by Wendy Tyson
What motivates you to write about killing people? Salad Bowl Saturdays is pleased to welcome Wendy Tyson to share her thoughts on the subject. Welcome, Wendy! — Paula
Recently my mother, a very sweet former second grade teacher who can still make you sit up straighter with one pointed, sideways glance, asked me why I wanted to kill people. “Even if it’s just on paper, Wendy,” she said. “I’m only going to ask you once. Why?”
I cut my mystery teeth on Agatha Christie, Mary Higgins Clark, Elizabeth George, Harlan Coben, Donna Leon, Jonathan Kellerman. Too many to name. Mysteries are, for me, like comfort food. When I pick up a novel by one of my favorite mystery writers, I know I’m getting something familiar yet satisfying. I know I’ll be taken away.
But as I looked at my mother across her small front porch, the What happens at Grandma’s house, stays at Grandma’s house stone staring at me from the flower garden circling our white wicker chairs, I considered why I love writing mysteries so much.
For that matter, why so many of us enjoy reading murder mysteries.
I’ve heard others’ theories. Some say the appeal of the murder mystery is the desire to create the perfect crime. I will admit that there’s a certain left brain quality to mystery writing that excites me. I’m a transactional lawyer by training, and mysteries offer the opportunity to not only create compelling characters, but to craft complex plots. In a mystery, the puzzle has to fit together at the end. There can’t be a single leftover piece, and nothing can feel jammed together. It all has to work. Plotting the mystery can be a challenge -- which is, of course, half the fun.
I recently heard a famous thriller author suggest that our collective love for the genre has to do with our need to experience danger in a safe environment. That, in effect, readers like to sympathize with the victim while knowing they won’t actually be hurt. Kind of the literary equivalent of a roller coaster. And we, as writers, receive the same thrill from creating these stories as readers get from writing them. I can see that, too.
But neither of these theories fully answered the question for me – or my mother. Why do I write about killing people? That day, I looked at my mother and said simply, “Justice.” I think she knew what I meant because, true to her word, she didn’t ask me again. But her question made me think long after I left her home. Was that the right answer?
Before law school, when I was in my formative twenties, I’d been a therapist in a variety of social service settings. I worked primarily with teenage girls who’d either been in trouble with the law or who’d been abused by their families – or both. I saw the worst humanity has to offer, but I’d also witnessed incredible spiritual resiliency and strength. During those years, one thing stuck with me: life isn’t always fair. Innocent people got hurt. Bad people got away with bad stuff. And isn’t that the case with true crime, too? Victims often go un-vindicated. Criminals go free. Real crime is gritty and sad and often infuriating.
But not in murder mysteries. In mysteries, no matter how awful the crime, the bad folks get their comeuppance (in one way or another). True, there’s the plot puzzle aspect, and the thrill of danger. But there’s also a certain fairness that I think appeals to many readers. For me, writing mysteries allows me to impose a sense of order on a crazy world. Do people die? Yes -- although I never take death lightly, even on paper. But in the end, justice prevails.
Why do you write and/or read murder mysteries?
Wendy Tyson’s background in law and psychology has provided inspiration for her mysteries and thrillers. Originally from the Philadelphia area, Wendy has returned to her roots and lives there again with her husband, three kids and two muses, dogs Molly and Driggs. Wendy’s short fiction has appeared in literary journals, including KARAMU, Eclipse, A Literary Journal and Concho River Review. Wendy is the author of Killer Image, an Allison Campbell mystery (Henery Press), and The Seduction of Miriam Cross (E-Lit Books – under the pen name W. A. Tyson). Deadly Assets, the second novel in the Campbell series, will be released July 22, 2014. Find Wendy on Facebook or Twitter, or visit her at www.WATyson.com.