Friday, February 22, 2019

As always, by the time my Friday comes up, my blog mates have written at least half-a-dozen posts I'd like to follow up on. So today, I thought I'd offer comments -- ideas that had occurred to me as I was reading. Yes, I'm cheating by not being original, but I'm still thinking through some of the posts I read this week. I bet you are, too.

On Monday, Aline wrote about "The Death Penalty." When I read her post, I thought about the conversation I've been having with the students in my undergrad class on gangster films and gangsters in American culture. This is the first time I've taught the class. In fact, it's a spin-off from a reference book I was asked to write about gangster films. As we go back to look at the Prohibition-era films, I have reminded them several time that the Hollywood Production Code (administered by the Hays Office) mandated "crime must not pay." So, the gangster might rise, but must also fall. Soon we're going to compare the classic gangster film with its modern descendant and discuss whether gangster films were/still are morality tales.

Thinking about gangster films has me thinking about crime fiction in general. In crime fiction, the criminal is sometimes the protagonist. Sometimes even the most dastardly villain lives to make a return appearance. I did that with a character who was not dastardly, but had killed someone. I knew by the time I got to the end of the book that the character was too fascinating to kill off or too leave sitting in a prison cell. Did I sacrifice some moral lesson for the sake of an ending I loved? Is it even my responsible to punish my characters who behave badly? Of course, readers want to see justice done, but isn't it possible to do justice by making it clear that the character will not live happily ever after because of the events in the book? In my case, the character had a relationship to the protagonist of my series that needs to be explored. Barbara;s post on Wednesday, "A question of just desserts," posed those questions with regard to crime fiction much more elegantly than my musing.

And the there Donis's post yesterday -- "What if. . ."  That got me thinking about "What doesn't . . ." My new neighbor has a dog who is friendly (has dropped by twice to visit with me as I walk up to my door). This lovely dog has also gotten into the habit of barking a greeting when he happens to be at the window when I'm leaving for work. That reminded me of the stories of dogs who become heroes by alerting mail carriers or police officers who see them that something is wrong at home. The "Lassie effect" -- "Follow me, human, something is wrong." But there are also recurring stories in the news about wild animals who do the same when a cub or a puppy is in trouble. While I was thinking about this, I begin to think about the other things that we expect to happen -- the other customer that we expect to see buying coffee at the same time, the woman who is always getting on the bus as we park across the street, the neighbor who leaves every morning with a gym bag. What if something that should happen, doesn't? Starting point for a story. . . and certainly has been used before.

On Tuesday, Rick's "Cinematic genius in a single minute" post made an important point about how much storytelling can be packed into a short film. I stopped to ponder whether it was because a film is visual and so much can be communicated at a glance or whether the same can be done in fiction. Rick mentioned flash fiction. Every year at the New England Crime Bake, attendees are invited to take part in the flash fiction contest using words from the titles of the guest of honor. I tried once, but was not terribly good at writing a mini-story. But the effort did pay off later when I was trying to write a full-length short story. I'm going to try boiling my historical thriller down to a "micro movie" and flash fiction. That should get me to the core of the story.

I'm thinking about these ideas that occurred to me as I read this week's post because I'm going to be teaching at a workshop for several days this summer. See the Yale Writers Workshop Summer Session II. Thrilled to be asked, thinking a lot about what we will be doing.

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