Wednesday, April 17, 2013

In Which I Reveal How I Entered a Life of (Fictional) Crime

by Tracy Kiely

Over the years, I’ve been asked various questions about being a mystery writer. Some of the more common ones have been, “Really? I had no idea. Now, do you write under your own name? Because I don’t think I’ve ever heard of you,” and “Do you know Charlene Harris? (To answer the first; yes, and you’ll remember me when I kill you off in my next book. To the second; no. However, I did find myself alone on an elevator with her and didn’t make a complete ass out of myself, so I count it as a coup of sorts.)
Next on the list of questions is, “So, why did you decide to write mysteries?”  (This one is usually asked in the same tone one might query a lion keeper about his chosen field. Come to think of it, that’s probably appropriate, as the pay is roughly the same, not to mention the inherent danger to one’s health. Book reviewers can be just as vicious and destructive as any lion.)  And speaking of that question, have you noticed that no one ever asks romance writers why they write romance?  Why is that? I’ll tell you why. Mystery writers are presumed to be dark and twisted. However, if you extend that logic to all romance writers being tarts, you’ll find yourself on the end of a well-deserved slap to the face.    
I’ve been known to answer the question by muttering something about outstanding gambling debts, but my favorite response was given by Marcia Talley, author of the Hannah Ives series, who calmly responded that there were simply a great many people in her life that “needed to die.”
I’ve wanted to be a writer ever since I realized that I was not going to make it as a tap dancer like Gene Kelly (both gender and talent being two major hindrances) and that my dreams of being a cartoonist for The New Yorker ended when I realized I couldn’t even duplicate the images on those stupid Draw Me! matchbook covers.  
I dabbled with a poetry phase for a bit. (All twelve-year-old girls seem to either do that or sketch page after page of galloping horses. As to why no horses adorned my notebooks, please see above matchbook reference. And for God’s sake, stop bringing it up! Some dreams die hard.)
So, once out of the poetry stage, my thoughts turned to death, which sounds very Sylvia Plath (“your fate involves a dark assailant”), but was really more a result of the books I loved to read. Agatha Christie, Barbara Michaels/Elizabeth Peters, Joan Hess, and Dorothy Cannell all were my go-to reads. Being young and foolish, I thought to myself “Hey! I might be able to do this, too!” Before you condemn my arrogance, let me add that I was working for a horrible boss at that point and fantasized daily about his demise. I began to write a book – a modern-day mystery set in a dysfunctional office. Tweaking the first line of Rebecca, I began it with “Last night I dreamt I killed my boss again.”
I never finished that one although I may go back to it one day. He was that kind of boss. But once I started with mysteries, I was hooked. I loved the twist, the telling of two stories at once, the satisfaction of doing away with creeps that may or may not have been inspired by actual people.
You know? Maybe it’s not the gambling debts. Maybe I am dark and twisted.



Catriona McPherson said...

It never occurred to me that writers in other genres might not get asked that question all the time! Crime (inevitably) seems so mainstream to me and westerns/romances/sagas and all them seem so perverse.HAs anyone else, I wonder, had the experience of having people assume you're writing YA or kids'?

TracyK said...

I do get asked if I write YA a lot. Which is odd as all my titles have "MURDER" in them.