Monday, June 30, 2008

Thoughts About the Road Experience

By Ben Small

Many authors complain about having to attend book signings, and I’ve seen some authors at bookstore signings who never leave their seats. Huh? We’re meeting our adoring fans, aren’t we? Shouldn’t we embrace them? Engage them?

Yes, we should. But anyone who has traveled on a regular basis – I traveled all over the world for thirty years during my previous career – knows the drudgery that travel becomes. The airports that all start to look alike, the security lines and searches, airline food, breathing in all that stale ozone-thick aircraft re-circulated air, and the frequent bouts of flu and colds that come from it…Keep in mind, we’re just talking about the flying part of it all. There’s also what I call “First-night-it-is,” the inability to sleep the first night in any motel or hotel room. But even if you don’t suffer from First-night-it-is, you still wake up, look around, and wonder where the hell you are. Then, there are all the restaurants. Try dieting when you eat in a restaurant every night. No, the travel part of meeting one’s fans and peddling one’s books is not the fun part.

No wonder some authors don’t want to do it, or seem grumpy when they do.

But look at the bright side: You’re meeting your fans. They think you’re smart, successful and talented. Who can turn that down?

Of course, there’s also the possibility nobody will be there. What can you do about that? Hey, I’ve been there: I was in Madison, WI on the first warm sunny day after a record bad winter. Even the store manager wanted to leave.

Still, there are some things you can do to make the no-shows unlikely:

I send postcards and bookcards to the bookstore a couple weeks before I’m to arrive;

I do a city check on my high school and college alumni directory, and write letters or emails to every name I recognize. I add these addresses to a database, so when the next book comes out, I can do a mailing;

I’ll also ask the bookstore to do a little pub; some are more willing than others, and

I’ll post a notice of my book event on websites where I’m a frequent poster. About posting, I don’t watch much television anymore; it’s boring. Instead, I spend my time writing or posting. Posting is a great way to meet new people and spread the word about one’s books. I’m a regular on five sites, and I put my titles and website in my sig on all of them. People who post know about sigs, and they know about avatars. I use one of my book covers for an avatar. Three of the sites on which I post have over forty thousand members. The owner of one of them (SigForum) told me his site gets six million hits a week. Now that’s an audience.

But even if there are people in the store, that fact alone doesn’t mean you’ll sell anybody. I don’t just sit in my chair; the only time I sit is when I’m signing or dedicating a book. I prepare a color synopsis sheet for each book, and then I sorta stalk my customers, not in a bad way, just watching them, seeing where they browse, deciding who I’ll approach and how. I don’t want to grab a customer just walking in; she may be adjusting to a light differential, or she’s figuring out where to go. A full-blooded assault-upon-entry will just push her away. No, I wait a bit, and I watch. And then, if I sense a likely candidate, I engage her, synopses in hand. I ask if she likes mysteries or thrillers, and while she’s considering her answer, I ask if she likes them signed by the author… like…say…me? A big grin. And then we chat. At some point, I’ll say, “How about I sign one for you.”

Now, it helps if one enjoys meeting people. And I do. I find people fascinating. One can’t be a very good lawyer without listening, and I like to think I was a pretty good lawyer. I learn so much from what people tell me. What they like about books, what they don’t like. Feedback is so instructive, and learning what customers want is what marketing is all about. You can talk to other authors all you want; the customer will tell you what he or she wants to buy.

I hand out book cards like candy, even to those who say they don’t want a book. I’ve noticed my online sales figures go up after I’ve done a book signing. Some people want the book, but they just want to buy it for less than the bookstore is charging. Heck, some people ask me to sign my bookcards. Gee, wonder why…?

I ask people to email me. Again, feedback and listening are important. And if they contact me, I save their email address and email them back. Another ready-made marketing tool for my next book. And when someone says he liked the book, I ask him to tell his friends.

Another thing I like to tell customers is that my website has more information and even pictures relating to my stories. That always gets raised eyebrows, and often the comment, “Cool.” Then I say, “Yes, I think pictures make the story even more vivid.”

