Tuesday, August 9, 2022

What Price Murder?


Terry here: We had the choice of two questions this week, and I chose to write about this one: 

 We crime writers write about murder and violence. What are your thoughts about profiting—however meagerly—from the tragedy of others, even if it’s fictional?

 More years ago than I care to admit to, I heard a talk by then budding writer Sue Grafton. She admonished the writers in her audience to take crime seriously. She reminded us that the crimes we write about, usually murder, can be devastating. That murder doesn’t affect just the victim, nor the victim’s family, but the community at large. 

 These days when a proliferation of weapons has made murder numbingly common, her words seem almost old-fashioned and poignant. And yet, just a couple of days ago, I heard the mother of a victim of Sandy Hook remind everyone that her son, who was killed, was a person. A real, live, person. 

 The life and personhood of the victim is something I try never to forget when I’m writing. A few years ago I was on a panel and I told the audience that I was interested in what made murderers feel that they had no other recourse than to kill someone. That I wasn’t interested in writing about serial killers or a crazy person who shot someone at random. I’m interested in what makes someone think that they can only save their livelihood or their good name, or their pride, or can get away with something only by killing a particular person. 

After the panel, a woman from the audience came up to me and told me that she’d never heard an author say that and that it resonated with her. She said her daughter had been murdered along with a few other victims because they happened to be in a store when a young man entered to rob the store and realized that people could identify him. He killed everyone there. It was heart-breaking to hear her store, and I was glad I’d articulated what I felt like was at the heart of my writing. 

 Am I profiting from murder and violence? In some small way, perhaps, but my primary goal is to examine the ways in which life can go wrong and end up in violence. Plus, I try always to illuminate the affect the murder has on the victim’s family and community. In a small town like Jarrett Creek, Texas, murder tears at the fabric of the community. In my latest book, Murder at the Jubilee Rally, a young mother is the victim. Her husband is disabled, further complicating the impact of her murder. When I wrote about the victim’s husband, sister, children, best friend, people who knew her, I wanted to make sure many aspects of her life came through. I wanted to give a sense of real life and death. 

 Taking it seriously doesn’t mean there can’t be light moments in a book. A little humor can help the reader take a breath between scenes of dismaying details about the murder and its affect. In fact, it’s a given that even in the most fraught of real life circumstances, people sometimes exhibit a macabre sense of humor to break the tension. 

 I hope that being true to the reality of how murder impacts everyone involved, the “profit” I produce is for the reader.


Brenda Chapman said...

I agree with everything you say, Terry. A thoughtful post.

Terry said...

Thank you, Brenda.

Susan C Shea said...

Good answer to a tough question. I think your tack is a sensible, sensitive one: Never leave out an honest look at the effect of a killing on the people who ared about the victim. Make that real, not a careless trope. As you do.

विकास नैनवाल 'अंजान' said...

Thoughtful Post. I agree with everything you say. That's why i think the author should refrain from glamourizing the crime and that can only happen when the readers are not allowed to forget that the victims were real people whose life and the endless possiblilites it held was cut short ruthlessly.

-Vikas Nainwal