Friday, January 29, 2010
Guest Blogger - Wendy Lyn Watson
Thank you to Pamela and Terri for hosting me today and for coming up with such an intriguing theme: the mayhem of writing mysteries.
I thought about writing about the mayhem I thrust on poor, goody-goody ice cream entrepreneur Tallulah Jones (mortal danger, emotional heartache, public nudity ...), but I’d rather let Tally tell you about it herself in the Mysteries a la Mode (“I Scream, You Scream” and the forthcoming “Scoop to Kill”). And then I thought about discussing the mayhem in my personal life, but figured you didn’t really want to hear about our cat box biohazard or the drifts of dirty socks that have mysteriously taken over my kitchen.
Instead, I decided to tell you about the little tidbits of real-life craziness that work their way into my books. This is really a story about imposing order on mayhem, but hopefully Pamela and Terri will forgive me for straying from the assignment a bit.
I lack the evil genius gene, so I need to find inspiration in the outside world. I pick up ideas for stories, tiny kernels of fact and narrative, from a huge variety of places. Moreover, my mama raised me right: my conditioned response is to follow the rules and tell the truth. Which isn’t terribly mysterious. So to crawl inside the head of a criminal or a suspect--and make that person believable, sympathetic, AND deceptive--I need to observe the ways in which people rationalize bad behavior.
After law school, I spent years working in the state and federal court systems of Minnesota, witness to all the ridiculous ways greed and lust and plain ol’ stupidity can lead people to hurt one another (in ways both criminal and civil). Now that my court days are over, I have developed an unseemly addiction to reality TV: shows like COPS, Judge Judy, and The First 48 provide all sorts of glimpses into the minds and machinations of the criminal element ... and of fundamentally good people who nevertheless do very bad things.
Real-life criminals are more creative than you would think. Take, for example, the two small-time cons who decided to “make” money by ripping four five-dollar bills into five pieces each, and then taping them back together with one piece missing from each ... and then taping the four leftover pieces together to make a fifth (incomplete) bill. Creative! Stupid, but creative. I might be able to do complex statistical analyses and whip up a pretty tasty pan of enchiladas, but I would never in a million years come up with such a low-tech and deceptively ingenious plan to scam the world.
Real life doesn’t always translate into good fiction. My job as a writer is to take the chaos of real life and impose a narrative structure on it. Many of the raw ingredients come from the real world, but it’s my job to turn them into an aesthetically pleasing confection. I may take a motivation from one real criminal, a method of murder from another, and throw in an interesting social trend I’ve picked up from my students, then streamline the whole process to make it follow my protagonist’s internal narrative arc ... stir, bake, garnish with some humor, and voila! A cozy mystery that is hopefully much richer and more delicious than the sum of its parts.
What about you? Does your fascination with mystery and crime extend to the real world? Or do you prefer to stick with the more ordered world of fiction?
Wendy Lyn Watson writes deliciously funny cozy mysteries with a dollop of romance. Her Mysteries a la Mode (I Scream, You Scream (October 2009) and Scoop to Kill (September 2010)) feature amateur sleuth Tallulah Jones, who solves murders in between scooping sundaes. While she does not commit--or solve--murders in real life, Wendy can kill a pint of ice cream in nothing flat. She’s also passionately devoted to 80s music, Asian horror films, and reality TV. (www.wendylynwatson.com)
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