Maybe I’ll continue this thought-line in a future post. But for now, I think this one is long enough. Heaven knows, the last thing an author wants to do is bore his audience.

Friday, June 27, 2008

A Family Murder

By Jean Henry Mead

I gasped when I noticed the drawing of a murder victim in the newspaper one morning in August 1981. A police artist had sketched the face of a young woman who resembled my husband’s niece. Not long afterward I received a frantic call from my husband’s mother.

No, it can’t be Belinda.

I called the sheriff’s department in the next county where the body had been found near a bridge in the North Platte River. When I asked if the victim had been identified, they refused to tell me her name, but asked why I was inquiring. I was finally told that a friend had identified her from a pinkie ring she wore. No further information was forthcoming, so I reread the entire news report many times over.

I felt sick as I thought back over the period when Belinda’s mother had died and she and sister came to live with us. When their father remarried, the girls returned to live with him, and I eventually lost track of them. Several years later, I heard that Belinda had given birth to a daughter. It wasn’t long before I read that she had died.

But who had killed her? The case has yet to be solved . The murder is reminiscent of Ted Bundy’s killing spree and Belinda fit his victim’s profile, but Bundy had been captured three years earlier. I heard rumors that her boyfriend had strangled her and dumped her body in a bathtub filled with water. But why hadn’t the police arrested him?

Murders are always traumatic when they happen to a family member. But when they go unsolved for a quarter of a century, you question the resourcefulness of local law enforcement agencies.

I recently came across the following listing of unsolved murders, which I’m including here in the hope that someone, who may have information about the murder, will get in touch with the Wyoming DCI:

Homicide, August 6, 1981, Converse County, Wyoming:

On August 6, 1981, Belinda May GRANTHAM, age 20, was found in the North Platte River near a bridge in Glenrock, Converse County, Wyoming. She had a rope tied around her neck weighted to a rock. She had been strangled. She was last seen at the Natrona County Fair in Casper, Wyoming. Anyone with information regarding this case is urged to contact the Converse County Sheriff's Office at (307) 358-4700 or the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation at (307) 777-7181.

On Fear

By Beth Terrell

Reading Mark’s posts, I have come to the conclusion that he is one seriously brave guy. I know this because he has traveled all over the world, served in the military, visited NORAD headquarters inside a mountain three times, and has been in a profession that has taught him “a lot about hijacking.” Come to think of it, Ben and Chester are pretty brave guys too. I can’t speak for Jean or Fran.

The reason this interests me so much is that, after Ben wrote about liking mysteries because he likes to read about the clever ways to commit and solve murders, I asked myself what I like about mysteries. And yes, the pursuit of justice, the vindication of the victim, the triumph of good over evil, the hero who risks everything to do what’s right…all those things are a large part of it. But another part of it is that all those things the protagonist of a mystery takes on are things that I’m afraid of.

That’s right. Fear. Plain and simple. Because not only am I not brave, I am the kind of person who decides, when I go to the Laundromat, which dryer I will hide in if an axe-wielding maniac comes in.

Mysteries do several things for a person like me. First, by becoming the justice-seeking detective, I experience (albeit vicariously) what it must be like to be fearless, or at least to push on in spite of the fear. Have you read those studies that show that visualizing an athletic performance in detail improves actual athletic performance? Reading mysteries gives me a sense of preparedness, as if I have logged somewhere in my brain, for use in an emergency, a little file labeled, “What Would Lucas Davenport Do?”

The third thing is harder to explain. It’s like that story about the man who put up a garish tangle of wires and antennae in his yard. When asked by a neighbor what they were for, he said, “They keep the giraffes away.”

“There are no giraffes around here,” the neighbor said.

“See?” said the man. “It’s working.”

Reading mysteries is like a talisman, a way to ward off all the scary things out there. Since it’s the things we never dreamed of that come out of the wings and knock us flat, by reading about murder, I hope to keep it from my door. Se, Fate? I know what’s out there. This is a life lesson I don’t need.

