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

October Interviews
10/2 Debra H. Goldstein, Two Bites To Many
10/10 Connie Berry, A Legacy of Murder
10/17 Lida Sideris, Double Murder or Nothing
10/23 Toni L. P. Kelner writing as Leigh Perry, The Skeleton Stuffs A Stocking
10/30 Jennifer David Hesse, Autumn Alibi

Saturday Guest Bloggers:
10/5 Ang Pompano
10/12 Eyes of Texas Anthology Writers
10/19 Neil Plakcy

WWK Bloggers: 10/26 Kait Carson


Congratulations to our writers for the following publications:

Lyrical Press will publish Kaye George's Vintage Sweets mystery series. The first book, Revenge Is Sweet, will be released in March. Look for the interview here on 3/11.

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!

Susan Van Kirk's A Death At Tippett Pond was released on June 15th. Read E. B. Davis's interview with Susan.

KM Rockwood's "Frozen Daiquiris" appears in The Best Laid Plans: 21 Stories of Mystery & Suspense, edited by Judy Penz Sheluk. The anthology was released on June 18th.

Fishy Business anthology authors include KM Rockwood, Debra Goldstein, and James M. Jackson. This volume was edited by Linda Rodriguez.

Please read Margaret S. Hamilton and Debra Goldstein's short stories (don't ask about their modus operandi) in a new anthology, Cooked To Death Vol. IV: Cold Cut Files.

Warren Bull's Abraham Lincoln: Seldom Told Stories was released. It is available at: GoRead: https://www.goread.com/book/abraham-lincoln-seldom-told-stories or at Amazon: https://tinyurl.com/ydaklx8p

Grace Topping's mystery, Staging is Murder was released April 30.


Monday, May 19, 2014

You Can’t Fix Stupid

I haven’t watched television in decades with the exception of some PBS shows for which I’d buy the videos and a couple of shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer that my youngest son inveigled me into watching on DVD with him. (He used to require Buffy-watching as his payment for help fixing my computer problems.) This wasn’t one of those judge-y things where someone lets you know that they’re too intellectually superior to watch what everyone else is watching. It was simply a matter of priorities. I made the choice of writing over television back when I was trying to carve out regular time to write.

After eight years in another state at grad school, that youngest son is back home living with us for a while until he pays off some debt and moves into his permanent abode. With him, he brought a big-screen TV and Netflix—and the same desire to have me watch his favorite shows along with him. So I’ve been watching more TV in the past few weeks than in the past ten years.

He likes some of the true-crime docudramas like Disappeared and Hardcover Mysteries. Hardcover Mysteries, in particular, has appealed to me since it features actual mystery authors discussing actual murder cases that have fascinated them. David Baldacci, Lisa Scottoline, Sandra Brown, Linda Fairstein, Sara Paretsky have all discussed in detail real-life cases, along with interviews of the actual law enforcement officials who investigated the cases.

Over and over, the authors have said, “If I used that in one of my novels, my editor would tell me to rewrite it because it’s too farfetched.” And they’re right. Some of the things these murderers do are so bizarre and over-the-top that they could never be used in a book that’s trying to be believable fiction. But recently on one of these shows a chief of police said something that goes to the heart of why it’s hard to just use a real murder as a basis of a mystery or thriller without major fictional changes. He said, “The real reason people kill other people and commit other major crimes is that they’re stupid. I’ve seen it again and again. They’re so stupid that murder looks like an easy solution to whatever problem they’re dealing with. And that’s why they get caught and end up in prison. I don’t know what you can do about it, though. You can’t fix stupid.”

I think he’s probably right on the mark here. Our local Border Crimes chapter of Sisters in Crime brings in law enforcement officials, private investigators, prosecutors, defense lawyers, you name it. (Here you see a photo of our own Warren Bull being handcuffed and leg-cuffed by the head of the U.S. Marshals Service in our region during one of those programs.) If someone plays a role in investigating, enforcing, or trying criminal cases, we’ve had them visit and talk to us about what they’ve encountered in their careers—and we’ve heard that police chief’s words echoed again and again. Most people become criminals and murderers because, in one way or another, they’re stupid. Even or especially the ones who think they’re being smart about it.

