If you are interested in blogging or want to promote your book, please contact E. B. Davis at writerswhokill@gmail.com.

April Interviews

4/1 Jennifer Chow, Mimi Lee Gets A Clue
4/8 John Gaspard
4/15 Art Taylor, The Boy Detective & The Summer of '74
4/22 Maggie Toussaint, Seas the Day
4/29 Grace Topping, Staging Wars

Saturday Guest Bloggers
4/4 Sasscer Hill
4/18 Jackie Green

WWK Bloggers:
4/11 Paula Gail Benson
4/25 Kait Carson


WWK is proud of our four Agatha nominees. Kaye George for Best Short Story--not her first time to be nominated, Connie Berry and Grace Topping for Best First Mystery Novel (wish they weren't having to compete against each other), and Annette Dashofy for Best Contemporary Novel--her fifth nomination!

Congratulations to our writers for the following publications:

Look for Kaye George and Margaret S. Hamilton's short stories in the new Mid-Century Murder by Darkhouse Books. Kaye's story is "Life and Death on the Road" and Margaret's story is titled "4BR/3.5BA Contemporary."

Kaye George's first novel in the Vintage Sweets mystery series, Revenge is Sweet, will be released on March 10th. Look for the interview here on March 11.

Grace Topping's second novel in Laura Bishop staging series, Staging Wars, will be released by Henery Press on April 28th. Look for the interview here on April 29th.

Don't miss Shari Randall's "The Queen of Christmas" available on at Amazon. Shari's holiday story for WWK was too long so she published it for our enjoyment. It's available for 99 cents or on Kindle Unlimited for free!

KM Rockwood's "The Society" and "To Die A Free Man; the Story of Joseph Bowers" are included in the BOULD Awards Anthology, which was released on November 19. KM won second place with a cash prize for "The Society." Congratulations, KM! Kaye George's "Meeting on the Funicular" is also in this anthology, which can be bought for 99 cents on Kindle until November 30.

Shari Randall will be writing again for St. Martin's, perhaps under a pseudonym. We look forward to reading Shari's Ice Cream Shop Mystery series debuting next year. Congratulations, Shari!


Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Fear Factor in Mysteries

There are lots of reasons why people read mysteries. Some like to solve the problem of who done it. Some are interested in the characters and how they handle difficult situations, and some like the formulaic writing that in the end will be satisfying as the evil doer gets his/her just reward.

I went to www.librarything.com/topic/75724 and read the comments on the topic “Why do you read crime novels?” I’m not going to list all of them here, but she_climber wrote “Nothing is as exciting in my life as in the books I read.” I think we can all agree with that unless we lead exciting lives. AHS-Wolfy wrote “I want to pick up tips in formulating the perfect murder.” I certainly hope he/she was joking.

In July 20ll, The Bookseller listed that ten of the twenty-five bestselling books were thrillers. Philip Hensher in this edition states that he thinks the reason thrillers are so popular is because “we turn away from the unspeakable horrors of the newspaper events with no resolution to where a single running policeman can put everything right.”

Although thrillers are at the top of the list of mysteries with frightening events, all mystery writers need to put in some form of the fear factor to create suspense. Some people think the cozy book is the most comforting read, and they may be right to some extent, but the fear factor there is when the safety of a rural or small town is disrupted by murder. If one can’t feel safe in the country or a small town, where can one be safe?
As for the shudder effect in mysteries, I wonder if mystery writers aren’t putting their characters in situations that reflect their own fears or phobias; i.e. psychotic stalkers, facing a killer with a knife or gun, being gagged and bound, a house burning down around them or locked in a small claustrophobic place. All horrible things, I agree.

This past week I just finished Sandra Parshall’s book Bleeding Through – an excellent book, by the way – and one of the fear factors she used was a four-foot rattlesnake in her main character’s office. Since snakes seem to be a huge fear factor for many people, I wondered why more people don’t use them in the mysteries they write. Yes, I’ve read about them in other mysteries, too, but not as many as one would think considering the shudder effect snakes produce in most people. I have to admit, I’m not afraid of snakes. In fact, when I was a little girl I used to chase the boys with snakes. I’ve never been afraid to catch snakes, but then there were never any poisonous snakes in my area, and because my mother and grandmother weren’t afraid of them, I wasn’t either.

