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.

We find our genre delightfully, dangerously, and deliciously exciting - join us here, if you do too!


Julie Moffet . Clare London . Cathy Perkins . Jean Harrington . Daryl Anderson . Nico Rosso . Maureen A Miller . Sandy Parks . Lisa Q Mathews . Sharon Calvin . Lynne Connolly . Janis Patterson . Vanessa Keir . Tonya Kappes . Julie Rowe . Joni M Fisher . Leslie Langtry

Friday, August 30, 2013

Driven to Distraction

by Janis Patterson

For my birthday last year The Husband gave me a wonderful new car. It has special lights, all kinds of gizmos and enough electronics to run a small city. I love it. I absolutely love it.

As a writer, I hate it, and all like it.

You see, my new chariot isn’t all that unusual. There were a lot more goodies we could have added but didn’t, but even the few we got are enough to make modern cars marvels for their owners – and hell for a mystery writer.

Who hasn’t read (or written) a mystery where the hero or heroine is in a car trying to get away from the bad guys, so they turn into a convenient driveway or forest or whatever, put on the parking brake, turn off the lights and lie down across the seat to make the car appear invisible or at least parked – but of course keeping the engine running for a fast getaway. Once the bad guys speed past, our hero backs out, and speeds in the opposite direction – usually without turning on the lights until they’re way off the bad guys’ radar.

Just try that in a modern car. Lights go on when you just unlock it or open the door. More lights go on when you start the engine. There is no way to just stop the car, engine running, without the thing being lit up like a Christmas tree. Even after the engine is turned off there are still lights, usually on a timer probably so the driver can reach his front door safely – all of which is great for a real life driver, but a trial for a mystery writer.

Worse, even if you can get around the light problem in one way or another, there are the various forms of electronic assistance programs, which are really little more than trackers. In real life they can be wonderful, as in the case of a young friend of mine who recently had a nasty car accident. Before her car had stopped spinning the assistance program was activated, with a voice asking if she needed the police or an ambulance. For her – and all real people – I delight in such life-preserving technology.

As a writer… not so much. How can I have my victim stuck in the bottom of a ravine so long that it can’t be ascertained whether his demise was the result of accident or murder? Or however I want to kill him? I can’t always have my characters driving old cars without all the electronic bells and whistles, and I don’t always want to write in an era before this.

I’m sure technology has always been a trial for writers. Probably some poor writer bemoaned the loss of the buggy whip and the (relatively) speedy pace of the Model T, to say nothing of the instant communication of the hand-crank telephone. Nothing changes, really – just the props. No matter how we try to adapt, how we twist our stories, there’s always a bigger, badder bit of technology just waiting to challenge us. But as writers we will win. We can always out-think a machine.

At least, I hope so.


Just don’t get me started on cell phones!

18 comments:

Karen McCullough said...

HI Janis - Thanks for the post. I laughed with you, but you're right about the problem. As mystery authors, this gives us a new set of challenges to work with. Still, we're crafty and clever. We can work it out.

Kaye George said...

My daughter says cars sold in Virginia have the lights come on with the windshield wipers! It's the law there, so they make the cars that way.

You should have seen us trying to start our rental car a couple of weeks ago. There was no key, and nowhere to put a key. We were flummoxed! Had to get the attendant to tell us old fogies how to start the dang car!

Kathleen Kaska said...

My husband has refused to trade in our car for a new one because he doesn't want to deal with all the new gadgets.
As far as avoiding the pitfalls of modern automobile technology in our stories, we can always give our character and old classic car to drive.

Elise Warner said...

Enjoyed your blog, started my morning with a few laughs. It's a challenge. When we took our last car--and that was a long time ago--out for the first time, I kept busy reading the directions to my husband as he drove. At the same time,the road we usually took was under repair and we had to find another way to get to a friends house for the weekend.

vicki batman said...

Ah, sweetie, you hit a great point. MY 1999 Jeep has no gadgets except for the updated radio with a usb and cd ports.

I sometimes wonder about the lack of cars body styling is why they put the gadgets in. Truly, lots of cars look the same. Give me an oldie....

Rose Anderson said...

Now my mind is filled with car details. You're right Janis, we have writing challenges with these newer gadgets. Give me a Gremlin. Now there's a car you can write about!

Larion aka Larriane Wills said...

I recently had a friend typing out a story I had written several years ago. she started to update it as she typed. I, of course, had to stop her. yeah, cell phones, home computers, ipads, etc would really foul my story up. how many times can you use the cell phone dead zone or dead battery is you want some one stranded?
forget about a car that tells everyone where you're at. lol.
love the post, susan

Anne Marie Becker said...

Not to mention all the things we have to understand to make our villains devious but smart....things like hacking into computers and being wary of surveillance cameras. Sigh. I think my next book will be set in the 70s. ;)

Sandy Cody said...

I so agree, Janis. Technology makes it a lot harder - especially for writers who don't understand this brave new world. I tried a story with a heroine who didn't have a cell phone (described her as a free spirit/rebel); my editor said it would never fly, since the protag had kids, it would be irresponsible not to have a cell phone.

Marcelle Dubé said...

This is all too true, Janis. My main character in the Mendenhall Mysteries is a middle-aged chief of police and she's flummoxed by the new smart phone she's been issued... I know exactly how she feels...

Rita said...

Technology has been kicking my writers butt for some time. Geeze you can’t even put someone at the bottom of the ocean because Richard Ballard or James Cameron will find them. HA! Anne Marie I think any more stories I write will be set in the 1930s

Gemma Juliana said...

Hi Janis, So true, I hadn't even thought about how the new cars will thwart mystery authors... it'll be interesting to see how we all get around the new road blocks (no pun intended)...

Helena said...

Too true! I often think when I'm reading old mysteries how impossible it would be to write them today, because the plot turns on something which would be defeated by modern technology - or relative inefficiency. There's one, an Agatha Christie I think, which depends absolutely on the certainty that a letter posted at a certain time would be delivered at a specific time - not just the date, but the hour. Impossible now, without special delivery (or equivalent) which would have defeated the point (from memory, it had to appear that the letter had arrived earlier and triggered an action by the victim).

And other books depend on the certainty of a train being exactly on time. Huh!

I've heard children wondering aloud when reading an older book: "but why didn't she just send a text?" They find it difficult to imagine a time before mobile phones (or that it wasn't "in the olden days").

Earl Staggs said...

Susan, you make a good case for writing historicals and westerns. ;-)

In early drafts of my first novel, my protag used pay phones. Before the final draft, I changed all that and gave him a cell phone.

New advances seem to come along at a fast clip now and it's hard to keep up.

Pat Marinelli said...

Hubby and I are ROFL at your blog. The topic is priceless...but oh sure true.

Sydell Voeller said...

Susan, I enjoyed your blog. I'm not a mystery writer, but I share your frustration. I'm sure you'll find a way around it though.

Rebecca York said...

My car got stuck in a mode where the light would not go on. So there's probably some way to do it on purpose. But yeah, I do worry about technology, particularly since my h/h probably text, and I don't.

Susanne Alleyn said...

That's definitely one reason to write historicals set before 1890...

The transmission finally dropped out of our 1996 car last month (yeah, the car with a state-of-the-art cassette player). The brand-new car is a total shock. Mom says she feels as if she's driving the Space Shuttle.

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