Thursday, May 4, 2017


The first in my series of 8 books.

As mystery writers we kill people with great aplomb. There are few things we enjoy more than plotting murder – on the page, of course. There is only one mystery writer I know of who has actually done the dastardly deed, but I won’t name her here.

I just returned from my tenth Malice Domestic Conference and I can tell you there were many of those there who delighted in killing people in their books, and equally there were as many fans there that enjoyed reading about that, too. In the on-line mystery groups I belong to, like the Guppies, we discuss different ways of killing people, and we ask for advice from those who are authorities – not actual murderers, of course, Ask the SinC Guppies (my favorite mystery writers group) a question on something that stumps you and you’re sure to get plenty of answers.

An FBI man wearing protection before going into a  room with a
dangerous person with a gun in there.

In addition to the Guppies, there are those who come to my local Sisters in Crime chapter in law enforcement who talk about crimes which I always find interesting.

Luci  Zahray on the right & her helper on the left.

 And then there is the wonderful Luci Zahray, the poison lady, who goes to conferences like Malice 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. If we come up with an idea for a poison and wonder if it will work, you can email her and she’ll help you. (

My son, Joe, posing for me.

We are a bloodthirsty lot of writers. Who but a mystery writer would ask her son to pose as a dead body? I did because when my step-granddaughter was designing the cover for my first book, The Blue Rose, 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 was a wealthy man who was murdered at a garden reception. Joe laid 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.  He had shaved his head the week before I asked him to pose and asked me to have my step-granddaughter to add hair. I told her to add hair, but she didn’t.

You would think me a callous, blood thirsty person from what I wrote above and from my short stories and the books I write, but the truth is, I’m a sentimental crier. Yeah, I cried when Lassie tried to come home. I cried over Black Beauty and My Friend, Flicka. I’ve never grown out of that. I cry and sometimes even sob during sad movies. Tears flow during the sad parts in books.

In fact, I’d got so choked up reading some books to my third graders when I was teaching that I’d have to pass the book off to one of my better readers like when Timothy died in The Cay, by Theodore Taylor. I even cried when Philip was rescued from the island and reunited with his parents. I must have read that book fifteen times, and it always happened. It did with some other books I read to them, too. 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 or animal, of course. Also, I stick to cozies partly because they have much less blood and gore. Some of my victims I’m sorry to kill and there have been a few murderers I’ve been sorry for, too, mostly because of their families. It has to be sad for anyone to have a family member who is a murderer.
A policeman with his cadaver dog at one of our SinC meetings.

Since I read somewhere once that 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. I’ve been reading mysteries since I was a young child although of course those books didn’t include murder. And I don’t read true crime fiction, either, or books with too much gore.

Anyway, I enjoyed being with so many people at Malice who enjoyed murdering people – on the page, of course – as well as readers who enjoyed reading about it. These were my people. Next week I hope to blog about my experience there as well as having those of my fellow bloggers who also attended the 29th year of Malice Domestic write about their experience there.

Do you ever feel really sad when you read about someone who dies in a book?

If you’re a writer do you ever feel sad about offing one of your characters?


  1. If I feel sad for a death in a book that means the writers has written a vivid character and that's a good thing. Sniff... sniff. The very few short story murders I've written I have always used the POV of the killer and... always in a friendly vigilante style. LOL My favorite thing is editing Gloria's novels when she sends the chapters and says, "I found out who gets murdered!" LOL Glad you enjoyed your get-away while I was house sitting and chasing chickens around your property. -- Laurie

  2. Laura, I'm still smiling over both you chasing the chickens and thinking someone was in the house when one of the cats set off the motion detector light at the foot of the stairs.

  3. Personally, I am a real wimp. I get tears in my eyes over silly stuff. If you feel bad about killing off a character, you could write a prequel.

  4. Oh, yes, I do feel sad (I'm looking at you Louisa May Alcott! Katherine Paterson!)
    And I felt terrible, no, I still feel terrible about a character I murdered in an (unpublished) novel. He was a great guy! I think I'll have to take Warren's advice and go write a prequel.

  5. Warren, it's nice to know you get tears in your eyes, too. I imagine when you were working as a psychologist, you often felt sorry for some of those you worked with.

    Shari, I think the one I felt most sorry for was my character,Tony Montecalvo, who hated his father for leaving his mother for another woman, and moving to another state, and when his father came home sick years later, and his mother forgave him, he gradually started to accept his father, but then his father was murdered before he had time to make amends with him and get to know him better. And then there was the little girl whose grandfather she loved so
    much who turned out to be a murderer. Shari, maybe you can just have him almost die, and yet recover.

  6. Death is a part of life...but why do the truly good die first?

  7. Margaret, I don't know. I've dealt with death all too often; my son, a granddaughter, my parents, a brother, cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents and most recently my ex-husband,
    who moved in with my son next door after his third wife died, where he lived for six months before he died. I held his hand his last day. The first year after our divorce, I held no animosity towards him anymore.

  8. I always feel bad about killing off a character. Even if he/she deserved it, and it was absolutely necessary for the story.

    Sometimes I have indeterminate endings, but I don't often have sad or scary ones. If I could, I think I'd have a total happily-ever-after end to all my stories.

    Real life has its own challenges and sorrows, which of course are reflected in our books. But I try to end with a bit of hope.

  9. Kathleen, from my recollection, I've always been happy with your endings, at least in your Jesse Damon mysteries. I agree that we often use our own real life challenges and sorrows.
    I think if our life was all living in La La Land, we wouldn't be writing mysteries that deal with death.