Monday, July 16, 2007

Real Mysteries, Fictional Mysteries

by Julia Buckley
I suppose one of the reasons that I like reading mysteries is that I like suspense, but I also like to see resolution. Mysteries that follow the rules always show a solution to the puzzle in the end, ultimately ending the reader's suspense.

I suppose that's why real life mysteries can be so compelling, can stay with us for years and years, why we even form conspiracy theories--Marilyn, JFK, UFOs and Roswell, et cetera.

A mystery like the disappearance of Amelia Earhart therefore takes on legendary signficance, as does the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby (although that one, tragically, was solved).

On this day in 1999 the plane of JFK Junior plunged into the Atlantic Ocean near Martha's Vineyard, killing him, his wife, and her sister. Although their plane was found and their bodies were recovered, this remains something of a mystery to me: Why did this happen? Why did he take the plane if the weather was so threatening? Did they know what dire straits they were in, or were they blissfully unaware until the moment of impact? And why do the Kennedys seem so plagued by tragedy?

Because of the real mysteries all around us, I don't think that writers of mystery could ever be at a loss for questions to drive their own narratives. In the case of my own writing, I begin with a great many "what if" scenarios. What if a woman who died was able to come back to life? What if her "death" gave her insight into the identity of her murderer? What if she tried to implicate him, and no one believed her? Those were the questions that elicited my first book.

But the great thing about being a writer is that you can read any random item in a newspaper or hear a snippet of something on the news, and it can trigger those questions, the questions that demand a solution. WHY would a man expect to be believed when he says his wife shot him in the leg, then shot herself and their children to death? WHERE is the Illinois woman who has been missing for weeks while her estranged husband claims to know nothing about it?

I want resolution to these mysteries--I'm sure everyone does. But even after one is resolved, another one will emerge. These are the mysteries, after all, of human behavior, which can rarely be predicted.

In fiction, though, we can take that human world, shape it, and make sense of it, one mystery at a time.


Karen Olson said...

Sadly, I've read that JFK Jr. was not very bright and knew the dangers of losing sight of the shoreline but wanted to get to the Vineyard more quickly. Can't remember where I heard that, but tempting fate was not a good idea.

I like to take my stories from real life mysteries and news stories and then twist them around every which way and see how they fall.

Julia Buckley said...

Too true. Perhaps he felt invulnerable, although I don't know why, given their family's list of tragedies.

I'm putting your first book on my TBR list. :)