Monday, October 14, 2013
Never cross a mystery writer
by Meredith Cole
It's normal to be angry. These days I lose my cool when I a) drive anywhere in bad traffic full of drivers who act like idiots, b) watch the news, and/or c) witness injustice or stupidity. Sometimes a and c are combined, and sometimes b and c, but never a and b. For me, anyway.
Have I ever killed any of those annoying drivers or politicians off in my books? Not yet. Most of the time I have no idea who the drivers are. They're anonymously driving the streets texting away in their white SUV or speeding down my road in their black BMW with tinted windows. That's why they feel they can get away with their behavior. And I can only guess at their identities. And the politicians and others on the news are too easy a mark: I'm not sure how many readers would actually care who had committed the crime. (What's Congress' approval rating this week? 0.9%?)
I write mostly about premeditated crimes. The car that speeds up in order to hit someone, rather than the car that kills a jogger because the driver thought finding a new song on their iPod was more important than someone else's safety. The second is a careless accident that anyone could commit who does not keep their eyes and attention on the road at all times. It's a crime, but it's not exactly a mystery.
But the real reason I don't use real people that I dislike in my books is that I want people to care about my victims, so I don't usually make them too repugnant. And, for the most part, I make them fictional, with perhaps a few characteristics of people I know thrown in to make them more real.
Of course I did try to put someone I didn't like in a short story once. She's the neighborhood busybody who everyone just wishes would kick the bucket and leave them all in peace. But something odd happened when I started writing about her. I began to see her good side. I started to see why she had turned out the way she had and how she saw herself as the heroine of her own story. And I felt a little guilty, too. I said hello to her more warmly the next time I saw her, and she was warmer in turn to me. And then I had a hard time finishing my story. So I don't think I'll be using anyone real again. Unless I can get a good look next time at that texting driver.