Monday, March 11, 2019

The Darkness

I think about death a lot. As a mystery writer, it’s part of the gig. I’ve researched the amount of cocaine necessary to induce a seizure in an epileptic (thank you, Chasing Those Devil Bones). Googled how often gunshots heard in the middle of the day are reported to police by neighbors (just for you, The Devil’s Luck). Chatted with an urban EMT about how long it would take for a pregnant woman to bleed out if her placenta took a bullet (did not enjoy that one bit, Until the Devil Weeps). The afternoon I spent looking at bullet wound scars for my current work in progress kept me from sleeping for two days.
In other words, I’ve gone down some dark paths. It’s what I do for fun.
In this Mystery Monday post, I’d like to talk about the unavoidable darkness that comes with being a writer of murder mysteries. Sometimes, when you’re working on a plot for a mystery, it will happen. You will write something so dark, so horrific, that you will have one of three responses:
A)    This would never happen; nobody would do something this evil.
B)    What the hell is wrong with me for having these thoughts?
C)    Why am I more concerned with having a believable plot than I am with     my possible sociopathic downward spiral?
Let’s address point A first. Trust me when I tell you that whatever darkness your imagination has unearthed has been done somewhere to some person somewhere by some monster in some variation if not in the exact manner you wrote it down. Don’t believe me? Spend an afternoon listening to a true crime podcast. Doesn’t matter which one, just pick one.
There is literally no end to the evil that human beings are capable of doing to one another.
This leads me to point B. After listening to a true crime podcast for a few hours, you will probably want to scrub your brain with a brillo pad, but you should also be feeling mildly better about yourself.
You imagined the most horrific thing that you could come up with and it frightened you enough to question your sanity. Bonus points for you.
There is a catharsis in exploring the darkest reaches of humanity. Think about this for a moment, as many people who write murder mysteries and thrillers, the number of people who want to read books in those genres is several orders of magnitude higher.
Because of what I do, I’ve often pondered why this is and here’s what I’ve come up with: As writers, we unleash the monsters that lurk in all of our reptilian brains and let them do their worst on the pages of our novels. But then, we bring in our heroic or, in my case, very flawed detective to put the monster back into its cage.
There are real monsters in this world and no matter what we’d like to do to change that, we can’t. But we can give people hope. We can catch the bad guys and lock them away or give them a satisfying dose of vigilante justice.
In Chasing Those Devil Bones, my main character’s friend and mentor tells her that there are two ways of dealing with ugly things: let them twist you into something ugly, too, or twist them into something beautiful instead.
That’s our job. To explore the dark places and flood them with light.