Wednesday, February 19, 2014

How Do I Kill Thee? Let Me Count the Ways

There’s something about writing murder mysteries that rubs me the wrong way. At heart, I’m a non-violent, make-love-not-war kinda guy. Until you put a blank document in front of me with one of my delectable culinary mystery titles at the top. Tequila Mockingbird. Roux the Day. Romeo and Julienned. Glazed and Infused. Berried Alive. You get the drift. How can you not write to one of those titles? {Speaking of which--did you get your copy of Mission Impastable yet?}

When the blank page pops up, I can’t help myself. I recall grisly details of murder methods and motives. I tap into my files of devilish dyings. I scour the Internet for undetectable poisons. I make note of various ways to die--advertent and inadvertent--in books I read. Think about it: an inadvertent death can be used as a plot point or red herring in a murder mystery.

I write cozy mysteries. In cozies, you protect the sensibilities of the reader by killing off-stage, mostly. You don’t let them see the blood and gore of grisly death, mostly. Cozies are analogous to the old movies where they are clutched in embrace, move as one to open the door to the bedroom, and the scene fades to black. You know what happened, but you don’t live it real-time.

You might wonder how a “cozy mystery” can even be called a “murder mystery”? I mean, doesn’t that seem a contradiction in terms? Cozy implies safe. Murder is far from a safe state.Why do we authors continue to kill people? Are all authors just psychopaths masquerading as normal? Could we authors really be Dexter, with just a nudge?

Oh, I hope it is not mere sublimination. Rather, the puzzle to be set then solved is the attraction for most mystery writers, I suspect. It is satisfying to plot out the puzzle with myriad clues and red herrings (perfect for culinary mystery, eh?).

Back to the case in point: how many ways can you kill people? There is some weird stuff out there, by the way, in case you go investigating “ways to kill people”.

And, as it turns out, there are a lot of ways to kill people. Think about it. I’ll give you a moment to jot down ideas.
<Jeopardy music softly in background>

How did you do? Did you find it’s easier to enumerate if you think about killing in categories?

Deprivation of oxygen: plastic bag over head, pillow smothering, drowning, fire, strangulation, bury alive, and so on.

Traumatic injury: electrocution, car accident, bludgeoning, stabbing, shooting, hack off limbs, pierce the brain, sever artery, freezing, mauling, and more.

Chemical: drug overdose, toxic household items, toxic plants, acid, inhaling 100% oxygen, paralytic drug so systems shut down, radiation, viral, etc.

Then of course there’s the mass murder and serial murder. So many options for a writer. The only answer for us, of course, is to keep writing books and use up all the ways there are to do somebody in.

But, why do we choose murder? Can’t we just have some theft, a little B&E, nobody gets physically hurt, and call it a real cozy?


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