It’s silly, and it’s superstitious, but there it is. It’s not the only reason, and maybe for all you truly brave folks out there, it isn’t even a factor, but for the rest of us, I think it plays a part. It’s why we watch horror movies and ride on roller coasters: in hopes that the manufactured fear will protect us from the real thing.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

A Writer's Responsibility

By Mark Danielson

I was well into a novel that would have been quite exciting. The plot was solid, plausible, and well researched. It involved terrorism in space. Three visits to NORAD headquarters inside Cheyenne Mountain and a career in the military provided me with an insight few have. My story involved simultaneously hijacking airplanes for the purpose of knocking out certain radar facilities so that an event could take place in space without anyone knowing. My profession has taught me a lot about hijacking, and since I didn't want to share this sensitive information, I aborted the book.

You see, I believe writers have a responsibility to the general public not to jeopardize their safety. True; in all probability, our invisible enemy has already pondered some of what I had written, but I see no reason to make things easy for them.

Recently I saw some incredible footage taken from space while I was in China. The Chinese government actually requested that the US provide satellite imagery of their earthquake-ravaged country. Can you imagine this happening even five years ago? What is amazing is the US not only did as requested, they released the imagery to CNN, which is where I saw it. Prior to this, the best anyone could do was see a fuzzy image of their house on Google Earth. Since this CNN release, everyone knows what technology we have. My opinion? I'm glad the US could help China, but it didn't need to be released on national TV.

The only benefit of our government releasing such sensitive information is that at some point in time, it may be safe for me to finish this book. Even so, I probably won't, just so I can sleep with a clear conscience. Sometimes, protecting trade secrets outweighs my desire to sell books.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Touring Can Be Murder

By Chester Campbell

How’s that for staying on topic? One of the big questions in author discussions these days is how will the oil crisis and the economic slowdown effect the market for our books? There’s a lot of talk about readers tightening their purse strings, making fewer trips to the bookstore. And the cost of a tank of gas is scaring lots of mystery scribes into curtailing their book tour plans.

Being of the Scottish persuasion, I try to be as frugal as possible. The problem is, if people are going to know about you and what you write, you have to get out there and promote.

My wife and I always drive to signings and book clubs and conferences and conventions. That way we always have plenty of books in the trunk, just in case some store or dealer didn’t get their shipment. And we can always whip out a book when the occasion demands. We patronized a casino on one trip. When returning to our motel in the shuttle van, my wife (more properly my sales director) mentioned I was a mystery author. We sold a book to the driver when we arrived at the motel.

We drive a Toyota Camry, which gets around 35 miles to the gallon. And we’ve learned to drive at 65 miles an hour on the interstate. It infuriates the truckers, but it save us ten percent on gas consumption. So have we cut back? Only insofar as attending conferences a long way from home. We like to stay within a day’s drive. Since the old Camry will go 600 miles on a tank of gas, that gives us pretty good leeway.

Have the readers cut back? I haven’t seen much change so far. I like to support the independents, but I do best at Barnes & Noble. We did three B&Ns on a recent trip to South Alabama and Northwest Florida. Only one store had significantly poor traffic, and it was in a dying area. One store was only so-so for us, but it did great the night before. We sold lots of books at the third store, despite signing alongside another author, which normally is a jinx for us.

Bottom line, I’d say the jury is still out. Logic would dictate a declining market for books, along with everything else. Well, maybe everything but food. Then again, when did people in this great nation start acting logically? If touring is murder, let’s go kill ‘em!

Monday, June 23, 2008

What Led Me to Murder

By Ben Small

Step away from your Glock.

Contrary to the books I write, I am not a danger to you. Maybe to your restful sleep, but not to you personally or to anyone in your family. Okay, your cat may feel threatened. I like big dogs.

I’ve always enjoyed a good mystery, starting with the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew when I was a kid and then the Michael Shayne Mysteries when I was a teenager. Shayne’s devil-may-care attitude, his way with the ladies, and the fact that he always shot straight, beat up the bad guys and saved the damsel in distress just took me in. And then came A.A. Fair, Erle Stanley Gardner’s pen name for his Bertha Cool and Donald Lam private investigator series. Bertha was such a blundering beast, and Donald was so diminutive but brilliant. I was hooked.