I can’t write mysteries about people who commit murder because they’re stupid, however. Sometimes in the field of noir, you can base a book on hapless, dumb murderers, but you can’t do it often, or you’ll lose your readers. Readers want a real antagonist, someone with brains and abilities, not someone like one of these real murderers who commit murder because they can’t think of any other options or they think it will be an easy out. Much as I try to research meticulously and make my books as realistic as possible, I have to violate reality and have intelligent killers who are a true match for my protagonists and pose the real danger that they might get away with heinous crimes.

Many years ago, a law enforcement official whose name I no longer remember, said at a writers conference I attended that, nine times out of ten, murderers were caught and convicted because of stupid mistakes, and he’d come to believe that was because really smart people found other, less dangerous ways to deal with whatever problems they encountered than murder. But that won’t work for crime writers because we can work wonders on plot and characterization, but even we can’t fix stupid.

Have you read mysteries you enjoyed where the murderer was not so bright?


James Montgomery Jackson said...

The best I can say for individuals who can find few options is that they may be crafty even if they are “stupid.”

However, with organized crime, murder is often an intentional strategy. Not only does it “eliminate” a problem, it sends a message to others about what happens when someone crosses the organization.

~ Jim

Carla Damron said...

Carl Hiaisen does a nice job with less than brilliant antagonists. I guess he frames the murders in such bizarre, absurd situations that it works. Solving the mystery is only part of the ride.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Jim, that's true about organized crime, but again, stupid. That's always been one of the reasons that crime bosses get taken down legally is someone who's afraid for his life turns state's evidence against them.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Carla, yes. Hiassen is the best of some who write funny mysteries that focus on inept criminals.

E. B. Davis said...

I can't remember reading a murder mystery in which the killer was stupid. Not many authors write stupid villains. I stopped reading Konrath because his villains were sick and perverted--the books gave me nightmares. I think it is the real senseless killings that bother me the most. I certainly wouldn't be entertained by reading about them in fiction. Most people read to take them away from reality. Some of these crimes the police never solve because there is no logic that even they can follow. We hope that the killers are stupid enough to leave evidence behind. It's the total lack of values that frightens me the most. Human life isn't valued. Of course this also says that the killer doesn't value his own life all that much either.

KM Rockwood said...

Don Westlake's Dortmunder and his bunch come to mind. Many of them aren't all that bright, but they do manage to not get caught. Although they seldom manage to effectively carry out thier schemes, either. I love his books.

One real-life comment about stupid vs. smart criminals--a lot of crimes are never solved (not particularly useful to us, though) I have known some pretty smart killers--usually, it was a crime of passion or the killer was so upset at the time he didn't care if he was caught. One fellow, probably a serial killer, had one manslaughter conviction. He'd talk about that, but not about the other 20 or so killings he was originally charged with. He said he'd learned his lesson--which was never kill anybody much bigger than you unless you'd thought out how to dispose of the body beforehand.

Warren Bull said...

Help! Who has the key?

Gloria Alden said...

Linda, I can't think of any books I've read with a stupid killer, but then I probably have and forgotten them. However, I so often read about really stupid crooks in the newspaper that I have to shake my head over it.

I don't like to read books with a psychopath as a murderer, nor will I ever write that kind of murderer. I want my villains to be reasonably intelligent with a reason for committing the murder.

Like you, the only TV I watch is a few good shows on PBS and especially their mysteries. Otherwise, I spend my evenings reading.

Warren, you should call Linda. She probably has it.

Linda Rodriguez said...

EB, I think the stupidity and the insensitivity to the value of others' lives goes together quite a lot.

Linda Rodriguez said...

