21 September 2015

The Little Murders

by Susan Rogers Cooper

We who write and read at SleuthSayers share a common bond: We love a good mystery. There are a lot of reasons people come to mystery: escape from their own lives; the purity of the store – good vs. evil; or simply because of the entertainment value.

There are those of us who only like cozies, and those of us who prefer our mysteries hard-boiled. And those who'll read anything they can get their hands on – that's the category I put myself in.

I admire people like John D. MacDonald and John Grisham who deal with the big murders – the corporate crime and national intrigue that leads to someone's untimely death. But those are not my stories. My stories are about the little murders, what we do to each other, to those we love and those we fear, for very personal reasons.

For years I was a trainer for new volunteers at Crisis Hotline in Houston. One of the exercises I taught the new trainees was a way to empathize with suicide calls. I told them: Start taking things away from yourself – your home, your family, your job, your friends, your health – until, in your imagination, you can feel that point where you might consider suicide.

That's the way I deal with the little murders. What would it take for you to commit murder? Not self-defense or defense of a loved one, or even a stranger – that's not murder. But under what circumstances could you see yourself calculating to take a human life? Planning it? Putting that plan into action?

A lot depends on the kind of person you are – or the kind of character I'm dealing with. What could seem a very legitimate reason to take a life to one person, to another is total insanity.
As writers we want to be clear as to motive – whether someone slept with someone else's spouse, or the dog down the street told them to do it. As readers, we need to feel satisfied as to the whys and wherefores. We want answers.


Jan Grape said...

Fortunately, when I feel the urge to kill someone, that idiot at the other side if the workd who tells me if he helps me fix my computer problem he'llhave to charge me $500. Or the numbnuts at the satellite place when I try to get a technician to come and fix my TV. Or the absolute worst when i want to talk to a human on the customer service line and the computerized voice keeps chanting numerical options than never fit my problem. As I try to maintain a civil tone in my voice, I know deep in my heart that person is going to die, die, die, in my very next book or story. The most horrible death I can come up with, I kid you not,

Paul D. Marks said...

I like the way you differentiate between the "big murders" and "little murders," Susan. And, as you point out, there's good stories in both and good reasons for either writing or reading both.

Herschel Cozine said...

Committing murder in real life is, of course unthinkable. But I did manage to do away with someone I hated in high school, a bully who used me as a target. I did this in a story, so thinly veiled that a few of my friends identified him. (He was disliked by many). I identify with Jan about this.

Leigh Lundin said...

Susan, like you, I read anything as long as the plot and characters are well drawn. Your exercise is a simple but effective mechanism to unearthing the inner murderer.

I understand that you might be able to immediately respond to comments. Good luck with your doctor visit!

Eve Fisher said...

Oh, Susan, we're sisters under the skin. While I read a wide variety of stuff, I write about murders that I think are actually "commitable" by relatively normal people living relatively normal lives. I do believe that everyone is capable of murder, given the right circumstances (or should I say wrong ones?), and that's what interests me, too. What would make you do that...