Monday, January 16, 2012

Thoughts of Death and Taxes

What do they have in common? The old saw says they are both certain to occur. I think they have a lot more in common, especially for a mystery writer.

My thoughts turn to taxes, of course, because it's time to pay the quarterly estimated taxes for 2011. These are the payments that, if I've guessed right, will enable us to float through April 15th without owing any extra. That usually doesn't happen, but only for good reasons. Mostly, that we've made more money that we thought we would. So taxes can be handled in such a way that they don't hurt so much.

How about death? We can't handle our own death. It will be what it is. We may think we can control it, but we can't. Well, maybe to a certain extent. If I don't walk across a busy street without looking, I lessen the chances I'll be hit fatally by a car. If I don't dive off a high bridge, I'll lessen the changes I'll plunge to a watery death. But if I eat right and exercise and never drink or smoke, I could still keel over suddenly, never to revive. My aorta could rip apart. An aneurysm could burst in my brain. I could even choke to death on some delicious morsel that sticks in my windpipe with no one around to shove it out.

I don't like the thought of things I can't control. I particularly don't like thoughts about my own death! But I can obviously contemplate other people's deaths at length and on a regular basis. Hey, they're just fictional people dying, they're my characters. And I'm not really killing them, the villains I created are doing my dirty work. I suppose I have a certain degree of control over my characters, but that's sometimes an illusion.

Why do people want to write about killing anyway? I can only speak for myself. I regard it as the ultimate sin, the highest violation of human ethics. And yet people do it every day. What makes a person kill another one? I can't help but wonder. Some killers are psychotic and have no regard for anyone. That evil person can kill someone who is in his way with no remorse (unless he gets caught).

But the ones I like to write about think it's something they have to do. They think there is no other way out of the alley they've been backed into, no other way out of the tangled mess they've made of their lives. Or maybe that other people have woven and caught them in.

To make this timely, I also wonder why someone thought it would be a good thing to kill Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Or John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Or any other public figure.
So I wonder, what DOES make a person think that the best solution to the problem is murder? That's what I try to explore. That's why I write mystery. I still haven't found out.


  1. I've wondered about these things too, especially because most of the TV shows I watch are crime dramas. One of my favorites is Criminal Minds, because the profilers try to answer these same questions by analyzing the serial killers and figuring out what they're going to do next. On the other hand, I haven't written a lot about death in my own fiction; it's often more difficult to write about dark stuff like that than stuff that makes people happy.

  2. NW, I think the satisfaction of writing crime fiction lies in making sure the baddies are caught and justice is done. That's what makes a crime writer happy. Neat endings don't often (ever?) happen in real life. I do always try to figure out why my killer thinks that act is the thing to do. I wonder if other mystery writers read as much true crime as I do. That's what I use for source material. I like Criminal Minds, too!

  3. I'm a big fan of Dateline and 48 Hour Mysteries because I always want to know why people do the things they do. I can see, too, Kaye where there would be great satisfaction in making sure the bad guy got what was coming to them in the end. Writing is fun!

  4. I think the study of the human condition is the most fascinating part of being a writer. I mean, I could study it without being one, but that makes me more aware of what people do and why. It IS fun!

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