk down from the bus stop and cut across my yard to get to her apartment. She had told me a week or so earlier that they’d broken up, but on this day, he crossed on his way to her, and I smiled and waved lazily, thinking they must have made up. About half an hour later, he came back through my yard as I was packing up the baby and her things to take back inside. I wouldn’t even have been aware of him behind me, except a stray dog that I’d been feeding for a couple of days started to growl from the sidewalk.

I turned to find this guy right behind me, looking wide-eyed and wild. By the time I really processed the fact that he didn’t seem to be his usual self, the dog had come into my yard, and the guy dashed off up toward the bus stop. I decided he was high—this was in the very early 70s—and thought no more about it.

That night on the TV news, we learned that he had raped and brutally beaten to death his former girlfriend. He was coming straight from the scene of that crime when he stopped in my yard and came up behind me. Possibly worried that I’d seen him go to her apartment. Maybe thinking this was one more detail to clean up. I don’t know to this day. But that dog had a home with me until he died of old age.

Sometimes even the good, or at least nice, get murdered, and I’m wondering right now if that should happen in this new book. If you write mysteries or thrillers, how do you decide who to kill? And if you read them, which victims make you the most interested in seeing their murderers brought to justice?

10 comments:

Warren Bull said...

First, let me say THAT dog went to Heaven. Next, I want to compliment you on choosing a college environment for the setting of your novels. Every year you get a new group of incoming students, visiting lecturers and artists in resident to be victims and/or killers. You don't have a constantly decreasing population like Cabot Cove.

As to who to kill, unlike the original Star Trek you cannot just doom anybody who beams down wearing a red shirt or any woman on the TV series Bonanza who get engaged to a Cartright. There is a tradeoff.

Dean McNasty in charge of snooty has a suspect list a mile long but Gena Russ, the donor queen, will tug more at my heartstrings. Either could be effective. I look forward to seeing who you choose.

Anita Page said...

Linda, what a chilling story, especially given the fact that your baby was there with you.

I've written my share of despicable victims, but these days I'm leaning more toward the gray area, a little dose of moral ambiguity.

Sheila Webster Boneham said...

Always always always listen to the dog. So glad you did, Linda!

I like a mix of victims - some the reader doesn't mind seeing dead and some whose deaths are distressing. And of course the flip of that - the character who should be killed but isn't. Your college setting is full of all of the above, as are my animal-event settings. And I could see killing a few people at writers' conferences! ;-)

Linda Rodriguez said...

Warren, yes! All my life I've had dogs I rescued, and I've been repaid over and over again for rescuing them. That dog, Plain (short for Just Plain Dog), later made a friend of our letter carrier. this was back before leash laws. The mailman would knock when he dropped off our mail (first on his route) and pick up Plain who'd escort him on his rounds. The guy'd been bitten by dogs running loose in our neighborhood, but he said they never bothered him with Plain along.

A college campus has a lot of pluses for a mystery writer, as you note. Then there's also the town-gown tension to exploit, and I've written on Jungle Red Writers and on my own blog about how much serious crime actually takes place on campus.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Anita, yes, it was chilling--baby with me and about 6 months pregnant. I was a particularly vulnerable potential victim. I'm still grateful for the dog.

Killing a character who's mean or cruel or deceitful has the advantage of giving lots of suspects. That's a plus, but the investigation then becomes less of an emotional commitment, I think. And you can't kill a nice innocent all the time. You have to parcel those murders out, so they don't lose their impact. Like you, I like that little dose of moral ambiguity, someone who's mostly nice, but has done some thoughtless things that caused harm or has been greedy in some area.

Thanks for stopping by!

Linda Rodriguez said...

Oh, Sheila, yes! Academic writers conferences like the huge AWP would make a great place for a murder. Lots of egos. Lots of climbing the ladder and putting people down or backstabbing them. I just don't know how I'd get Skeet there. I'd have to have the conference take place at the college. Thanks for the brilliant idea!

That character who should be killed but isn't always throws a nice spanner in the works, don't you think? I, too, think a mix of nice and nasty victims work best. I'll bet your animal-events settings gives you that--about like the writers conferences we talked about above. The competitive streak can often lead to murder.

Thanks for joining us today!

James Montgomery Jackson said...

Everyone other than the protagonist or his/her dog is fair game -- and you can kill the protagonist as well if you want to end a series, but you need to do it in such a way that the character can be easily resurrected.

However, you do point out a moral dilemma about whom to kill.

In real life, uninvolved innocents are slain all of the time. I might include unnamed innocent victims in (for example) a building bombing, but unless it is crucial for the plot to have an innocent killed, I anticipate leaving only more or less deserving bodies on the stage.

But don't hold me to it; who knows what I may choose to write tomorrow.

~ Jim

Linda Rodriguez said...

Jim, it's true that everyone's up for grabs as possible murder victim. One thing that I take into account is that the nice, innocent victim builds commitment on the part of the sleuth and the reader to bring the killer to justice BECAUSE of her/his innocence. Also, it strengthens the reader's desire to see the killer caught because unconsciously the reader can identify with a nice, innocent victim. ("I'm a nice guy/gal. Gosh, this could happen to me!")

But I don't think we can kill the nice/innocent person too often because then the reader won't want to read us.

Besides, there's often real enjoyment in putting someone who's done me wrong in the victim's shoes and arranging his/her murder. Very cathartic!

E. B. Davis said...

Being out of town for a long weekend has given me the opportunity to give your question some thought, Linda. I think that the killer is the one who you has the most dastardly (love Snidely's picture and loved his name) reason for killing. There maybe a lot of suspects, but I think that if you can construct motives for several suspects, choose the one whose motive is the most nafarious, the most immoral, the one readers will love to hate! That's the fun fudge of mystery.

Linda Rodriguez said...

EB, hope your weekend was great! That's certainly one way to choose the victim, the one that would take the nastiest motivation to kill.

I don't think there's any one answer, though. Sometimes it's the most hated, sometimes the most loved, and sometimes such a nonentity that for the detective hard to come up with possible reasons for a murderer even to notice that person. Whatever works best in this book to give the reader the best story experience.