01 October 2012

To Kill or Not to Kill: My Personal Story

by Fran Rizer

Recently, I began going through my deceased mother's personal belongings. Among newspaper clippings and all of my report cards back to preschool, I found she'd saved print copies of numerous Internet articles and several guest blogs I did before I discovered Criminal Brief and was later invited to become a SleuthSayer.

Today, I'm reprinting a blog that appeared on Murderous Musings,
Sunday, June 11, 2008, including the introduction and an afterword.

2008 INTRODUCTION

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 & 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.

THOUGHTS OF MURDER

Lizzie Borde
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 tender age. I read avidly about Lizzie, Jack the Ripper, the Boston Strangler, Ted Bundy, and, of course, Truman Capote's In Cold Blood killers.

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 entertaining reading. It's not murder I like; it's reading 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.

That was a relief. It's easier to confess, "I love reading murder mysteries," than, "I love killing."
Susan Smith, 1994

Having read this week's initial blogs and feeling honored to be a guest on Murderous Musing, 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 if I lived long enough, someday I would 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 put "fun into 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 partly 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 checked out the difference in linings and the mattresses. When we finally returned to the visitation upstairs, I found my family frantically searching for me.

"Where were you this time?" my son asked.

"Researching for the book,"I replied.

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

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

"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 Georgia on a research trip!

2012 AFTERWORD

A lot has changed since 2008. The second, third, and fourth Callie books have been published, and I'm on a first-name basis with undertakers at several funeral homes who have no problem answering whatever weird questions I call and ask them.

My friend, Linda
The major change, however, is about my best friend, Linda. A few of you already know about her. She was two years younger than I and the daughter of my mother's best friend. We had matching Easter dresses when we were little, and one year, we received identical gorgeous dolls from Santa. We each married our childhood sweethearts two weeks apart and bought houses next door to each other. We celebrated the births of our children together and comforted each other when our marriages ended in divorce. We double-dated both before our marriages and after our divorces. Linda was Callie Parrish's number one fan, not the kind Stephen King wrote about in MISERY, but the kind who organized a fan club that met me at book signings carrying big "Fran Rizer Fan Club, We Love Callie" signs and wearing black, sequin-accented mourning veils she made.

On the last Friday in January, 2009, Linda and I went shopping that morning. That night, we went to dinner with Cal and Dennis. She went home early because she had an all-day church meeting on Saturday. I called her several times Saturday. Her car wasn't at her house, and I assumed she'd gone out with some of the others from the meeting.

Cal and I kept calling. When there was no answer by nine that night, he called her son-in-law, who entered the house and found Linda's body. She'd been beaten to death the night before during a home robbery. She'd retired from her state job only sixty days before; she'd raised her daughter as a single mother; and her house needed repairs, but she spent most of her money on her three grandchildren. What in the hell did the monster think she'd have that was worth stealing? I won't go into details except to say that I helped clean the house including removing what seemed like a ton of black fingerprint dust. Her burned car was found not very far away, and the amethyst and diamond ring she'd traded her wedding rings in for after her divorce was recovered from a pawn shop.

Well-written murder can be entertaining. In reality, murder is perpetual hell with survivors doomed to wonder every day: When did she know he was in the house? How scared was she? How much pain did she endure physically and mentally?

I vowed not to ever write another murder. I did, however, allow what I'd already written to be published.

My mother, Willene
On April 25, 2012, my mother died in my arms after five months of constant agony, infection, and complications from hip surgery. How could I even consider ever writing another Callie mystery which, according to some reviewers, "put the fun in funerals"?

Not a day passes that I don't think about my mother and Linda. Not a day passes that I don't remember the many wonderful times with each of them--including watching my mother read the Callie books with her big magnifying glass and finding Linda's optimistic stash of black sequined veils in her closet when we cleaned out her house.

I couldn't write fiction from November until a month ago. The thriller written long ago found a home under a pen name after Linda's death, but I decided there would be no more Callies.

