Friday, January 12, 2018

Why Crime Fiction?

Why did you decide to become a writer and in particular a writer of crime fiction?

by Paul D. Marks

To make lots and lots of money and be famous and see my name and picture plastered on billboards and the sides of busses and go visiting on Fallon and Kimmel. That’s why.

But, I’m not getting rich and the only place my picture is plastered is in the post office. So time to
delve into the whys and wherefores and open up that whole Pandora’s Box of psychopathology that makes me, uh, me. And that made me want to become a writer of crime fiction. But we won’t delve too deep. You never know what you might find down in the depths.

So, besides the riches and fame, what prompted me to write crime fiction: I write it so I can kill people...on the page that I can't kill in real life...........

Related to that is the desire to see justice served as it so often isn’t in real life. That said, in much of what I write there are no neat bow-tied endings. And even when parts of the stories are tied up other parts are left open-ended. Kind of like life. So, justice is often served on some level, but maybe not neatly and maybe not legal justice, but some kind of street justice. Unless it’s a totally noir tale where there truly might not be justice, at least not in terms of how we normally think of it.

Writing crime fiction also gives me a way to comment on things that I want to comment on. Also to explore different points of view about those things, via various characters, including those that might not necessarily jibe with my own thoughts. Kind of like when you did debates in school and you had to take the other side of the issue, whether you agreed with it or not.

And, as RM said in a post from a while back, “With crime fiction I get to write about people in trouble, not just criminals and victims, but the people who happen to be police officers as well.” It's so true, and crime fiction is about so much more than whodunit. It's about all the people affected by the crime. As such, it gives us a vehicle to explore the human condition (now that sounds pretty hifalutin) but in a structured story with a plot that keeps us interested (hopefully) and moving forward.

But ultimately I want to entertain. I’ve talked about this before, and I don’t want to beat on a dead Sturges, but the Preston Sturges movie Sullivan’s Travels makes the point very well about entertaining. It’s the story of a film director who makes movies like Ants in Your Plants of 1939. But he thinks it’s light and silly junk. He wants to make the ponderous message movie Oh Brother Where Art Thou. But through his adventures he learns that what people really want is to laugh – and to be entertained.

Now, there’s not generally a lot of yucks in crime fiction, though there are some exceptions. But the best crime fiction is entertaining first. Sam Goldwyn famously might have said, if I want to send a message I’ll call Western Union. Which is not to say that crime writing can’t have a message, just to say that it shouldn’t hit you over the head. The best writing makes you think, but it doesn’t tell you what to think. A crime writer can illuminate aspects of society, good and bad, without being preachy or moralistic. My novel White Heat deals with race and racism in the form of a fast-paced, intense mystery thriller. And while I hope I make some points about those subjects, my first goal is to entertain. The sequel to White Heat, which may actually see the light of day one of these days, does the same thing about another pressing issue of life today – immigration.

And, of course, I enjoy reading crime fiction and watching crime-related movies. As I’ve stated here before, I’m a “movie guy,” and I came to a lot of crime fiction via the movies. Anyone who knows me knows I love film noir and in that genre there are few heroes, at least of the conventional variety. I’ve done a lot of different types of writing, mainstream, humorous/satire, screenplays of various genres. But crime writing/fiction and noir allow me to explore what good and evil are and where the boundaries between them are sometimes blurred.

So there you have it, now I can stuff the bats back into the belfry and close the lid to Pandora’s Box.

Why do you write crime fiction?

***

And now for the usual BSP:

Check out my website: www.PaulDMarks.com


14 comments:

Dietrich Kalteis said...

Well said, Paul.

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks, Dieter!

GBPool said...

I like your point about writing giving the reader something to think about, not telling them what to think. I wish more writers tried that. And the entertainment goal in writing... As a reader, I want to be entertained. As a writer, I hope I entertain my readers, letting them get into the world I have created, walk around in it, and come away feeling they have been somewhere interesting. Very good points you have made, Paul. Money isn't everything. Good writing is.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi Paul,

I do agree that first and foremost novels have to be entertaining. They have to keep the interest of readers. I like a bit of mystery in novels that aren't actually mysteries per se, just as I like a bit of humor in serious mysteries and thrillers. As to messages, I do think they need to be subtle. And although most of us do a good bit of research, it's wise not to info dump and put the readers to sleep by including too many boring details that don't move the plot forward or help with character development.

RM Greenaway said...

Great post, Paul. And now I want to see Sullivan's Travels. I love the Coen brothers take on O Brother....

M.M. Gornell said...

Excellent post, Paul. And whether crime fiction or not, so agree with you (and Gayle in her comment)"...The best writing makes you think, but it doesn’t tell you what to think...." So on the mark.

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks, Gayle. And I agree with you that money isn’t everything, but wouldn’t it be nice to see just a little more of it from our writing ;-) ?

Paul D. Marks said...

Totally, agree, Jacqueline. I think we often fall in love with our research or the subjects of it, etc. But we need to remember to dole it out subtly.

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks, RM. If you like old movies Sullivan’s Travels is a good one! Not sure the Coen Brothers O Brother has anything to do with that though :-) .

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks, Madeline.

Maggie King said...

I love writing short stories with street justice served or with morally ambiguous endings. Good post, Paul. I'm sure many of us relate.

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks, Maggie. And I'm with you on the street justice.

RM Greenaway said...

I Googled it, Paul ... from a New Yorker article: "The Coen brothers got the title for their film “O Brother, Where Art Thou?,” as well as its premise, from Preston Sturges’s 1941 inside-Hollywood comedy, “Sullivan’s Travels” ... so there!

Paul D. Marks said...

Ah, you got me, RM :-) ! I'll have to watch O Brother again, it's been a long time. Thanks for checking.