Friday, March 2, 2012

ORDER OUT OF CHAOS



Congratulations to Janice Bennett, the winner of Paula Grave's giveaway. You will be contacted directly by Paula. Thank you to all who participated!

For as long as I can remember, I've loved a good mystery.  I started reading Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden books quite young, and eventually graduated to Dell Shannon's Luis Mendoza mysteries and thrillers by Jonathan Kellerman, Nelson DeMille and James Patterson.

When I decided to get serious about my writing, I was afraid of trying to write mystery/suspense at first.  I was intimidated by the challenge of coming up with a mystery to solve and then solving it in 60,000 words without giving away the ending.  Straight romance is the way to go, I thought.

But a funny thing happened.  No matter what kind of romance I was trying to write, someone always ended up dead somehow.  It seems I'm just genetically incapable of writing a story that doesn't involve at least some element of a mystery to solve.

I've thought about why that could be, and I've come to a conclusion.  I think a good mystery/suspense writer longs for control of the world around her.  She wants to make sense of the unpleasant surprises that make up the fabric of life.  She longs to make order out of chaos. I know that's true of myself.

When I was very young, I witnessed two events that, in retrospect, must have had a powerful impact on the way I see the world around me.  First, I witnessed the teenaged girl who lived next door run crying and screaming down the street after a man tried to grab her and rape her while she was walking home from the neighborhood swimming pool.  She got away, but it traumatized her greatly, and I witnessed her terror.  I was no more than four or five years old, so hearing that "someone jumped her," I took it literally—that someone had jumped on her as she was walking home.  I didn't know what rape was, but I was small and I was pretty sure that having someone jump on me would be very unpleasant.  So what happened to that neighbor girl stuck in my mind for years as a Very Bad Thing.

The second thing I witnessed was actually related to the first, but the outcome was far more tragic.  The teenage girl's father wanted revenge for what happened to his child.  I didn't know it at the time, but there was also a racial element involved, as the girl was white and her attacker had been black.  (This was late sixties Alabama). So one day, he had too much to drink and decided to go out and find the guy who attacked his daughter.  How he planned to find that particular person, I don't know.  Maybe he didn't care. Maybe he was out to cause trouble for the next black person he saw. We'll never know, however, for he passed out before he left his garage.  Unfortunately, he didn't pass out before he started his car engine.

Without going into detail about all that happened, the man died of carbon monoxide poisoning and nearly took his wife and daughter with him, as they were upstairs breathing carbon monoxide without realizing it. A neighbor who went in to comfort them after they found their husband and father passed out also succumbed to the gas.  My mother and father had to go into that house and drag them out before they died as well.

I watched the whole event unfold from my back yard, separated by the action only by a chain link fence and my childish lack of true understanding of what had transpired.  I just knew that the husband had died and the wife, her daughter and a dear neighbor were very sick.  I remember the sound of ambulance sirens, the horrified reaction of my own parents, who had been called upon to be heroes in the middle of an otherwise ordinary day, and my own sense of the world turning upside down around me.  Later, I would run home, utterly nauseated, every time I heard a siren, desperate to reassure myself that my family was safe and unharmed.  To this day, I worry a little if I'm away from home and hear a siren headed into my neighborhood.

I think I learned, at this very early age, that being able to control one's circumstances was a very good, if very rare, thing.  It may even be part of the reason I wanted to be a writer.  What do writers do, after all, but create chaos and then tame it?

Of course, there's also a side effect to our secret control fetish.  We tend to see patterns where none exist, conspiracies where none are likely, and evil in unlikely places.  I remember going to the Annistan Museum of Natural history when I was younger with a group of church friends.  It's a slightly creepy place to begin with—all those stuffed animal carcasses!—and I also have an impression, in my memory, of the place being dark and eerily lit. It didn't take long for me to pull a small notebook out of my purse and start taking notes about the best places in the museum to hide a body.

It's a suspense writer's inclination to try to create logic out of the random.  A controversial journalist dies suddenly and unexpectedly on the street late at night, and your first thought isn't heart attack.  It's "secret conspiracy to quiet an inconvenience."  A plane crashes at sea and all bodies are lost.  Yes, it's a tragedy, but for the suspense writer, it's also an idea generator.  "What if a bad guy wanted to fake his death—would he care if two hundred strangers had to be sacrificed to make it happen?"

So, do you think I'm right?  Do we love reading and writing mysteries because they give us answers to things that otherwise make no sense, like murder, evil and depravity?  Do we read them because we know justice will be served in the end? Because unlike in real life, the good guys generally win? Tell me what you think. 


I'll be giving away a $25 amazon.com gift card to a commenter selected at random.

And be sure to check out my new book, out this month:  SECRET IDENTITY is the first book in my brand new Harlequin Intrigue series, Cooper Security.  How about a story blurb?

Since leaving the CIA under questionable circumstances, Amanda Caldwell has been living a quiet, uneventful life in a sleepy mountain town. But when Rick Cooper, her former partner—and former lover—makes an unexpected reappearance, she senses things are about to get a lot more interesting.…

Rick's mission is to protect Amanda and her identity from an assassin who's picked up her trail. It isn't long before working together stirs up all the passion and energy they'd once shared on the job. And in Rick's bed. Still, there's more to Rick's assignment than he can share with his "partner." Revealing the truth wouldn't be smart. But keeping his secret could be deadly.