KM, I think most of the serial killers (as in "rakes," recreational killers, as the FBI calls them) fall in a different category, along with assassins. Both categories tend to be quite intelligent. But people who kill for criminal purposes or out of jealousy or anger (who are the usual antagonists of mystery novels) tend, in real life, to be stupid. And these are the murders we write about because motiveless murders and serial killings make for a whole different novel experience. That's why serial killer novels is considered its own subgenre.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Warren, you were such a good sport about it. I wish we had a photo of your with the ankle cuffs on as well. He looks like quite an evil perpetrator, doesn't he?

Linda Rodriguez said...

Yes, Gloria. I will read some of the serial killer novels, if they're well-written. But I leave alone the books where the violence is so graphic and gratuitous that it deserves the term "torture porn."

E. B. Davis said...

LOL! I couldn't tell that was Warren in the photo. Did anyone ever unlock him, or will Warren have to develop a whole new typing technique?

Linda Rodriguez said...

EB, I had just stepped down as president of our local chapter and Warren had just taken over when we had the Chief Deputy US Marshal come. He stated he always demonstrated these on the head of the organization. I was SO glad we hadn't had him as our guest a month earlier! Warren handled it with panache, of course, and even tried to run a little in the leg chains.

Paula Gail Benson said...

I wish I could have seen the demonstration with Warren. That's good information to know.

The Chrstmas short stories by Barb Goffman and B.K. Stevens, that I wrote about in my last blog of the short story series in 2013, featured dumb criminals as narrators. In each case, the story was about a dumb criminal who thought he was smart and, by the end of the story, realized that he wasn't.

Shari Randall said...

I, too, thought (with pleasure) of Hiassen and Westlake and Evanovich. The stupid criminal - especially one with bravado - makes for a fun read, but I prefer the crafty killer who is a worthy foil for the detective. I just saw this quote by Sarah Caudwell on Facebook: "It seems to us that the readers who want fiction to be like life are considerably outnumbered by those who would like life to be like fiction.” It is disheartening to think that people do such dreadful things because they're too dumb to figure out an alternative.
Warren - you are rocking those chains!

Kara Cerise said...

The 1975 movie, Dog Day Afternoon, comes to mind but it was based on a real crime with inept criminals that went horribly awry. I can't think of a mystery author other than Carl Hiaasen who regularly writes about incompetent criminals.

I thought I spotted Warren on America's Most Wanted. Run, Warren!

Alan P. said...

Here is a true life one from the other side of the state. If you pitched any parts of it your editor would tell you fiction only lets you stretch things so far.


My favorite part, going to a 19 year old hockey groupie to hire a hit man.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Paula, I imagine Warren can now write with complete authenticity a character shackled by the US Marshal's Service who tries to escape. (The Chief Deputy Marshal told us that in federal prisons you can often see prisoners in the exercise yard tying their feet together with shoestrings to practice running in shackles.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Shari, yes! "It is disheartening to think that people do such dreadful things because they're too dumb to figure out an alternative." Exactly the way I feel about it.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Yes, Kara. In Cold Blood was another book and movie based on horrifying but ultimately dumb murderers.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Geez, Alan! Bizarre isn't even the word for that case you listed. Again, though, it's the stupidity factor. "I can't see any other possible options, except to murder this person." Because, as we all know, murder is so easily done and hidden.

And yes, go to the teenaged fangirl to get that hired killer because we're really, really smart!

Anonymous said...

A lawyer friend once explained to me that angry crimes are more often committed by those with few options to escape what bothers one. An insurance client of mine, a very sweet young mother, was arrested for killing a neighbor. My friend pointed out to me that is a neighbor bothered me, I could get legal recourse, go on vacation, move . . . but someone of very limited means, like that young mother, might lack those options and would just hang on . . . until one day she might snap. I think the same reasoning is behind the Crisis Nursery, some place safe for the children when Mom can't take any more . . .
That said, in fiction, we want a more satisfying puzzle to solve.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Or, Mary, with less ability to see other options. Youth, particularly, can limit the number of options you're able to see. As we get older, we often become aware of options that we just couldn't see when we were younger and less experienced.