Wednesday, July 15, 2015

HEROES AND VILLAINS

In August we’ll be releasing David Freed’s fourth Cordell Logan mystery, The Three-Nine Line. It’s been a very successful series, combining high in the sky adventure (Cordell, like his author, is a pilot of a small plane) along with a wicked sense of humor, which you will appreciate when reading David’s blog. It also provides serious comment on the elements needed when structuring a mystery that many will appreciate as you read on...

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“When I was eight, I enjoyed a brief but ultimately unprofitable flirtation with kleptomania. If it wasn’t otherwise nailed down, I stole it.

“Small inexpensive toys shoplifted from the shelves of the local Hested’s (what would now be the Dollar Store) were my usual booty, but I was not beyond stealing elsewhere, and for others. On Mother’s Day, I gave my mom a lovely perfume atomizer made of violet colored glass pinched from Rexall Drugs, along with a card congratulating her on being pregnant. In fact, my mother was not pregnant at the time and I really didn’t understand what the card meant--some kind of gently humorous sexual entendre, as she explained it to me years later. All I knew was that it was indeed a Mother’s Day card and that I had to stuff it down my jeans pronto, along with that atomizer, if I was to make it out of the drug store clean. My mother found the card endearing as she did my innocence in not understanding its message. She also found it mystifying that I could have afforded so generous a gift on a weekly allowance of 50 cents. But I am getting ahead of myself.


“One day, after having my latest cavity filled, I walked out of the dentist’s office with a full-size, plaster cast model of somebody’s mouth secreted under my jacket. I knew the moment I saw it that I had to have it, sitting there as I was, alone in the chair after the dentist went off to go look at X-rays or whatever it is dentists do when they are not torturing you. The mouth, I was convinced, would make the perfect anti-hero to my vast collection of plastic army men, most of which I’d also stolen. Can you imagine the fun, sitting on your bedroom floor with the door closed and waging war against two-inch soldiers with a giant human mouth? I certainly could! Those gnashing jaws. Those jagged, misshapen teeth. The ultimate monster.
 

“A few weeks later, shortly before my ninth birthday, I walked home from school to find my mom, a bookkeeper, sitting with my dad, a street cop, in the living room of our suburban tract house in Denver. This was highly unusual. My working class parents were rarely home in the afternoons, and certainly never together. The set of their own jaws and the anger in their eyes told me that something was amiss, and indeed it was. My mother had gone into my closet to put away clothes and stumbled upon my cache of ill begotten goods. My father promptly took me down to the basement, made me lower my pants, and whipped me with a leather belt. He then took a ten-cent, balloon-powered plastic robot on wheels I had pinched from Hested’s, crushed it under the heels of his black cop shoes, and told me that the wreckage of that toy would be my only birthday present. Then, my mother drove me around town and made me give back everything I’d swiped--less the robot my dad had destroyed, of course, for which she reimbursed Hested’s ten cents, deducted from my piggy bank.


“Other than my wife’s heart, I never stole anything ever again.


“What’s all this got to do with writing mystery-thrillers, you might ask?


“Well, for me, everything.


“For the protagonist in a mystery novel to investigate and ultimately solve crimes over the course of 300 pages, persuasively and with more than a patina of authenticity, the author who creates that protagonist must possess at least a passing understanding of how a criminal investigation plays out. In that regard, I feel well-grounded. Aside from having a cop's blood coursing through my veins, I spent nearly 20 years as an investigative newspaper reporter, covering all manner of law enforcement and military affairs, and later worked extensively within the national intelligence community, before segueing to writing crime fiction. Several of my closest friends are former cops or military special operators. All of which is to say that relating to or thinking like one of those good guys comes more or less naturally to me. It’s having to think like a bad guy that makes my head hurt.


“There’s an adage in fiction writing that for a hero to ultimately prove himself heroic, the anti-hero must be equally strong, if not stronger. The most compelling fictional bad guys are so clever and cunning, spinning such elaborate webs of deceit, as to seem at times invincible. This, of course, is before the hero, relying on all of his acumen, ingenuity and, often as not, a big-ass, semi-automatic pistol, sniffs out the clues and deconstructs the deceits before bringing the bad guy to justice and the reader to a logical, satisfying ending. This is where I sometimes run into trouble.


“As a journalist, I’ve interviewed my share of felons, from homicidal gangbangers to psychopathic rapists to thieving, white collar dirt bags with law degrees and Brooks Brothers suits. Not one of them to my knowledge ever conjured a criminal enterprise so sophisticated or cunning that it would have made for even a sub-par mystery-thriller. In other words, I can’t model my creative writing on the nefarious affairs of the real-life villains I’ve known because their enterprises were simply too straight-forward and not elaborate enough. Thus, I am left to make everything up, to put myself in the shoes of the murderers I must construct them from whole cloth, to give them warped but logical motives that permit them to pull triggers and plunge knives. I am obligated to cover their tracks until my hero can systematically uncover those tracks. Unfortunately, all of this having to be killer-like is hard work. I’m inclined to believe that whatever criminal impulses I may have once possessed—impulses I could definitely use today--were literally spanked out of me in that suburban basement. In this, then, I sometimes struggle as a writer of mystery-thrillers whose mission is to field a savvy crime fighter as well as the credibly crafty crooks he must stop.


“But, that, I suppose, is half the fun, and more than half the challenge.


“I remember crying and being overcome by embarrassment when my mother drove me back to the dentist and made me return the plaster cast mouth. He was a tall, reedy man who wore glasses with opaque frames and a weird kind of tunic that buttoned up the side, and he was not happy, which was not surprising given my thievery and his occupation. I read somewhere that many dentists are unhappy. All that saliva, I suppose. In any case, he shared his smoldering frustrations at having spent hours searching high and low for the mouth after I’d swiped it, then told my mother that it would not surprise him if someday I ended up in state prison.


“Who knows? That dentist may end up someday as a criminal in a mystery novel, with that plaster cast mouth as a murder weapon.


Now, there’s an idea.”

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If you enjoyed David’s blog and have anything else you’d like to add, please post it on this website. You can also reach David by email at Dfscribe@aol.com. And should you wish to contribute to these weekly blogs, contact me at shepard@thepermanentpress.com 


NEXT WEEK we’ll be featuring William Wells’ blog, LATE BLOOMERS...another offering from another novelist.

1 comment:

  1. A very entertaining and illuminating post. Reminds me of a murder trial I covered some years ago for the Chicago Tribune. A key piece of evidence on the victim were the teeth marks of the accused. The defendant was convicted. From Marc Davis

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