Please contact E. B. Davis at for information on guest blogs and interviews. Interviews for May: (5/4) Linda Norlander, (5/11) Connie Berry, (5/18) Mary Keliikoa, (5/22) Annette Dashofy, and (5/25) Rosalie Spielman.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Writing about Death

As mystery writers we off people with great aplomb. There are few things we enjoy more than plotting murder - on the page, of course. There may have been a mystery writer who has actually done the dastardly deed, but I can't think of any. In the on-line mystery groups I belong to, we discuss different ways of killing people and ask for advice from those who are authorities - not actual murderers, of course, but those in law enforcement or someone like Luci Zahray, the poison lady, who goes to conferences and conducts panels on various types of poisons; how best to administer said poison, the symptoms the victim will show and how long before the victim will die. Ask the Guppies (my favorite mystery group) a question on something stumping you, and you're sure to get plenty of answers.

We writers are a bloodthirsty lot. Who but a mystery writer would ask her son to pose as a dead body? I did because my granddaughter, an artist, is designing the cover for my first book, The Blue Rose, which will soon be indie published. She couldn't find a picture of a body that would work. So my not always patient son, dressed in decent clothes since my victim is a wealthy man who is murdered at a garden reception and laid down down on the lawn so I could snap pictures to send to her. At least I didn't try to arrange a garden fork to look like it was stuck in his back which is how my victim died. I wish he hadn't shaved his head the week before I asked him to pose, but my granddaughter can add hair, but not long hair like he suggested.

You would think me a callous, blood thirsty person from what I wrote above and from the short stories and books I write, but the truth is, I'm a sentimental crier. Yeah, I cried when Lassie tried to come home, and I cried over Black Beauty and My Friend, Flicka. I've never grown out of that. I cry and sniffle through sad movies. My tears flow during the sad parts of books. In fact, I'd get so choked up I'd have to pass the book off to one of my better third grade readers when Timothy died in The Cay, by Theodore Tayler. I even cried when Phillip was rescued from the island and reunited with his parents. I must have read that book fifteen times, and I always puddled up. I also did with some other books I read to them. A smarter teacher might have given up on books like The Cay, The Door in the Wall and The Sign of the Beaver. I don't remember crying when Aslan was killed in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, but maybe I'm forgetting that.

I get teary-eyed reading obituaries and news stories of children who died, and I imagine many of you reading this do, too. So why do we write mysteries in which someone is killed? And how can we, at least those of us with sensitive tear ducts, do it?

For  myself, I don't write a biography for my victim, except once for my first victim. By the time I got done with that, I was quite happy killing him off. Most of my victims are usually not very nice, or at least ones that are expendable for the plot. I will never kill or harm a child. Also, I stick to cozies partly because they have much less blood and gore.

Since mysteries are the top selling genre, you would think it would harden readers and writers of mysteries to the reality of death and dying. It certainly hasn't me. One of the reasons I think many of us read or write mysteries is because of our desire for justice. In mysteries the killer never gets away with it, unlike what often happens in real life. So we are looking for a world where the guys or gals in the black hats get punished in the end.                                                       


E. B. Davis said...

I'm sure there are people in my life who wonder about me since I write about murder. But the murder is only one aspect of the genre, it's really the mystery--and figuring out who dunnit.

I think that's the aspect most writers focus on. To make a story plausible, we have to figure out methods of death, the mechanics, to keep readers. That's gruesome stuff, but necessary.

Death is the ultimate unknown and the ultimate outcome here on Earth. We can't make sense of death, but understanding why someone was killed and apprehending the killer allows us to feel that we've helped the cause for justice. Doing so empowers us.

That's the reason I like the mystery genre. In the end, the mystery is solved, case closed and there aren't loose ends like in literary novels.

Jim Jackson said...

Here's why I like to read and write mysteries:

Murder involves a relationship gone terribly awry; its solution relies on a combination of applied logic and alchemy.

Done well, the words take the reader out of this world and plops them smack dab into another; yet in the end that fictional world sheds a brilliant light on this life as well.

~ Jim

Gloria Alden said...

I so agree with you, E.B. I read mysteries because I want to solve the puzzle of who did it. Of course, it's not my only reason. The characters involved are important to me, too. I want to understand them and hope the writer has developed them enough to make them feel real to me. The death itself is only important in that it makes the mystery more important than say the crime of who stole Mrs. Gotrocks diamonds.

Gloria Alden said...

Very well put, Jim. It's my reason for writing them, too, but I couldn't be quite as articulate about it as you have. :-)

Linda Rodriguez said...

Yesterday, Gloria, I woke at 5 am with the last half of a story spooling out in my mind. I went ahead and got up to put it on paper. This is for a story I've promised to an anthology. As I wrote, I had to kill off a character I love while another character tries futilely to protect her.

I've known that the end of the story would involve this death, practically since I began the story. Still, as I wrote the scene, I had tears pouring down my face. I can't remember who it was who said, "No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader."

Jim, I'm with you about the relationships. I think most good mysteries focus less on the actual puzzle aspect now in favor of a focus on the relationships and how some become so twisted they can allow murder. Oh, a puzzle of some kind must usually be there still, but the focus is less on locked rooms and icicle daggers and more on how did these relationships evolve to this point.

Warren Bull said...

I think there is so much injustice and meaningless violence in the world that mysteries act as morality plays to help balance the scales. Even when the scales end up even more out of whack there is a value to exposing the flaws in the system.

Gloria Alden said...

Yes, Warren. I think that, too. We feel so hopeless confronted with real murders and violence we read or hear about in the news, but at least in our books, we're able to bring the killer to justice at the end, and sometimes, at least in my book, have some of the nastier people become the victims.