About this blog...

Here you will find information, musings, and pictures about life, the natural world and writing.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Why murder?

At a dinner party tonight, somehow the subject of my zoo mystery series came up. (Somehow it always does, no matter how I try not to be, um, obsessive? pushy?). One of the guests looked at me with narrowed eyes and asked, "Why are you so fascinated with murder?" It took me aback. I think of myself as a writer of mysteries, not as a person obsessed with murder. So I said, cleverly, "I am not!"

So much for my keen wit and erudition. But the question did lead to a discussion about why it is I write a genre of fiction that requires an untimely death to kick off the story. Here's a metaphor. Mysteries are the cut-up chicken of fiction. (Hang in with me here.) A cook starts with a cut-up chicken and a big set of possibilities. Rules apply: the chicken has to be cooked--it cannot be served raw. It must not be charred to leather. It should be tasty. Within these rules, the cook can debone it or not; roast it, pot-roast it, fry it, stir-fry it, or stew it. The cook can go for curry, Mexican, Thai, Chinese, Italian using any of a huge selection of sauces and spices to turn out a delicious entree. You see where I'm going with this.

Mysteries have their rules. Somebody dies and there is a puzzle to solve. The puzzle can be about who died, how they died, why they died, and who did it, or any selection of these. There should be suspects and motives, false starts and dangerous situations, surprising secrets, a clever protagonist and a determined antagonist. Most mysteries have these elements.

But the results are highly varied, from police procedurals to village mysteries to mystery/thriller hybrids. And--here's the great part--the setting and characters can be anybody, anywhere. Italian, French, Indian, Swedish, in towns, cities, wilderness, on ships or islands or Indian reservations. The protagonists can be racehorse jockeys, Australian flappers, private detectives, sheriffs, big-city cops, princesses, and on and on.

This combination of structure and freedom felt comfortable to me. I liked knowing what the rules were and having the choice to follow them or to try something different. I knew it would be fun build crime stories that included animals, issues between people and animals, and zoos.

So it's not about murder. It's about how people fall into crime and how their secrets are found out. It's about bravery and cowardice, investigation and hiding.

It's really about Congo peacocks--whole, raw, and alive.

Technorati Tags:
, , ,


Anonymous said...

ann; as to why murder (or tales of murder) obsesses us, take a look at Wendy Lesser's book PICTURES AT AN EXECUTION. -- ed jones (we met at Jeff's party)

Ann Littlewood said...

Yes, Ed, I remember you! Thanks for the tip. I'll take a look. I suspect your profession gives you an entirely different perspective on murder than an author's. I get to pretend...

Post a Comment