Thursday, August 14, 2014


Last week I got hold of a fabulous book on the act of creating, written by one of my favorite historical novelists, Steven Pressfield. It's entitled Do The Work : Overcome Resistance and Get Out of Your Own Way. It's a little tiny thing, less than 100 pages, but like all of Pressfield's writing, it is pithy as hell and right to the point. The blurb for the book says that it is "an action guide that gets down and dirty in the trenches." One of the first things he suggests a writer (or any artist/creator) must do before he begins is determine what the work is about. After I read that sentence, I had to put the book down and ponder for a minute.

Do The Work
Steven Pressfield

You see, I'm right in the middle of the first draft of a novel, and the best I can say is that it's about...150 pages long. I have a fabulous set up, great characters, some fantastic scenes. I have a point in mind. But I haven't killed anyone yet. I know where and when the killing should occur, but I don't know who my victim is. This is something of a problem for a crime novelist.

A few weeks ago, there was a thread on one of the mystery writers' discussion groups concerning victims. Why, one author asked, are most victims in mysteries horrible people? Why then would anyone care if the killer was caught? Interesting question. It made me think back over my seven mysteries and consider who I have killed, and why anyone cared. Thus far, my victims have been: 1) an old buzzard who had it coming, 2) a sad case, 3) a member of the family, 4) another member of the family, 5) a couple of haunted young men, 6) a guitarist in a mariachi band, 7) a really, really bad guy.

Of the slate of victims, only two were terrible people whose deaths left the world a better place. None of the rest deserved their fates. So the point in most of my mysteries is to find justice for those who met a tragic end. However, why would a reader care who killed the bad guys? Does it have to do with the simple intellectual challenge of solving the puzzle? Does it have to do with making sure an innocent person isn't implicated? In my most recent book, Hell With the Lid Blown Off, the victim is awful but all the suspects are perfectly lovely people. No matter who gets fingered, it's going to be sad. Or is it?

So who am I going to kill this time? One of my characters is going to have give me a really good reason to do him in.

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