NOT YOUR USUAL SUSPECTS

A group blog featuring an international array of killer mystery, suspense, and romantic suspense writers. With premises and story lines different from your run-of-the-mill whodunits, we tend to write outside the box. We blog several times a week on all topics relating to romantic suspense and mystery, our writing, and our readers. We welcome all comments and often have guest bloggers. All our authors can be contacted separately, too, using their own social media links.

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Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Family is the Real Mystery

Ah, the joys of extended family gatherings! Pick your holiday. We love our families but the filters always seem to come off in conversations with them.

Don’t you love the questions your family members ask?  They often go something like this:

"Why do you write mysteries?"

"When will you write a real book?"

"Why do you want to write about brutal crimes like murder?"

Warning signs flash in my head as I bite back a scathing response. It’s sorta like the troll reviewer—Do Not Engage.

I’d have a different reaction if I were asked those questions at a signing or writing event. (Okay, I’ve never been asked about writing the “real” book at anything writer-related.) At a family gathering? Yeah, well, I’ve learned to smile, nod and change the subject.

Carolyn Hart says she answers these questions this way: “Murder is never the point of the mystery. Mysteries are about the messes people make of their lives and how they cope.”

Why can’t I come up with a great answer like that on the fly?

Given time to think about it (I’m a writer, not a stand up comedian), I’d explain that the attraction and defining features of a mystery are suspense, puzzles, and courage. Unlike action adventures and thrillers, mysteries are about the characters—not the murder.  Even a police procedural focuses as much on the detective as it does the actual unraveling of the case.

Lately I’ve been writing “lighter” stories, closer to the traditional mystery. Traditional mysteries cover their own swath of landscape, but run the risk of being accused of either “Cabot Cove” syndrome (where everyone in the small town dies or should be moving away from Murder Central) or otherwise dismissed as unrealistic, "cozy" little stories in little villages populated with “cute” people with “cute” jobs.

Again, I think those critics miss the point. The focus in these stories is on the characters and the relationships. There’s pain and passion, heartbreak and violence, despair and fury. It’s life as most readers live it, ordinary, unremarkable, and fraught with emotion. My favorite review says the reader wants to be “besties” with the heroine—a woman she relates to.

Rather than running from trouble or relying on forensics, computers and high tech,
the traditional mystery sleuth explores the relationships between the victim and the victim’s friends and enemies. The key is the motive--what caused turmoil in these lives? Thankfully, everyday dramas don’t often end in murder, but violent emotions resulting from those fractured relationships impact the lives of everyone involved.

This is what the traditional mystery is all about. The traditional mystery focuses on the intimate, destructive, frightening secrets hidden beneath an apparently placid surface. Readers know the jealous mother, the miserly uncle, the impossible boss, the belittling friend, the woman who confuses sex with love, the selfish sister. They encounter their counterparts in their lives—and understand that nothing can be more powerful than jealousy, anger, hatred, lust, and fear.

It is how these emotions destroy that fascinates both readers and writers of traditional mysteries. Every day we see proof that evil often triumphs. We want a world where goodness triumphs, where justice is served, where decency is celebrated. When people read or write a mystery, they affirm their commitment to justice, decency, and goodness

Now if I could condense that into a one-liner to zing across the dining room table at my brother…

What to you see as the appeal of the traditional mystery?

And how to you respond to those unfiltered family questions?


~ So About the Money

A traditional mystery solved by an amateur sleuth, who follows both the money and the relationships.  No farm animals were harmed in the writing or telling of this story.

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10 comments:

Anne Marie Becker said...

I love this take on murder mysteries! And the quote: “Murder is never the point of the mystery. Mysteries are about the messes people make of their lives and how they cope.” I never thought about it that way, but it's so true. We examine everyone's motives, which means we have to get into their heads, their goals, their emotions. I find it so fascinating to delve into that!

Lisa Q. Mathews said...

Thanks for the great post, Cathy. I am so going to use that Hart quote myself...and I loved everything you had to add. Very true!

Rita said...

Very nice post Cathy. In particular your last paragraph.
Q. Why do you write mysteries?
A. Aren’t most books mysteries? I mean you don’t know how they will end.
Q. When will you write a real book?
A. Why do you want to know?
Never. I don’t want to rob you of your only topic of conversation with me.
When I run out of the money I made from the un-real book I wrote.
Q. Why do you want to write about brutal crimes like murder?
A. To keep you and others like you safe and me out of jail.

jean harrington said...

Cathy, what a sold defense of the mystery novel you present in this blog. I loved it! Can I quote from it if I give you the credit? No kidding!

Cathy Perkins said...

I think the "why" part is the most interesting too @Anne Marie!

@ Lisa It is a great quote by Carolyn :)

Marcelle Dubé said...

Great post, Cathy! I have to say I don't experience that kind of put-down; certainly not with my family who are all very supportive. And the half of my family that doesn't speak English wants me to hurry up and get my books translated into French. As for other people, perhaps it's a Canadian thing. Nobody would ever be rude enough to ask me something like that to my face. :-)

Cathy Perkins said...

Love your answers @Rita!

LOL @Jean

Cathy Perkins said...

That's wonderful your family is so supportive @MArcelle. Mine? Not so much.

Marcelle Dubé said...

Cathy, shall I pay them a little visit...?

Anne Marie Becker said...

Bwahahaa, Rita. Love your "answers." ;)

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