Monday, December 21, 2009

Guest Blogger - Toni L P Kelner

When I was younger, I dreamed of creating magic, though I wasn't picky about how. Either "real" magic or illusion would do. Of course I would loved to have been able to cast spells like Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings, I figured I wasn't born on Middle Earth, so I realized pretty quickly that that wasn't going to happen. Then I tried to go the Houdini route and learn those kinds of illusions, but eventually realized I didn't have either the manual dexterity or the patience for that kind of magic. As Harry Potter would say, I was a born Muggle. That's why I was a little worried when I was invited to do this blog on the magic of mystery writing. What I could say? I'd given up on finding a wand I could use long ago.

So I thought I'd step back a little about what the word "magic" means. It's an overused word, after all: the magic of Christmas, the magic of love, the Orlando Magic. Even as I went online to check it out, there was a banner ad for the magic of Disney. But when I found the top two definitions for magic on, I started thinking that maybe I'm more mystical than I'd realized.

1) the art of producing illusions as entertainment by the use of sleight of hand, deceptive devices, etc.; legerdemain; conjuring: to pull a rabbit out of a hat by magic.

Obviously this is talking about the Houdini kind of magic. But isn't it what I do, too? Illusions as entertainment? I sure hope my mysteries are entertaining--that's all I'm really going for. Sure, as I write the "Where are they now?" novels, my love of Boston and old TV shows and comic books is going to show. But I'm not trying to convince anybody that Massachusetts is the best place on earth to live. I just want the story--the mystery, the romance, the suspense--to entertain folks

Sleight of hand, deceptive devices... Doesn't that sound perfect for mystery writers? Guilty characters who look innocent, innocent characters who look guilty, important facts snuck past in hopes that the reader won't notice them--all deceptive devices. I do try to write fair mysteries, in which readers know everything Tilda does, but that doesn't mean I make it easy on them. Now I could mention a fact or two from my upcoming book Who Killed the Pinup Queen to illustrate that, but then I'd blow the whole point of sleight of hand. So instead, I'll remind you of Poe's "The Purloined Letter," where a clue is right there in front of you. A lovely bit of legerdemain.

Then there's the second definition:

2) the art of producing a desired effect or result through the use of incantation or various other techniques that presumably assure human control of supernatural agencies or the forces of nature.

Art? Maybe. Incantations? An incantation is made up of words, and mysteries are made up of words. Pacing, metaphor, plot--those are all techniques for producing an effect. Of course, my spells aren't trying to create bolts of lightening or supernatural servants, but in Curse of the Kissing Cousins, I am trying to create a mood when I describe my protagonist Tilda's world, and invoke suspense when I talk about her being stalked by a killer, and arouse satisfaction when she solves the murder. I think those emotions would count as forces of nature.

So maybe mystery writing is a kind of magic. We take our bits and pieces of spell components, and create something we hope is magical. Admittedly, some days I feel more like Mickey Mouse as the Sorcerer's Apprentice than Gandalf or Harry Potter, but sometimes the magic happens.

Earlier this week, I was a guest on "Communicating Today," a talk show produced and hosted by a gentleman named John Monsul. We were talking about my book Curse of the Kissing Cousins, which is about a freelance entertainment reporter trying to outsmart a murderer and track down the missing cast member of a seventies sitcom called Kissing Cousins. John said several awfully nice things about the book, but the part that really tickled me was when he asked, "Was Kissing Cousins a real show?"

It wasn't--I made it up: the characters, the setting, everything. But John asking that showed that it felt real to him, meaning that I'd cast at least one successful spell with that book.

Maybe I don't need a wand after all.


  1. Toni--that's hilarious. But of course it's a "real" show--in Toni world.

  2. No, I don't think that you do need a wand, a pen is working just fine.

  3. Toni, I think I spotted lots of atmospheric disturbances over your house. I immediately said to myself, "Toni's casting a few magic spells." Isn't that what all writers do?

  4. Hank, you're always welcome in Toni World.

    Thanks, Mare.

    Peggy, I'm reminded of the time my sister Robin got interested in Wicca. She got a book about it from the library, and when my father asked why, she replied, "I'm going to make evil smells." We made fun of that slip of the tongue for years. Heck, we still do!


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