I saw my first rattlesnakes when backpacking about ten years ago. It was a huge one with an enlarged midsection from something it had recently ate, I assume. It was calmly going across a forest road in Pennsylvania. My sister and I thought it was a branch until we got close enough to see it. We were fascinated. Eventually when it decided we weren’t a threat, it slithered off into the ferns lining the road.

The next one was along the Appalachian Trail in Shenandoah Valley National Park.  It was an extremely hot day and I was lagging behind when I reached my sister sitting on a boulder waiting for me. She told me we couldn’t go on because there was a rattlesnake on the trail. Now I was hot, thirsty and needed water which was somewhere ahead, and I wasn’t going to let that snake stop me. 

When I got within eight to ten feet from it, I started stomping my feet and pounding my walking sticks on the ground. Snakes can’t hear, but they do feel vibrations. The trail was on the side of a mountain; one side went up rather steeply and the other side went down. I wasn’t going to go up or down and the rattler didn’t want to, either, so we faced off; me stomping, it rattling.  I won. It slithered a short way down the hill and my sister and I went on as it continued rattling its tail.

I’m sure everyone heard about the preacher who handled rattlesnakes and was bitten and died last month. Would I want to handle rattlesnakes? No! Would I want to find one in my house? Another no because I may not have any snake phobias, but I’m not stupid, either. I wouldn’t want any poisonous snake in my house or a constrictor, either. Will I include snakes in my books as a fear factor? Probably not since there aren’t poisonous snakes living in my area.

Another reason for reading mysteries was stated by AFHeart on the topic about why we read crime novels. “One of the great aspects of mystery stories, I suspect is flirting with the danger – safely. It’s a vicarious thrill. The reader is behind locked doors snuggled up with a cat, sipping tea while following a murder.” I can agree with that.

If you’re a writer, what fear factors do you include in your stories or books?
Is it something you fear?

If you’re a reader, what kind of fear factors frightens you the most?


E. B. Davis said...

I include fear in my stories, but then my WIP is titled, Toasting Fear, so there better be an element of fear. Fear is a natural part of life. It protects us from dangers, puts us on alert. It's an instinct. Murderers are dangerous. When our sleuths confirm their suspicions, they confront danger and fear exposing themselves to danger. I can't imagine not including fear in mysteries. I would think the story anticlimactic if no danger and fear were involved.

Jim Jackson said...

I may have the wrong definition of fear, in which case you folks will correct me, but I haven’t used “fear factors” in my writing.

I relate fear more to horror than mystery. Of course one can write a mystery with horror elements, but mine aren’t. I certainly allow Seamus McCree to get into plenty of trouble, and I put other people the reader probably cares about in harm’s way as well, but I think those situations generate more suspense about what will happen than fear.

But then again, those of you who have read my books may disagree, in which case I'll learn something new about my writing.

~ Jim

Gloria Alden said...

E.B. you're right. Most mysteries include an element of fear although some not as much. I'm thinking of some mysteries where the protagonist never seems to be in a dangerous situation as he/she goes about trying to solve the murder. And then again, a lot has to do with the reader. Some people have more fears than others.

Jim, how in the world can you say that when you included so much that was scary in Cabin Fever? I worried about Seamus, Paddy and Niki through most of the book.

Jim Jackson said...

Well Gloria -- I didn't send anyone into a pit of writing snakes or make them walk a tightrope over a 2,000' canyon. Those things would inspire fear in me.

I suppose the difference is being fearful on behalf of a character and feeling fearful of certain things?

Crawling back in hole now. ~ Jim

Gloria Alden said...

Jim, stuck in a snowbound cabin with someone outside with a high powered gun stalking me is the ultimate fear. I'm afraid of killers with guns. I'm glad there's nothing more dangerous outside my home than squirrels and racoons - oh, the occasional bear that I only heard and didn't see last summer. I'm hoping this year I'll see him like my daughter-in-law was lucky enough to do.

Jim Jackson said...

Well, now that you say it that way, Gloria...


Warren Bull said...

