Sunday, January 20, 2008

My Life of Crime

Before Rickard's Mystery Circus shit the bed, I wrote a short essay for the front page. It altered people's perspectives, made babies weep and changed history forever. And while humanity hasn't been the same since, the essay that was this major catalyst hasn't been available since the Circus left town - even though I've stubbornly kept the link on this blog. However, due to popular demand I've decided to post the essay again. Yes, now schoolchildren everywhere will have the opportunity to read this wonderful piece without relying on their elders' memories of what it once said. And for all of you doctoral students out there, when you cite the essay as the main document of your dissertations, make sure you spell my name correctly.

My Life of Crime

I don’t think there was ever a conscious decision on my part to become a crime writer. I just sit at the computer and what I type out just happens to include criminal mischief of one kind or another. Of course, there is plenty of anguish and sweat and swearing while I’m writing, but the type of story comes relatively easy. I had never really thought about it until my mother read one of my stories and promptly asked: Why are you so weird? Then she went on about how I must have been switched at birth, something about the sign of the anti-Christ and then she fell down weeping.

So, why? The easy answer is: I don’t know. But then this little essay would be really short and no one would receive any insight, especially myself. I guess I have to do a little digging to get to the answer.

OK, let’s start with me as a person. Even though my mother spent years trying to find that 666 mark on my skull (all she could find was 999), I’m just an everyday average and ordinary guy. I like average guy stuff: cars, beer, women, explosions – your typical Maxim table of contents. Aha!, you’re thinking to yourself, that’s the reason. He’s a guy and guys like violence and mischief and that all falls into the whole crime arena. Now that I’ve figured that out, I can go eat some pudding. But wait, put that spoon down.

Testosterone may play a part, but I think it is only a small part. If every crime writer could answer why they write what they do by saying testosterone, the Laura Lippmans and Sue Graftons of our genre would be booking appearances on Maury Povich. A writing career based solely on testosterone would only benefit you if you wrote the screenplay to Commando. Besides, if my male hormones were my only motivation…I’d probably be knitting a sweater.

Another possible explanation is that I’m a media junkie. Newspapers, music, television, comics, movies, smoke signals; and yes, even books. I have many influences (including Commando) and I do tend to gravitate toward crime stories. Well, there you have it, you’re saying to yourself, he writes what he likes. Now can I have my pudding? Not yet. If all I wanted to do was imitate what I’ve seen, read and heard; what’s the point? I could just spend my days writing Commando fan fiction, but I’m reserving that until after my family leaves me and I’m living in a rusting Winnebago on cinder blocks. I should mention that I want to be a good crime writer. Influences may help direct you, but they can’t dictate why you write.

I used to be a bad reporter. I hated it. It was one of the worst jobs of my life and I should have realized that what I wanted to be was a writer not a journalist, but it took some time for me to realize that. Oh Christ, he’s gonna cry. Don’t get any of your friggin’ tears in my pudding. Don’t worry, your dessert is safe. I’ve been over that little occupational failure for a couple of years now. But one incident sticks in my mind. One day I went to take some photographs of the outside of a local bar where a fatal shooting had happened only a few nights before. There were flowers on the sidewalk and notes tacked to the side of the building for the barkeeper who was killed. She was only doing her job by cutting off a drunk who had too much. He disagreed with her, went to his apartment and came back with a shotgun. I went to snap a couple of pictures on my way to yet another city council meeting, not thinking that anyone would be there, but sitting beside the closed bar was a friend of the bartender reading the messages left behind. She told me she had been in the tavern that night and watched as the shotgun blast ripped her friend’s chest open. She told me about the panic and fear. And then she described what the killer had done after shooting. He had simply sat down at a table, like he had just finished some basic chore, and waited for the police to arrive. “Why?” she asked. “Why did he have to shoot my friend?” I couldn’t answer her. I took some notes and left her on the sidewalk, but the question has stayed with me.

When I think about it, the biggest reason I’m a crime writer is because I want to answer her question. Why do we do the things we do to each other? I guess examining the human experience is the purpose of all literature, but crime writing really cuts to the core of social existence. Do I think I’ll ever have the right answer? I doubt it, but maybe I can find some type of understanding.

Now, are you going to share any of that pudding?

Originally published on The Mystery Circus website.

This was the author's photo attached to the article:

It was noted that the author feeds on a healthy diet of young children.

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