Location as a character

Whenever a writer makes a big deal about where a story takes place, the location, in essence, becomes another character in the story. Initially, one would think this would be true for every story ever written, but that’s not the case.

There are books, especially mystery books, where a writer could plop his or her characters into any gritty noir-like city-scape, any post-apocalyptic dystopian environment, or any charming small town, and the story would still play out the same. Admittedly, my books can be like that. I feel it is an advantage. Readers from other parts of the country and world can see themselves and people they know in my books.

What I’m talking about is when the location is so unique, the story would be bereft without it. The location becomes imperative to the legitimacy of the story. If it is a real-life location, the writer has to be careful, because there are pitfalls in missing things or getting them wrong. If a reader is familiar with that place, they will become distracted with the inaccuracies and lose focus on what is going on with the plot. They will lose emotional investment, and that is bad news for the writer, especially if the reader can’t or won’t finish the book.

Getting the details right is why editing and rewrites are so very critical. I understand that a writer has deadlines and there is a sense of urgency to get the story done and out. But once the product is on the market, warts and all, there is only so much damage control a writer can install after the fact. I know of what I speak. I am the queen of impatience, and it shows in some of the earlier versions of my series. I can never take down the critical reviews about my editing. They are a sobering reminder of the need to slow down, read every sentence with objectivity, and do my best to get it right.

Give them nothing

It is with a disturbed and saddened heart that I witness this rise in mainstreaming of bigotry in our country. Somehow, it became okay to believe that white people, the most privileged and entitled group on pretty much the entire planet, are somehow in harm’s way and are therefore justified in pushing an agenda of purity and violence. Really? Really?

I am not unfamiliar with racism. I grew up with it. It still exists all around me. It crops up in old tasteless jokes, usually about Native Americans or minorities. After Obama became president, the awful monkey poster made the rounds. I still hear grumbling in local small town parades as royalty becomes more diversified. And I see it in the wide births that I sometimes witness in the local grocery stores when groups of newly settled immigrants are doing their shopping, often speaking a language to each other that is not English.

Presiden Trump is not the reason for this reappearance of an old ignorance, but his refusal to admit the alt rights’ irrelevance in a modern America only emboldens those who can’t accept that our country has no room for their hate any longer.

This condoning behavior from our commander and chief has sparked a resurgence in white power rallies that only promise misery and pain to those of us who must tolerate their First Amendment right to exist and assemble in public places.

So what should we do? If counter protesting only spurns them on, then what is the solution?

There are many of those who will vehemently disagree with me, but I suggest we do…nothing. Don’t counter protest. Don’t show up at the rally if you are not a cop and obligated to be there. Don’t pay any attention to them whatsoever. Let them have their right to speak, to chant, to act like big bullies with their ridiculous symbols and pretend they are important, but let their audience be no one. They want the attention. They crave the validation. Don’t give them the satisfaction that they matter.

They’ll have to look for that surge of adrenaline elsewhere, probably by doing something illegal. Then the authorities can arrest them and they’ll go back to being recognized for the thugs they truly are, lacking any of the faux legitimacy they think they somehow gained in January. Give them nothing.

It’s a question of body count

I often wonder if other mystery authors start a book with the number of characters that are going to die in mind. I generally don’t. I start with one victim and go from there. It’s just how I work, much like how I live, in a reactionary, fly by the seat of my pants sort of way.

There are many reasons I choose to kill off a character. The most obvious one is the murder moves the plot along. That’s a murder that is essential to the flow of the story, and the one that is usually first.

Then there is the character that I decide to murder because he or she knows too much and I need obstacles for my main characters. A person of interest may be too obvious to keep alive, so the murderer takes him or her out.

There are, of course, the murders I decree because the character is too evil to be left alive. I don’t think I’ve let a single villain live longer than a few books. They never go to jail, at least not yet. I think it’s my own inner sense of justice that predicates those murders. They deserve to die. Sounds simple to me.

Some murders occur to ramp up the emotion of the story. ¬†These are also the characters who usually don’t deserve to die. They are a reminder that death does and should affect us with some proportion of sadness, even if the deaths are fictional. I won’t lie. I’ve cried writing the aftermaths of some of my murders.

I’m currently working out a murder in my head of a character that I hadn’t originally planned on taking out. Let’s just say, this one is tricky, but the best ones usually are. I’m looking forward to sharing it with you soon.