The other day someone said to me, ‘You’re such a happy person. Why do you like writing crime?’
Although my novels fit more into the psychological suspense/noir genres, crime plays a significant role in them.
My reply was along the lines of, ‘That’s why I’m so happy, because I release my dark side on to the page.’
M is for Murder
It’s a simplistic, glib answer, but I think it holds true for many crime writers. Author Sue Grafton wrote the first novel in her famous alphabetical crime series, A Is For Alibi, as a direct result of lying awake at night fantasizing about killing her ex-husband, with whom she was embroiled in a bitter custody battle.
She came up with a plan to poison him with oleander – easy to get and very lethal. But in the clear light of the morning she came back to reality. ‘And since I didn't want to spend the rest of my life in a shapeless prison dress, I decided to turn my homicidal fantasy into a mystery novel.’
I’m sure she’s not the only author to have killed an ex-spouse in a novel. Crime is one of the most popular fiction genres and under the umbrella of crime, you can also include its associated genres of thriller, suspense and noir, as they frequently meld together. And I believe that the reasons that authors love writing crime are the same reasons that people love reading it.
Chills and thrills
Firstly, there’s the vicarious thrill of being able to experience the darker side of life while curled up on the couch with a glass of wine and a block of chocolate. We can experience spine-tingling suspense, heart-jumping fear and pulse-pounding terror through the story and characters in our novel. Like armchair travellers, we can be armchair crime fighters or criminals - and most importantly, if it gets too intense or scary, we can stop reading (or writing).
Many people, myself included, are fascinated by the world of crime and the people who commit them, because it’s so far removed from our own lives. And writing it gives authors the same thrills –as we’re writing the books, we’re living in that other world, which is much more exciting than our normal, humdrum existence.
And when we have to force ourselves back to reality to make dinner and help the kids with their homework, we can smile and be serene and nice, because cooking a gourmet meal a la MasterChef and making a whole city out of egg cartons by tomorrow is a piece of cake compared to wrestling with plot twists and turns, characters who won’t do what you tell them and getting your heroine out of a locked room before the baddies come back to pull off her fingernails with a pair of pliers.
It can happen to you!
Secondly there’s the believability factor in many crime novels – the possibility that the events could occur in real life. You could very well become the victim of a mugging, extortion or threats, or unwittingly become involved in a crime, just to name a few scenarios. Crime author and psychiatrist Mark Rubinstein in his blog post Why Crime Thriller Fiction sums it up well. ‘Crime novels tap into the prospect of the possible, which makes them ever more compelling and frightening.’
While we authors find the world of our imaginations infinitely more thrilling than reality, we’re at the same time perversely grateful that we don’t live in that world; that we can drive to the shops without being followed by a bald man with a scar and a nasty sneer driving a big black Dodge, answer the phone without a menacing voice ordering us to leave a million dollars in a briefcase behind the oak tree in the park or Fido gets it, or go to the local for a drink without worrying that the man sitting next to you is trying to recruit you for a top secret mission that involves going to Afghanistan and becoming a goatherd.
And gratitude always makes a person nice to be with.
The good, the bad and the ugly
And thirdly, crime novels usually deal in some respect or other with the human condition – the best and worst of it, from greed, anger and jealousy to courage, loyalty and justice. They highlight the eternal battle between good and evil and all shades in between. They give readers food for thought, and authors a way to weave those themes into their stories.
Because crime writers are dealing every day with the human condition, by evening we’re plumb out of nastiness. We can’t even find it within ourselves to yell at the children to tidy their rooms or pour scorn on our spouse’s favourite TV show. In fact, the entire house can fall down around us and resemble a crime scene and we won’t bat an eyelash, as long as we can indulge in our favourite killer cocktail.
Which makes us very nice, if strange, people.
Robin Storey is an Australian author from the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia. She is a certified book nerd and has no weird hobbies or unusual pets.