I suppose the most common fear I use is fear of death. I've read that fear of public speaking it rated higher than fear of death so if you shoot someone on their way to give a speech, you've done them a favor.

Gloria Alden said...

Warren, I love that thought. Only you could have come up with it. :-)

Shari Randall said...

For me, the fear factor in a mystery is discovering that a person who seems perfectly normal is capable of murder. The smiling face masking a black heart....
And snakes - YIKES!

Gloria Alden said...

Shari, I think that is scary, too. From what I hear, although that may change later, the boy who stabbed all those kids near Pittsburgh was a normal kid.

As for snakes, a lot of that comes from the fact that they move in silence and startle people. Unless, your a small rodent or they're threatened, snakes would rather move away away from anything larger than they are.

Sarah Henning said...

I tend to equate fear a bit more with thrillers because, to me, there's nothing more terrifying than being a mouse and having no idea the cat is chasing you while you chase it!

Gloria Alden said...

I agree, Sarah. I think that's why I don't read as many thrillers as traditional mysteries although the lines are blurred sometimes. Books like that tended to frighten me more than they do today, although I have to admit since I live alone and have no drapes or blinds to cover my windows at night, thrillers might be a bit much for my relatively small fear of most things.

carla said...

Snakes seriously creep me out. Even if I'm assured they aren't poisonous. Knowing a fear is irrational doesn't make it go away. Wish it did!

Kara Cerise said...

Gloria, watch out for raccoons. Our homeowner's association recently notified us that an aggressive raccoon was lurking in the area. It chased a women into her home and remained on her front steps for a few minutes. I don't know if it was rabid or not.

The 6.7 Northridge quake was the most terrifying thing I've ever been through. I was thrown out of bed at 4am, the lights went out, and it sounded like an express train roared into my room. I could sense, but not see, objects flying past my head. Maybe I should write a short murder mystery/thriller set during a major earthquake.

KM Rockwood said...

The chief of police for Washngton, DC, admitted she's afraid of spiders.

While I can't say as I'm terrified of snakes, I wasn't pleased when my dog brought me a copperhead one day. He'd gripped it right behind the head, and the trick was to get him to release it & move away quickly. Fortunately, he was a very obedient dog, and one of his commands was "Leave it." I told him to do that and grabbed him by the collar as he dropped the snake. It slithered away. We had a hatching of copperheads once, with lots of little snakes around for a couple of days.

I never go out in my yard without wearing sturdy shoes or boots.

Patg said...

I've never been around snakes, so didn't think I had any fear until I was at a craft fair one year and some guy had two huge snakes hanging around his neck and wanted people to pet them. Couldn't do it.
Fear in mysteries has to come from some unknown source that makes the protag's hair stand on end. So it has to be supernatural or paranormal.
Okay, a gun in her face, or the threat of some form of torture creates fear, but I don't write about that!

Gloria Alden said...

Carla, my daughter-in-law who lives next door is terrified of snakes,too. I often wonder if this fear of snakes goes back to Genesis and the Garden of Eden when the snake was depicted as evil.

Kara, I have a healthy respect for raccoons. Even though Maggie would do no more than bark at one, I won't let her out to chase them away when they come to my feeder at night. If you've ever heard raccoons fighting outside at night, you know they can be vicious even if they are cute.

I can't imagine going through an earthquake. My California daughter has gone through mild ones and I hope she never goes through a major one. Our biggest concern in NE Ohio is tornadoes, but there nothing like what is experienced in Oklahoma and other areas like that.

Gloria Alden said...

Kathleen, there are copperheads in Ohio, but I've never seen them. However there are milk snakes which are quite common where I live and they resemble copperheads. It would frighten me if Maggie every brought home a poisonous snake of any kind.I might be a little more nervous around snakes if we did have any poisonous ones around.

Pat, more than once different men came into the school with large constrictors and other nonpoisonous snakes for kids to touch. Once I even let one of the guys loop one over my shoulder which was okay until it started to squeeze my arm. I found out later when a snake is afraid of falling, they will grip something - in this case my arm - to keep from falling. When the man saw my eyes widen, he unwound it from my arm but it was a strong snake.