Giveaway ends 9pm EST March 3rd. Please supply your email in the post. You may use spaces or full text for security. (ex. jsmith at gmail dot com) If you do not wish to supply your email, or have trouble posting, please email justromanticsuspense @ gmail.com with a subject title of JRS GIVEAWAY to be entered in the current giveaway. This giveaway applies to US and CANADA mailing addresses only. If the winner falls outside this category they are eligible to receive a signed book from Ms.Grave's backlist.

21 comments:

  1. Great contest!

    treerose AT yahoo DOT com

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  2. We have an email entry into the giveaway.

    "I love the books you write. I mean all of the harlequin series are great. I really love the ones that are suspense or hardcore romance. It's thrilling." -- Rhianna M.

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  3. Thanks for the post. The blurb sounds great!

    bas1chsemail at gmail dot com

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  4. Hi Paula,

    This is an interesting post.
    The question of why we read mysteries I think you explained well. And I think we like romance in them because we are looking for love, for connection. I have decided to include either a romance or at least a relationship(s) in my crime trillers.
    Thanks for the thought provoking post.

    Jan

    And please enter my in your generous draw:
    janet(underscore)kerr(at)msn(dot)com

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  5. Though you didn't take the straight route to writing your genre, it sounds that mystery/suspense genre found you anyways. That's a wonderful thing. I really think that our life's personal experiences do shape how we see the world and go about it. I know I read mystery and suspense stories because they engage my senses. I often feel what the characters are feeling (fear, triumphant, confusion), anticipate upcoming scenes and put to use my own detective solving skills the the clues left in the writing. I've always appreciate a good mystery and I remember reading Nancy Drew and never tiring of it. It's also helps me make sense of things and sometimes gives an insight into the villain's mind. When you add in the romance element it's an even better read because emotions and love is involved and that is another way I connect to a story.

    Cambonified(at)yahoo(dot)com

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  6. Oh yes, I do think that is why readers like mystery novels (and similarly, crime-fighting TV shows). There is a security in the knowledge that in the end, the bad guys will be found/captured and all will be well in the world.

    julieguan AT gmail DOT com

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  7. I think we love to read them because we know it will have generally have a happy ending and justice will be served. I certainly love reading these types of books knowing the ending will turn out well. To me, it provides some type of escapism from real life :)

    Angela C.

    amctwin at gmail dot com

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  8. Thank you all so much for the comments! It's nice to know I'm not alone in my desire to serve justice and have a happy ending!:)

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  9. I only recently started reading more books with mystery and suspense. A friend had talked me into trying one and I was hooked (and a little scared at first). I still like contemporary romance, but having something more to the story than just the romance makes the book come alive more. Romantic Suspense/Mystery is my favorite type of book now! Sometimes the suspense/mystery books consume me (I dream a lot about what I read) and I have to read something light and fluffy before I go back to another suspense/mystery book!

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  10. There's comfort in knowing that the perpetrator will be caught and punished for his crimes, something that does not always happen in real life.

    Thanks for the giveaway.

    jtcgc at yahoo dot com

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  11. I do enjoy trying to figure out who the villain is and I agree that most mysteries are tied up neatly and that's something we don't see in real life situations.

    janie1215 AT excite DOT com

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  12. I love trying to figure out who is the perp. and the motives behind the crime. If romance just happens to be part of the story, I'm all for it.

    kmccandle(at)yahoo(dot)com

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  13. I think we enjoy them because if we watch and read the news through out the world, never mind the economy!, it can seem that no matter what we do there is always more evil coming and no end. When we read mystery and romantic suspense at the end of the book justice is usually served and we all know that love conquers all and gives us a good feeling of being safe and happy.
    Keep the books coming they are terrific!

    Janice Bennett
    jbenz42@gmail.com

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  14. I enjoy them because of the suspense, the romance and the happy ending at the end. You don't seem to hear enough happy endings in now a days.

    monicalpg at sbcglobal dot net

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  15. We all love the mystery and suspense. We don't like the romance to happen right away that would just end it right there for me. The characters need to draw our attention and hold it. Especially for the longer stories. What better way to hold our interest than with a little mystery and intrigue.

    Lynn
    lareynolds0316@gmail.com

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  16. I think people enjoy them because there's a happy ending and we get to come along as the mystery is resolved.

    bn100candg(at)hotmail(dot)com

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  17. I think we like to read them because justice is always served, the bad guy always gets whats coming to him, and the hero saves the day. The legal system doesn't let us down like it sometimes does in real life. Anyway, that's part of the reasons I like to read them.

    seriousreader at live dot com

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  18. Love this genre! Thanks for the giveaway.

    Heather E
    hregtvedt@aol.com

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  19. Love romantic suspence genre. It's my favorite to read. I always try to figure out "who dun it" and love when I'm wrong and the author manages to fool me. Throw in some smexy times and what more can you ask for? Thanks for the chance to win!

    Judi
    Boomer21(at)rogers(dot)com

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  20. Romantic suspense is definitely my favourite genre-- (often) a truly evil wanker as the villain, a fit alpha-male bloke (with a big gun!) who saves the day/heroine/world/etc., sexy times galore, and a happy ending where justice is served & the aforementioned wanker gets what was coming to him (which often doesn't happen in real life)... what's not to love :)

    [stalkers00(at)yahoo(dot)com]

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  21. Love romantic suspence. It is one of my favorites to read. Thanks for the great giveaway. :)


    Patti F
    pfleming913@comcast.net

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