There's an old song– "Time Changes Everything." Maybe so. Or maybe I remembered how much Linda and Mama loved Callie, but when my publisher called and asked when the next one would be available, I told him the end of November and started writing. Callie books average 80,000 words. I'm 60,000 words into the rough draft of Mother Hubbard Has A CORPSE IN THE CUPBOARD. I can no longer say, "I haven't killed anyone...lately" because I've killed two recently. I don't think blunt force trauma will ever return to my writing, but apparently I can still shoot fictional characters.

Gotta go now. I have another book to finish.

Until we meet again… take care of   YOU!

15 comments:

Leigh Lundin said...

When you first told me about Linda, I was stunned. Murder of a childhood friend… I can't begin to imagine. When you wrote that powerful article for Criminal Brief, I recall how still fragile you were. Fragile, but gathering strength.

Fran, I'm glad you stuck with us. I'm sure your friends and fans are too, especially your mother, especially Linda.

Janice said...

Good for you and good luck with the new book.
Re: funeral homes. When my dear mother was in her last illness, she read Waugh's The Loved One with Mr. JoyBoy and thought it was a riot.

Fran Rizer said...

Thanks, Janice, I've never read THE LOVED ONE, but I will ASAP. I love the name Mr. JoyBoy. Wish it were one of mine as I do Janet Evanovich's Sally Sweet.

Thanks,Leigh, for your comments and to Zelma. I'm still more fragile than I've ever been, but one of these days I'll put my boots back on. (When younger, I would say, "I'm gonna put on my boots and kick a little a - -." These past few years have kicked mine!

David Dean said...

Very moving article, Fran. Hang in there; you are doing the right thing.

Dale Andrews said...

A very powerful article.

I think one of the reasons some mystery writers (myself included) tend toward an approach that while not a "cozie" approaches that end of the scale. We want to deal with death, and with the solutions to murders, in a more abstract and removed manner because the reality of what we are writing about is too awful to be allowed center stage.

Eve Fisher said...

Janice and Fran, also check out the movie "The Loved One" with Rod Steiger as Mr. Joyboy - a knockout!

What a tragedy, Fran. Whew. But you are doing the right thing - you needed time to heal, that's all. Because the human condition is such that if you can't laugh about things, you will just go crazy...

Fran Rizer said...

Thanks David, Dale, and Eve. I appreciate your thoughts and agree with what you say. Eve, I really enjoy Rod Steiger and will be sure to see the movie. I've had a busy, busy day but came up with a new character. Now to think of a cool name for him!

jo said...

I look forward to your next book and next signing, Fran.

Laura Scudder said...

I cannot wait to get this and read it. When will it be out?

Fran Rizer said...

jo and Laura, thanks for your support of Callie. Mother Hubbard Has A CORPSE IN THE CUPBOARD will be out right after the beginning of 2013. I hope to see each of you at a signing.

Debbie Sharpe said...

Enjoyed reading your article very much! My heart goes out to you as you go through your mom's treasures. You put a smile on my face, a lump in my throat, and tears in my eyes as I read your reflection of her reading your books with a magnifying glass. Having such impact on your readers emphasizes what a talented author you are!!! It's no wonder we can't wait to read your next book!

Fran Rizer said...

Deb, thanks for those wonderful words! I'm working hard on that next book but looking forward to seeing you in Camden October 20th.

Jeff Baker said...




Thanks so much for sharing your story, Fran! I think one reason we read mysteries is we want to see justice prevail, something that doesn't always seem to happen in real life.









Cindy said...

I'm so sorry to hear about your mom and your friend. Yes, I can imagine it would be hard to write mysteries for awhile after that, even cozies. But I am glad to hear that there will be another Callie next year. My thoughts and prayers to you.

seher aniat said...

Real writhing article, Fran. Execute in there; you are doing the proper artefactual.
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