Marilyn Levinson (Guest Blogger)
A psychologist would have a field day analyzing why we mystery writers write the books that we do. "Why mysteries?" we're often asked. And often answer, "I love mysteries!
I read Nancy Drew as a child." Of course our early reading choices influence us, along with the fact that we read mysteries for their puzzle element: who committed the crime and why? There's nothing like a mystery's ending for bringing matters full circle. The murderer's exposed, the puzzle's solved, and, in most cases, justice has prevailed.
But it goes deeper than that. Homicide's for real, and writing a mystery means dealing with the shadow side of human nature. After all, we create our murderers and our victims as well as our sleuths. Murderers kill for a variety of reasons. They're driven by lust, hatred, jealousy, and revenge. They knock off blackmailers; they're intent on protecting themselves from prison or public exposure. They kill because they like it. We law-abiding writers would never dream of actually murdering someone. But in our books we get the chance to off as many victims as we like. Amazing how some of them strongly resemble people who have seriously ticked us off. Besides, writing about murder and mayhem gives us a vicarious thrill. More satisfying than watching a fast-moving sport or playing an electronic game.
Then there's our sleuth. My sleuths have a good part of me in their personalities. They're curious. Persistent. They like eating ethnic food and watching foreign movies. Of course, they're bolder, braver, and more aggressive than me. They often respond to an insult with a snappy comeback when the real Marilyn thinks up a retort hours after the fact. Our sleuths go over the top to uncover a murderer. They sneak into buildings, lie to get into offices, break into houses, hide in people's cellars. They collect information and proof any way they can. Often at great risk to life and limb.
We mystery writers have the freedom to choose our settings, subplots, hooks, and themes. As a lover of mystery series, I find the books' setting is as important as the cast of characters. The setting is a character, one that permeates the novel. Right now I'm reading one of Earlene Fowler's Benni Harper Mysteries. What fun it is for a New York gal who's never been on a horse to read about ranch life in California.
I generally set my mysteries on Long Island because that's where I live. You won't find the towns my characters inhabit on any map, but I've an actual village or town in mind as I write. I also love to explore social issues.
A Murderer Among Us takes place in an upscale senior gated community in Suffolk County.
While the gated community I live in isn't only for seniors or especially upscale, I sure know how heated a board meeting can get. How news spreads among residents like wildfire. My sleuth, Lydia Krause, is an attractive, vibrant 58-year-old woman who has recently sold her company and home to embark on a new life. Lydia's actively involved in her daughters' and granddaughters' lives and problems. At the same time, she solves murders, forges new friendships, and falls in love. I've chosen an older sleuth because I'm older and know that we senior citizens lead full and active lives.
The setting for my mystery, Giving Up the Ghost, which comes out in April, is a sleepy village above Long Island Sound.
Gabbie Meyerson has come to Chrissom Harbor in midwinter to teach English at the local high school. She discovers she's sharing a cottage with the ghost of Cameron Leeds--the sexy, wheeler-dealer romeo who used to live there. Cam implores Gabbie to find his murderer. She soon discovers that while the villagers love to gossip about Cam's various affairs, they don't take kindly to her insinuations that his death was no accident.
I made Gabbie an English teacher because many years ago I taught high school Spanish. Gabbie has to contend with two bullies who torment one of her students. I've always been concerned about the problem of bullies in school. So many of their victims are afraid to speak up, especially if the administration is weak. The bullies in my mystery are taken care of. It’s one of the perks we mystery writers have when dealing with unsavory characters.
Marilyn Levinson is a former Spanish teacher and the author of several books for children. Suspense Magazine awarded her first mystery, A Murderer Among Us, a Best Indie of 2011. Her website is at www.marilynlevinson.com.