But then Lawrence Sanders took me down a darker road. The First Deadly Sin remains to this day the best psychological murder story ever written IMHO, and some books still are being compared to it. The book opens with a seemingly normal if not a bit self-obsessed Daniel Blank, a successful businessman who is slowly going mad. Blank takes obsessive/compulsive disorders and schizophrenia to new levels, and he may have served as Bret Easton Ellis’ model for Patrick Bateman in American Psycho. When Daniel Blank meets and falls for an evil but sensual enchantress, he plunges off the sanity cliff. Soon, Blank is prowling the streets of New York, swinging an ice axe under his London Fog raincoat, preying on innocent victims, all so he can see the last life in their eyes and relate it to his sultry-but-oh-so-nutso babe. Man, was I enthralled. And then there was the dogged cop who hones in on the killer, breaking a few rules on the way, all while his wife, the love of his life, is being eaten by cancer. Man, Lawrence Sanders could write.

I have no idea how many times I’ve read that book, nor how many times I’ve bought copies of it. Seems I have a bad habit of loaning the book and then forgetting who borrowed it. And of course, once someone else gets their mitts on it… Where’s my copy all over again.

But Sanders was prolific. He must have set the record for number of different series he turned into best sellers. After The First Deadly Sin, my favorite Sanders books were his Archie McNally series, about a spoiled, irreverent private investigator who worked for Daddy, a very rich Palm Beach lawyer. Archie made expense reports an art form; they should have won some fiction awards. But Archie solved murders among the Palm Beach elite with class, style and wit. His Miata became his chariot, and his blazers had more colors than a rainbow. Only one aspect of Archie’s clothing remained firm: “sockless, of course.” My all time favorite Archie McNally line was, “I arrived at or about 1 p.m., which is about as accurate as one can be with a Rolex.”

Just cracked me up.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Thoughts of Murder

We cap off the opening week of Murderous Musings with some thoughts from Guest Blogger Fran Rizer, author of the Callie Parrish Mystery Series for Berkley Prime Crime. Fran obviously has a morbid (make that mortuary) sense of humor. That she is a retired public school teacher may seem obvious from her nursery-rhymish titles. The first book was A Tisket, A Tasket, A Fancy Stolen Casket, the second will be Hey Diddle Diddle, the Corpse and the Fiddle.

Fran has written for magazines, won photography awards, co-authored scientific nature studies for Clemson University, and is a published, recorded songwriter. A Murderous welcome to Fran Rizer.

Lizzie Borden took an axe
And gave her mother forty whacks.
When she saw what she had done,
She gave her father forty-one.

Once upon a time, there was a little girl who loved that rhyme. I was that child. My fascination and delight with this poetic effort revealed my interest in murder at a very young age. I read avidly about Lizzie, Jack the Ripper, the Boston Strangler, Ted Bundy, and, of course, Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood.

Then I saw Susan Smith on television begging for the safe return of her children. She lived only about an hour’s drive from my home. I doubted her sincerity but was still horrified when she confessed.

Susan Smith made me aware that my intrigue with murder isn’t the act itself. My attraction is to entertaining reading. It’s not murder I like; it’s stories about it. In my earlier years, I’d devoured true accounts, but because of their distance in time and place, those words had seemed like reading fiction.

This was a relief. It’s easier to confess, “I love murder mysteries,” than, “I love killing!”

Having read this week’s initial blogs and feeling honored to be a guest on Murderous Musings, I wanted to address my personal thoughts on murder first and close with a few words about another favorite topic of mine – research.

Research Notes

I always knew that someday I’d write a novel, and it would be a murder mystery. I also realized that many people are tired of the horrific news on CNN and that real murder is tragic and heart-breaking. When I retired from teaching, I decided to take a light-hearted approach to my first murder mystery. That’s how the Callie Parrish Mystery Series was born, and I was tagged the writer “who puts fun in funerals.”

