Saturday, August 16, 2008

How to Hear about How to Write a Mystery

Last month, NPR’s “Talk of the Nation” aired a great double interview entitled How to Write a Mystery. What made the show great, IMHO, is that instead of spending an hour with James Patterson or Stephen King, they enlisted a pair of what I consider journeyman authors. Tana French, author of In The Woods and The Likeness, and Louis Bayard, author of Mr. Timothy and The Pale Blue Eye, are not celebrity authors just hard-working folks who make their living turning out tightly-plotted, character-driven stories that are fun to read. NPR gave us a chance to listen to them talk about how to create the perfect whodunit, and to give their idea of the most important elements in a page-turning thriller. The show is still on their site and well worth listening to.

But even more fun for me was the interactive side. When I returned to the interview for a second listen I saw that people had posted comments on the NPR site. I found many of them interesting, as a fan and as a writer. Consider these snippets:

“RE: Series mystery novels. I find it absolutely maddening to read series mysteries which rehash the same characters - if the books are well written in the first place we should know everything we need to know about these characters. It seems that authors who use the same characters over and over again do backbends to make their characters SEEM fresh.”

“I have enjoyed all of the modern weapons put into government/crime mystery novels, such as the FBI and LAPD in Michael Connelly's books. It becomes a game of outsmarting the machines man created to have justice and peace.”

“One thing I do NOT enjoy about series of novels is when the author tries to teach a moral lesson, or life lesson, in a mystery, of all places. I hate when I notice five books later that the author must have had an eye opening life experience, because there are "tender moments" thrown into the plot that didn't happen in the first four.”

“As owner of the San Francisco Mystery Bookstore I can tell you what my customers think make a good mystery. Mysteries that take you to another place where you can learn about the culture, the society and the people.”

Yep, I learn as much from fans as I do from other authors. One thing seems clear, though. There’s something for everyone to love in a good mystery!

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