All the ways to commit a murder
Collecting motives as a hobby
My apologies for the silence of the past month. Please know that despite the lack of posts, I’ve had murder on my mind as always.
In particular, I’ve developed a strange hobby: collecting motives, much like others collect china figurines or stamps or paintings. The same delight at finding an original work on paper that a curator might feel is mine when I think, “Ah! Someone, if pushed, could kill for that.”
The books that I enjoy reading most are ones where everyday people were stretched beyond their capacity. I’m not sure why this is comforting. When it comes to horror, supernatural films don’t scare me, while the torture-porn style is an absolute no for me. I don’t worry about being haunted, but I do worry about being held captive by a serial killer, however statistically unlikely it may be.
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When it comes to a mystery, for some reason I prefer the opposite. Perhaps I am inaccurately convinced that my everyday life is safe enough that I am immune to murder, but if I look at the books and motives I collect, murder happens for all kinds of reasons. I suppose I am confident that I haven’t done anything to push anyone that far, nor do I plan to.
But when others do our could… what a fascinating puzzle. We all know the stories of jealousy or deception, but in considering options farther afield, what about someone unknowingly destroying someone’s business via a decision made in their own, without considering the consequences?
This is happening everywhere now. As companies who used to operate out of offices choose to let workers remain home, the businesses surrounding workplaces have lost all their clients, or at least the majority. If I were in that position, I wouldn’t think kindly of the person who made that choice. But in today’s world, we have Corona as a secondary cause. What if such a decision was made without Corona?
When Dexter was first on television, one of the most disturbing parts of watching it was how I often agreed with Dexter’s assessment of the character of his victims. What did this say about me? I certainly wasn’t interested in following in his footsteps, but not to feel horrified by what he was doing did, in itself, feel rather horrifying.
There is a whole novel in this painting by Dean Cornwell from 1920, entitled “It’s Hard to Explain Murder.” I could not agree more. There are so many stories about sociopaths out there, but what interests me is the choices of a real person, like this wife telling her husband what she’s done. Is she remorseful? I can’t be sure from her expression, but I’m interested to stay longer here and find out what her motive would be in my book about her. And of course the presence of a leather-bound volume in the corner just excites me more.
Part of a writer’s job, I’ve been reminded as I interview guests for the upcoming new season of the Secret Library, is to empathize with the villain as well as the hero. No one wants to read a melodrama. Villains act based on their own code of ethics and, even if we don’t want to adopt this code ourselves, books are better when we shrug and think, “I don’t like it, but I get it.” What if the woman above was attacked and had to defend herself? What if she’d freed the two of them from the clutches of a blackmailer? Someone about to kidnap their child? Would we condemn her then?
I wrote a first pass at the opening of the new novel in August and have been tinkering with it in my mind ever since, the scenes that follow, the internal lives of this cast, which is much larger than in my last novel.
I’m curious what aspects of the process you are most interested in? Are you curious about my planning and notebooks? Want to see a sneak peek of a scene? I’ve toyed with sharing actual sections, but I think that will be later on, when the story feels more solid. There is also the possibility of conversations with other mystery writers, which I’m excited about as well.
Let me know what intrigues you most. More to come…
top image: Murder and Punishment, by Sandu Andrei, represented by Saatchi Art