It’s a Mystery From Me

For One Month, It Was Real!
For One Month, It Was Real!

The mystery for you this week is, when and where was that picture taken? And, did I have a Squishee?

But what I’m talking about is my latest project, which is a mystery. My protagonist is an FBI agent, who is trying (this is the underneath part) to get back at, if not get, the people who murdered her parents when she was 12. Yes, I always know the backstory of my major characters. Don’t you? Anyway, I’ve never tried a mystery detective story thing before, so I turned, as one does, to a book. In fact, to Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel, by Hallie Ephron. Is it a good book? Well, for a mystery fan, probably not. But if you’re trying to make one up out of your, what is it, fervid, fetid, fetishy, whatever, imagination, it will hold your interest just fine. I do not have the latest edition; the link takes you to the edition that I do have. If you want the latest, and can’t figure out how to get there from where I’ve sent you, then don’t try to write a mystery novel in the first place, okay?

It’s been fun, so far. And this may result in my least messy first draft ever. Not that it won’t need revision, but I appear to be getting better at cutting out superfluous modifiers on the first pass. Even if I publish it myself, it will be a long time in the works, so hold not thy breath. But, it’s what I’m working on. For a while. Oh, but, you’ll love it!

 

Be a Smarty!

This Gentleman Lives in the Atlanta Zoo
This Gentleman Lives in the Atlanta Zoo

It seems to me that we, as a society, expect way too little of each other. A good illustration of this fact is the way that our media, and anyone communicating publicly, tend(s) to simplify things so that the audience can understand. We assume that the audience, even if they are literate (you know, people who read books?,) won’t understand anything that is overly complex. Consider the first Harry Potter book. The title is Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Except in the United States. Here it is the Sorcerer’s Stone instead. Why? Well, the publisher (Scholastic, no less) decided that American kids wouldn’t know what the philosopher’s stone was, so they’d better change it to something obvious that stupid American children could understand. That is, unfortunately, true.

And it pisses me off greatly!

American kids, like all kids, are capable of learning. Heck, I knew, when I was a child, what the philosopher’s stone was. (If you think I’m going to tell you, you’re not paying attention!) In fact, there never was, prior to Scholastic, anything at all known as a “Sorcerer’s Stone.” What the heck would it be? There is absolutely no reason to confuse our own children with what is, after all, a lame excuse for a brilliant title. Scholastic should be ashamed!

By not assuming that kids are smart enough to learn from context, or look something up (and they do have the Internet, you know) we are condemning them to staying just a tad more ignorant, and ultimately stupid, than they would have been had we assumed that they had some brains. Maybe it is an Anglo conspiracy to keep minorities down, as I’ve read, but that doesn’t explain why every single copy of that book has the wrong title on it. American copy, I mean. This is an insult to the intelligence of our children, and a great wrong to society. If we expect our kids to be stupid, we get what we expect. How about, instead of expecting good grades, we simply expect them to be intelligent enough to figure out a basic problem (like the definition of a word) and proceed from there? What if that started us on the path to being a smarter nation? Hey, it could happen!

And, for the record, it’s not too late for Scholastic to change that title back to what it is supposed to be for future printings. You listening, Scholastic?

Yeah. I figured.

Research

Her majesty was in residence, but did not invite us for tea. Smart, her majesty is. (I'm a slob.)
Her majesty was in residence, but did not invite us for tea. Smart, her majesty is. (I’m a slob.)

A few weeks ago I mentioned that if you research something, you’ll know it, so then you can write what you know. Is that true? You can research anything and learn it? Well . . .

On a Sophomoric level, sure. You can’t ever really learn something without immersing yourself in whatever it is for long enough to figure it out. Sorry, but that’s just the way it is. But . . .

You’re writing about something, and that’s just was Sophomores do best, isn’t it? so, friends, in terms of being able to write about a given activity, yes, yes you can research a topic and learn enough to write about it.

Because, of course, firemen, widows, children, Australian Aboriginal shamans, Vlad Putin, you, me, and everybody else have common motivations and needs. We all want to eat at regular intervals. We all want shelter. We all want some degree of companionship (although if you’re introverted you prefer to be in control of that degree to a large extent, don’t you?) We want our kids if we have them to be able to get ahead as they live their lives, to enjoy things, and not to get hurt. We want to make enough money to live well. We want, well, you’re a human, you tell me what humans want, okay.

My point being that if you have a Sophomoric knowledge of fire fighting, you have enough information to write about a fire fighter as a supporting character, at least. If your villain is an accountant, you can learn enough about what accountants do day to day to draw a realistic picture of one as an antagonist. Now, maybe, if want your main protagonist to be, for example, a Las Vegas bookie, you’ll need to get to know at least one Las Vegas bookie, maybe follow them around on the job, because your main hero is featured in some depth. That’s what Ed McBain did to write his famously excellent police procedurals, after all. That may be true of your main villain, also, but it seems to me to be less likely in that case.

But, my point still stands: even if you have to learn to be a bookie to write your bookie properly, you can do it. Once again, I stress, you can learn what you need to know, but you must always write what you love.

Ciao!