Whenever people ask what I do, I like to look straight at them, smile, and reply “I murder people.” I usually give them a moment to squirm before I add, “Fictionally. I write mysteries.”
I did the same kind of thing in high school. See, I went to a classical school. It was technically public, but specialized — no athletics, an emphasis on academics, cultural arts, and foreign languages. But before the school was transformed into a classical school, it was an alternative school. So whenever people asked what school I went to, I’d just offer the first part of the name and leave off the label “classical.” I could see the struggle on their faces as they attempted to reconcile the image of me with the concept of a delinquent.
So much fun.
It’s not that I like to make people uncomfortable. I simply enjoy challenging their assumptions, guiding them toward incorrect conclusions.
Is it any wonder I love to write mysteries?
People ask me sometimes why I chose such a genre. It’s not about the bloody death scenes or the psychology of killing (although I do have an undying love for psychology).
It’s about the subtle misdirect. It’s about offering pieces of a puzzle that can be put together a thousand different ways. It’s about a genre with the unique ability to make the reader part of the story as he/she becomes an amateur sleuth, gathering clues page by page. It’s about assigning meaning to every action, even though the reader might not be aware of it at the time.
I’m in love with a genre filled with secrets and lies, that relies on misperceptions and assumptions. It exposes a dark side of humanity and then ensures justice wins in the end. There’s a gentle beauty in that. Yes, a gentle beauty in murder mysteries. A hopeful subtlety in a genre filled with death.
It’s not all stabbing and shooting and bludgeoning, and all the other creative ways a person can die. That’s simply a small — albeit significant — part of the story. Mysteries reach beyond that, to explore how we handle death. And when we look at death, we also look at life. It’s impossible to consider one without the other.
For years, I wanted to write mysteries, but I wasn’t sure I had the skills to weave something so complicated, so intricate and layered.
And then I stopped caring whether I was good enough. Love won out, I suppose.
Like with any great love affair, my relationship with mystery has its moments of turbulence. There are days when I stare at my current manuscript and think “What kind of weirdo idiot chooses a genre that requires complex, complicated, convoluted plots?” This weirdo idiot, apparently. (And yes, I have a subconscious tendency to alliterate or rhyme when I’m annoyed. Apparently Dr. Seuss is my alter-ego. Who knew?)
But even on my worst, “why the hell do I do this to myself?” day, I wouldn’t trade my genre for the world. It requires me to stare evil in the face and subdue it. It forces me to think ten steps ahead and refuses to accept anything besides one hundred percent focus.
I guess you could say murder brings out the best in me. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.