Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The stories are limitless...

By R.J. Harlick

“There's only so many ways to sing the blues and yet no one ever asks blues musicians why they're still doing it. Do you ever feel restricted by the constraints of the crime genre or overwhelmed by what's out there?"

They’re singing the blues because they love singing the blues. If they didn’t, they’d sing something else. Crime writers are no different. We write crime fiction because we have great fun writing it. Far from feeling constrained by the genre, I’d say we continuously push the envelope, so to speak.

Detective/suspense fiction didn’t exist until Sir Arthur Conan Doyle introduced the reading public to the crime solving detective and Wilkie Collins to the amateur sleuth. And while crime continues to be central to the plot, successive crime writers have taken the genre in many fascinating and varied directions, so many that the genre has been further divided into sub-genres, even sub-sub-genres.

I don’t think any of us have felt the least constrained by the genre. Quite the contrary. Stories involving crime, even a simple mystery, are limitless. They revolve around human nature. Nothing is more fascinating than the complexities of the human mind and the motivations that drive us not only to commit a crime but also in our continuous interactions with the world and people around us.

Take my Meg Harris series for example. I set Meg up in a near impossible setting for a mystery series: a wilderness, where people are few and far between. It’s worse than Cabot Cove. The potential for the body count to surpass the living population is high. So what do I do? I move Meg around. She goes off on canoe trips, visits nearby cities, explores other wildernesses, where the body count can rise without becoming ludicrous.

There is so much freedom with the mystery genre. Think of all the fascinating places you can visit from the comfort of your chair. As the author, you get to visit and explore all these unique places, all in the interests of research of course.

With historical mysteries, the genre transcends time, taking the reader as far back as the author wants to take them. Those mysteries with a science fiction slant take the reader to the future and to societies that exist by virtue of the author’s imagination, which let’s face it is boundless.

As for the crimes themselves. I suppose one could say there are only so many variations on a theme. But let’s face it, there are many ingenious ways to end a person’s life, many of which have already been written about. But I imagine there are other ways still lurking in an author’s mind. The crime doesn’t have to be limited to murder, but could be any kind of crime. Just is, murder is the most dramatic.

More intriguing with the genre is the ability to exploring the motivations behind the crime. As I said at the outset, it revolves around human nature. The permutations and combinations are boundless, particularly when you add different locations, different cultures and different periods in time into the mix.

But if a crime writer begins to feel they are running out of crime stories, they can always write a different type of fiction. However, I have yet to meet a crime writer who has moved away from the genre. It’s too much fun. Instead, when they feel they are becoming stale with a particular series, they write a new one with different characters and locations, even time periods and cultures.

By the way I’ve just sent my publisher the manuscript for the next Meg Harris mystery, A Cold White Fear, which will be released in early November.  For a change of pace, I have written a different kind of crime novel, a thriller. Rather than trying to determine whodunit, Meg has to survive a very perilous situation. She is stranded at her home, Three Deer Point, by a raging blizzard, when there is a sudden knock at her door….


Robin Spano said...

This is so well said. I wish I could put this post in my pocket to bring out next time someone addresses the "literary vs. crime" question on a panel!

RJ Harlick said...

Thanks, Robin. I see from Facebook that you and your Vancouver cohorts have been having great fun with your Noir in the Bar events. We shall have to try it in Ottawa.