Back when my first mystery came out, my father sent letters to several hundred of his nearest and dearest friends, urging them to buy it. Proud? Almost as proud as when I produced his first grandson.
But then, so help me, he asked me when I was going to write a real book.
And I already knew I probably never would, not the kind he meant. I don’t write mysteries because I think the world needs me to or they’ll sell better than other kinds of books. Or for any of a dozen other reasons. I write them because I love to read them.
So why is that? Aside from the writing and storytelling I enjoy in a good mystery (and the first one I read as an adult was Dorothy L. Sayers’s The Nine Tailors), I’m afraid it’s the urge to kill, the reason my pacifist father liked boxing matches on television. He once told me, “I just think of the two guys giving me the most trouble at the moment and then watch them beat each other to a bloody pulp.”
By the time I wrote the first book, I was playing in our community orchestra, in the lowly viola section. An oboist did something I’ve long since forgotten that annoyed me so much I thought to myself, if I ever write a mystery, I’m going to kill an oboe player. So I did.
Oh, not that oboe player. I had to make one up. Not just to avoid a lawsuit, but to set me free to think up ways and reasons and suspects and red herrings and all the other people, things, and twists to involve in the story. That’s when the urge to kill turns into real work. But I can’t be the only one to put into my victim’s mouth words that made me mad at someone I didn’t have the satisfaction of bumping off.
Or the only one to have characters stand up on their hind legs and say things I didn’t plan at all. The difference between that and real life is that I then get to decide whether to let them keep doing it. My characters don’t, though. In the book that will finally see the light of day in 2013, a prospective mother-in-law that I’d thought might be a mere fusspot has turned into someone you wouldn’t want to spend five minutes with. Kill her? I wouldn’t dream of it. I might want her again.
Totally off the topic, I hope you’ll all join me in wishing Janet Dawson a very happy Halloween–birthday, that is. She won’t tell us which one, but I suppose you could ask her.
Of course, if you do, she might have to kill you.
Better hand out chocolates instead.
Sara Hoskinson Frommer