Asked why my books are southern-based, I tend to answer, “Because you write what you know, and that’s what I know.” That’s partially true, but I also write about murders and mortuaries, and I’ve never killed anyone, personally known a murder victim, nor worked in a funeral home. I used to tell my students, “Write what you know, and if you want to write about something you don’t know, research it!”

A couple of years ago, at the visitation for my uncle’s funeral in Aiken, SC, I began chatting with an employee who’d recently graduated from mortuary school. I asked a simple question about casket locking mechanisms, and he invited me downstairs to see for myself.

He showed me how to lock and unlock different models. I asked and he answered a thousand questions. Well, at least a hundred. I confess, I also climbed into a few caskets to check out the difference in the linings and mattresses. When we finally returned to the visitation upstairs, I found my family frantically looking for me.

“Where were you this time?” my son asked.

“Researching for the book,” I replied.

When the book was completed, I sent it on its merry way to New York. I was fortunate enough to get a great agent who got me a deal with Berkley Prime Crime. The third Callie Parrish book will be released October, 2008.

Recently, a cousin called me from Georgia. “I went to a funeral today,” she began.

“Oh, who died?” I asked.

“Nobody you know, but I was telling a friend that my cousin writes books that take place in a funeral home. This good-looking man asked if you were from Columbia and then proudly announced that he’d taken you on a tour of the funeral home where he used to work. He wants to know where your next book-signing will be.”

As much as I appreciate the opportunity to blog as a guest on Murderous Musings, I need to hit the road. I’m headed to a Georgia funeral home on a research trip!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Late Bloomer, but Lethal

By Jean Henry Mead

I’ve always been fascinated with mayhem and murder.

But I’m a Jeannie-come-lately to the mystery scene, and traveled a circuitous route to get here. I wrote my first mystery in fourth grade, a chapter a day to entertain classmates, which was fortunately never published. As a child I read about grisly crimes committed in California, especially the Black Dahlia murder, which was recently portrayed on film.

And speaking of films, I spent my formative years in Hollywood, a block and a half from Paramount Studios. In the evenings, we would sit on the front porch and watch the “stars” drive by. My mother, an avid star gazer, collected autographed photos of favorite actors as diverse as Clark Gable, Tom Mix and Mary Pickford. I inherited those pictures, which were pasted to the pages of an ancient algebra book. I now find actors’ names cropping up in my mystery novels.

When I became a photojournalist, I interviewed a number of actors and Hollywood screenwriters. But what I really wanted to write were novels: mysteries, suspense and thrillers. Long before that happened, I worked the police beat and wrote features for three daily newspapers. I also moved from California to the Northwest, where I served as a magazine editor and freelanced for the Denver Post’s Empire Magazine, specializing in celebrity and political interviews.

I’m a late bloomer when it comes to writing fiction. I married at 18 and returned to school at 30, majoring in English/journalism. A divorced mother of four daughters, I sometimes took my youngest to class, for lack of a baby sitter. While serving as editor of my campus newspaper, I secured a job as a “cub reporter” for my hometown daily. Working 35 hours a week, I drove to school in a nearby town and was back in time to do homework with my kids.

Sometime during that period of little sleep and managing girls’ softball teams, I took a Famous Writers course and attempted to write fiction. My first attempts were pathetic but I was fortunate to meet two western writers who helped me learn what A.B. Guthrie termed “the language of fiction.” A Western Writers of America convention was held locally and I joined the organization, deciding to write Maverick Writers, a book of interviews with famous western authors.

Elmore Leonard consented to be interviewed and inspired me to make the leap from westerns to mysteries, as he had done. It took six months to arrange an interview with Louis L’Amour at his home in Bel Air, and I then drove to northern Montana to interview A. B. Guthrie, Jr. at his modest A-frame home. Some fifty others gave me such good advice that I was able to choose among three publishers interested in producing the book.

