Thursday, December 20, 2012

Forgetting Type M

When last Thursday rolled around, I was behind and never posted. In fact, I was behind all week, and by the time I caught up it was Friday, and I was seated in front of the TV watching CNN in the aftermath of the shootings in Newtown, Conn., roughly an hour from where I live. Less than a week before that there was a "lock-down" at my daughters' elementary school. Allegedly, a student brought a BB gun to school. The automated text and phone messages from our small-town Connecticut elementary school were disturbing, but as I sat before my TV watching endless CNN coverage of the Newtown shooting, those automated messages took a whole new meaning.

Last Friday, I was no longer concerned with my missed post. By 10 a.m., I had forgotten all about Type M. I wasn't a writer; I was a father with two of my three daughters in a school very much like Sandy Hook Elementary, where, this week, an entire first-grade class is missing. My only post last week was a short line on Facebook praising the teachers who bravely protected their students amid the chaos that day. And that was it; no post about writing. And Friday night, like probably other dads that day, I slept on the floor of my daughter's room, a “slumber party,” we called it.

Or maybe I was still a writer.

Maybe that's why I've been watching and reading CNN nonstop for the past 48 hours. Maybe that's why events like this one, events Albert Camus would deem inexplicable in our “absurd” universe, drive me to read and write crime fiction.

I teach a mystery literature course two terms each year, and I always begin with an opening lecture, explaining the history of the genre and some basic constructs behind crime fiction. During this discussion, I inform students about one such rule by saying something along the lines of, “I can tell you the ending of all of my books right now without ruining a single one: Jack Austin and Max Tyger win. Always.”

It's the unspoken contract between writer and reader in this genre: chaos will not rule the day.

Good, in the form of our beloved heroes, always triumphs.

It's why after 9/11, when other genres and different types of books stopped selling, mysteries, more or less, remained steady. And days like last Friday – when parents stood outside a firehouse about an hour from where I was teaching and where my daughters were reading, and writing, and playing, those men and women stood waiting to be told their six-year-old son or daughter would be there soon only to learn, 10 days before Christmas, that if their little boy or girl had not yet arrived they would not do so – those days force me to write.

Writing and reading mystery fiction is a stay, a means of controlling the outcome of events in the world around me.

Days like last Friday are why, after all, we need crime fiction.

1 comment:

Charlotte Hinger said...

John, the tragedy of a whole class massacred is beyond belief. I start crying again whenever I think of what was on the kids minds shortly before. Christmas and Hanakkah. Presents and lights and cookies and lists for Santa.