21 September 2015
The Little Murders
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.