But I didn’t write my first novel until Fred Grove, five-time Spur winner, guided me through the process . Richard S. Wheeler, another multi-Spur winner, then read it through, offering advice. I’ll be forever grateful to them both, and have tried to pass their advice on to other fledglings, as they requested. Some of it is included in my own personal blog:

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Around the World Plotting

By Mark W. Danielson

I just returned from another twelve-day trip throughout Asia. As an airline pilot, I have circled the globe in as little as seven days, but this trip kept me in the Ring of Fire, with stops in Anchorage, Beijing, Shanghai, Narita, Manila, and Taipei. Traveling as I do provides many opportunities for developing characters and stories. I look forward to Diablo’s Shadow being released on September 1st. I’m currently working on a murder mystery called Writers Block. I also stay busy writing non-fiction articles for Flight Training magazine, something I’ve done for years.

Diablo’s Shadow is the most difficult story I’ve written because of its subject matter. Every parent’s worst nightmare is learning that their child was abducted. Fear of the unknown can generate tremendous emotion, and we can become our own worst enemy. Sadly, only a handful of the thousands of children reported missing each year ever receive any media coverage. This story explores the lies and accusations between the parents, and the pressure on the authorities to find the child. Anyone with children or grandchildren can relate to Diablo’s Shadow.

All of my novels are reality based. Each was written for a unique purpose. All are different. Danger Within was spurred by an in-flight fire at FedEx, the result of poorly-packed undeclared hazardous cargo. The Innocent Never Knew would never have been written had President Clinton’s Secretary of Commerce, Ron Brown, not died in a mysterious plane crash. Writer’s Block is a classic murder mystery that travels a different road. It may lead to a detective series, but that’s too far in the future to predict.

I write whenever a story inside of me needs to surface. For me, the fun is letting the characters develop the stories. Since writing comes from the subconscious, there are times when my characters surprise even me.

Whether you’re interested in my books, magazine articles, or simply want to see some of my travels, you can check them all out on my web site.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

A Question of Murder

By Beth Terrell

When I was a freshman in college, my father died. Or maybe it would be more accurate to say he was killed. He talked to his parents on the phone, assured them he would be able to help repair their roof the following summer, and called my younger brother and sister to say he would be picking them up that weekend. Then he went into his bedroom and put a bullet through his brain.

That’s the official story.

The unofficial story is that…well, let’s just say there are questions.

His new wife began to tell unlikely stories. How he had been cleaning his gun and it had somehow gone off implausibly next to his temple. How he had tried to kill her once, but she, 95 pounds soaking wet, had wrenched the gun away from him and subdued him. How he had tried to shoot himself once before and missed, resulting in a long thin scratch across the dome of his head. How, because of this false alarm, she had failed to recognize the seriousness of his wound and called her brother (a local policeman) to help her clean up the mess—and, I have been told, wash off the gun—before calling 911.

Never mind that if he had wanted to kill her, she would probably be dead. Never mind that, when I had asked him about the scratch, he had said he got it passing under a low branch while hunting in the nearby woods. And never mind that he had a hole in his head the size of a hockey puck. Of course any rational human being would have scrubbed down the scene before calling for an ambulance.

Then we learned that her ex-husband was being indicted on drug charges and that she was slated to be a witness in that trial. We learned that he had told a colleague he was planning to divorce her. My grandparents claimed to have hired a private detective, who was told by police, “He’s already dead, and we need her for this trial, so just back off.”

There was more, rumors and half-rumors. How much is true? How much is wishful thinking? Twenty years removed from the event, I will probably never know. First, there is a fear that, if he was murdered, my stepmother or one of her relatives will come and kill me to keep me from raising these questions. Second, I’m not sure I really want to know. There is a certain comfort in believing that my father did not kill himself.

It was only recently that I made the connection between my father’s death and my choice of genre. In mysteries, there is no uncertainty. The detective, however flawed, is valiant, brave, and dedicated to Truth. He (or she) is both protector and avenger. He unravels the mystery and brings the villain to justice.

I have heard it said that the mystery is the equivalent of the modern morality play. Evil may triumph for a brief time, but in the end, justice prevails and the world is put to rights. There is great comfort in that.

Moving into Murder

By Chester Campbell

My colleague Ben Small got us started yesterday with a lighthearted look at our fascination with murder. I thought I’d get a bit more specific and look into how one writer (me) got into this murder madness.

