Friday, April 7, 2017

Truth, Justice and the Crime Writing Way!

What prompted you to become a writer of crime fiction?

by Paul D. Marks

Uh, time to delve into 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, 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 earlier in the week, “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.

White Heat on Amazon
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.

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 some refreshingly new BSP:

My story Twelve Angry Days is coming out in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magaine, on sale at newsstands starting April 25th. Or click here to buy online.

And I’m thrilled to announce that my short story, “Ghosts of Bunker Hill,” was voted #1 in the 2016 Ellery Queen Readers Poll. If you’d like to read it (and maybe consider it for other awards) you can read it free on my website:


Will Zeilinger said...

Great article Paul!

catriona said...

Great post, Paul!

I never did see the problem with books having humour as well as dark stuff in them. That's what life's like, right?

You're sitting in the front row of the crematorium at the funeral of someone you love and it's freezing, and your mum says "they need to turn the heat on" and then you're all cracking up and a cousin taps your shoulder and says "If you can't stop laughing can you try to make it look like you're crying?" and then you're all crying. For instance.

Unknown said...

Rats, I missed mentioning that: the desire to entertain! YES, that's way up there, but sometimes it gets forgotten, so thank you for the reminder.

GBPool said...

"A crime writer can illuminate aspects of society, good and bad, without being preachy or moralistic." What a perfect way to say it. Even cozy mysteries or regular detective stories can do the same thing. But in the end, they entertain. You made that point so very clear. It's the story, period. The reader will have to interpret it through his or her own filters. Another great post, Paul.

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks, Will!

Thanks, Catriona! Great example, too. And I agree with you, it’s like life, you have the light and the dark.

Thanks, RM!

Thanks, Gayle! Yeah, in the end it is the story and hopefully an entertaining one.

Debbi said...

Great post! But of course it's nothing new for the most entertaining crime fiction writers to make points about society. I can name several: Walter Mosley, Raymond Chandler, Ross Macdonald, Sara Paretsky, Chester Himes ... shall I go on? :)

As for humor, how many Chandlerisms would you like me to quote? :)

"I felt like an amputated leg." -- "Trouble is My Business"

"She gave me a smile I could feel in my hip pocket." -- "Farewell, My Lovely"

"She was as cute as a washtub." -- "Farewell, My Lovely"

"It was a blonde. A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in stained glass window." -- "Farewell, My Lovely" (You knew that one was coming, right?)