Thursday evening my wife and I had just sat down for dinner. We were revisiting each other’s day, eating spaghetti. My wife works in accounting for the school system and she was in the midst of a slight breather because of spring break. Like always, I had deadlines to meet. We were discussing plans for the weekend, plans for the landscaping project in the backyard. By all accounts, it was a normal day. And then the phone rang. It was my mother-in-law. She said she had some bad news. My wife’s cousin had been murdered.
There is nothing that prepares you for that phone call, no matter how distant or close. At this point, the story is still unfolding, and it is not my intention to recount the details here. But after the shock wore off, or wore down, continues to wear off, if it ever will, I had to consider that as a writer of murder mysteries, I visit the land of death and horrifying events in my imagination every day. Writing stories about murder is how I entertain people, how I practice my craft, my art.
And now I am questioning why.
I have three short stories posted on Amazon Shorts. In each story, the murders take place off stage. I also have two novels circulating in New York, and again, the murders take place off stage. I had not realized that fact until now. It is an unintentional pattern. This is the case with all of the stories that I have published: The violence, the murder, occurs off stage, out of sight.
(I just found out “See Also Murder” has been selected as a finalist for the 2007 Derringer Awards—so that is some good news to add to this post.)
My stories and novels almost always focus on the characters, the affect of violence on the lives of the victims, families, and those that champion them. The investigation comes second for me, the search for justice concluded in a moral, logical, manner. Violence is a detail, a hammer shattering the glass of a normal day.
I don’t want to see the murder or feel that emotion. Violence for the sake of violence has never been appealing to me. Somehow, my internal filter, my psyche, has dictated this as a rule not be broken. Maybe that is my downfall, why my novels are still sitting on a editor’s desk instead of on the bookshelf. Maybe not.
I write mysteries for the same reason people read them: We all seek comfort in order, in the hope that we will witness justice when a violent act is committed. In real life, that does not happen all of the time—we rarely get to see true justice served. But in mystery novels, we are always there at the end as a witness. Justice has to be served, morally or legally. Period. No question. So, murder mysteries can be comfort food for the mind, for the soul—for those that read them, and those that write them.
I write mysteries to find sanity in the insanity of a harsh world. And my guess is, I will continue to write stories where the violence occurs out of sight. That rule will be even harder to break now.
So, since this is my first blog post here, I’ll leave you with a couple of questions to consider: Why do you read mysteries? Why do you write mysteries? Is graphic violence really necessary in a good mystery?
Maybe you already know the answers, or maybe, you’ll take a little time to reconsider them.
With so much real violence in the world today, we all need as much sanity as we can find…
****My thoughts, my heart, go out to my wife’s family. May you find comfort in knowing that you are loved.