Friday, January 29, 2010

Guest Blogger - Wendy Lyn Watson

Out of Chaos, Order.

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)

14 comments:

  1. I personally love true crime as well

    Terri

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  2. Wendy,
    What are your favorite flavors of ice cream? LOL Now that - that is out of the way. I really like fiction over reality which why I like the CSI shows but I do have my other shows like dancing with the stars and I love true crime however I like true crime as in The Jack the Ripper and other cold cases etc...
    Pamela

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  3. LOL.Personally I think that following the rules now is a very mysterious way to live. There really aren't all that many of us that I can see.

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  4. Great post, Wendy! I love the story about the $5 bill ripoff. These guys would make great characters. I, too, have always followed the rules so I just love it when I come upon wacky crimes like this one. I think of myself as creative until I hear these stories... then I realize I'm just left in the dust!

    Julie

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  5. I was a psychology major with a criminal justice minor in college. I used to absolutely DEVOUR anything written by John Douglas or Ann Rule. But then I had kids and didn't want to think about all the real evil in the world so I switched to fiction.

    Tracy

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  6. Love your titles! I look for real life events to spark my imagination. Real life is so much weirder than anything I can make up.

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  7. You're SO witty! I much prefer sticking to fiction. The real world can be such a dark place. I don't want to live in real crime. Fictional crime is so much more satisfying since the justice system works in fiction.

    Love your book, Wendy!

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  8. Oh, such wonderful comments!

    Pamela-asking me to pick my favorite flavor would be like asking a mother to pick her favorite child. :) I love so many.

    Tonight, though, I'm making dessert for a dinner party: chocolate bundt cake with banana ice cream and peanut butter caramel. Num!

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  9. What a clever and entertaining post! For some reason, although it is minus thirty outside, I feel like ice cream. Looking forward to reading I scream, you scream!

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  10. This is a great post! I was at a library event in California last weekend and saw someone reading your book -- she told me she loved it. It's next on my list!

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  11. Love your style, Wendy. I am ROTFL. Congrats on the launch of your new series (and surviving work in the fed and state court systems, oy). Clearly, you and Tallulah are destined for great things--with a cherry on top. You go, girl!

    Cheers,
    ~Cleo
    Mystery Lovers' Kitchen

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  12. I'll stick to fiction, too, though I do love those reality shows. Throw in Dr. G and Dateline repeats and I'm in research heaven.

    I'm looking forward to Scoop To Kill, to see what Tally is up to next.

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  13. It's so cool to hear that people who don't even know me are picking up I Scream, You Scream. That's the point, of course, but it doesn't seem real. :)

    MJ: Minus 30??? Man, I don't miss that kind of weather. Not one little bit. We're all whimpering because we saw snowflakes in Texas, but the temp is something like 28. That's +28.

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  14. First off, Wendy, you can borrow my evil genius any time you need it...more evil than genius most of the time, but it's here for the picking.

    I prefer my mystery and mayhem on a micro scale. Rather than large mysteries of who-dun-what to whom, I am intrigued with the more psychological mysteries of what causes one person to violate another on a grand, if not mysterious, scale. I was a sociology and biology major in college and I've always been facinated with why people do horrible things. Is it biological? Is it environmental influence? Is it some outside source that none of us can see or feel?? It intrigues me.

    Great blog post!

    Mary

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