My fascination began back in 1948, during my early days as a newspaper reporter. I had gone to work for The Knoxville Journal the previous fall, at the start of my junior year in journalism at the University of Tennessee. It would make the story a lot more interesting to say I was involved in writing about murder cases back then, but no such luck. My assignments were on the order of reporting on dog shows. However, I read a couple of books by Horace McCoy—They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? and No Pockets in a Shroud—during that time, firing up my imagination. The latter featured a reporter covering a murder case.

I sat down at my little portable typewriter in the dank depths of my fraternity house and banged out a murder mystery. It featured (what else?) a reporter helping solve a homicide. The editor at a Philadelphia publishing house declined, saying he had too many manuscripts already. Yeah. And though it was twenty years before I tried my hand at another novel, I was hooked on murder and mysteries.

I’ve often thought about what gets us all, writers and readers alike, so jazzed up on murder. To most of us (with the exception of those mentioned below), taking a human life is the ultimate crime. The damage done by thieves and robbers can be overcome, but death is as final as it gets. We love to delve into the motivations of a killer, peel away the layers of cunning behavior and rash activity that lead to the inevitable outcome. And we stare through voyeur eyes at how the crime affects those around the victim.

Serial killers have been a staple of crime fiction for several years now, but I’ve found few who could match the real thing we encounter occasionally on TV. There’s one type of killer who hasn’t appeared much in fiction yet, or maybe I just haven’t read enough books. That’s the unconscionable youth who kills without remorse. The news in Nashville, my hometown, deals too often with a teenager who robs a clerk and then shoots him or her for no apparent reason. We may see more of that in fiction soon.

Writers flock to murderous subjects since that’s where the action is. The mystery genre, taken in its broadest context, ranks second to romance in terms of book sales. I suspect man’s inhumanity to man will keep mystery writers busy at their keyboards for years to come, and as long as I’m around, I’ll be right there among ‘em.

If you’d like to read the long version of how I got started and where I’ve been, check out “Reflections on the Writing Life—my 60-year odyssey with the written word” at

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Fascinated With Murder

By Ben Small

C’mon, admit it: you – like me – are a murder junkie. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be here. C’mon, it’s not so hard to admit. Say after me: “I AM A MURDER JUNKIE.”

But let’s be clear: not just any murder. Spree killing doesn’t do much for me. Nor does routine domestic violence, or gang violence, or run-o-the-mill drug violence. For me, it’s gotta be intelligent murder, or unique murder, or clever murder, or tantalizing murder, or serial killer twisted murder, or murder for sport, or puzzle murder, or longtime festering grudge murder -- you know, stuff that titillates (Can I say that word?)

Okay, so whip me a wallop with a willow. I like that stuff.

Headshrinkers could and have written volumes on why so many of us are murder junkies. And what’s that solved? I still read ‘em; I still write ‘em, murder stories, that is. And so do you.

Pound sand, Doctor Freud.

But I cringe at CSI and House, won’t watch movie or television gore in general, and have no use for violent video games. I have a rule: If my flinch factor starts looking like a facial tic, I’m gone.

I think I understand why I enjoy murders. Freud may not “get” it, but I know what works for me. I like thrills and the abuse of power. I like the planning, the calculation of risk, the sick urges. There’s surprise, and yes, realization in the victim’s eyes. The murderer screws up, it’s over, he does not pass Go. Toast. The killer knows this, but he murders anyway. Oh goodie, goodie! Yeah, baby!

And look what comes next: The hunt. Righteousness. Everybody wants to be righteous, right? [Head nod required] More good stuff.

So bring it on. Shock me, titillate (Am I in more trouble?) me, make me say, “Oh!” And then let me chase you and bring you down. Let me get my justice and rub your face in it. Face it, folks, this is adult play time, a form of Hide And Seek.

Do I want people hurt? Not real people. No, of course not. This is fantasy world I’m talking about. I can make it as dark as I want and nobody gets hurt.

Just entertained.