Jeanne Matthews, author of Where the Bones Are Buried, is visiting The Book Diva's Reads today. Most writers want things to go just right in their stories, but Ms. Matthews will be discussing the ways a mystery writer purposefully makes things go wrong.
SIDEWAYS, CROOKED, AND HAYWIRE
by Jeanne Matthews
Dreaming up ways that things can go haywire is a requisite for any writer of mystery novels. The poet Robert Burns could have been describing the plot of a modern whodunit when he said, "The best laid schemes of mice and men gang aft agley." Things usually have to gang agley for both the villain and the detective before justice prevails.
The villain thinks he's committed the perfect murder, but something goes wrong. He's forgotten some tiny detail that stirs the detective's suspicions, or maybe a witness sees what he's done and tries to blackmail him. What if there's a freak snowstorm and all the airports are closed and his alibi falls apart? The number of ways in which a plan can go south is limited only by the writer's imagination. We're forever asking ourselves "What if?"
While the villain is trying to fix his mistakes and cover his tracks, the detective is of course fighting his or her own personal demons and professional battles. Whether one writes hard-boiled thrillers or cozies, from the first page on, the hero's life grows ever more complicated. The author throws a barrage of obstacles in his path and the courage and determination with which he overcomes them shows the reader what he's made of.
Some obstacles are psychological. Maybe his wife was killed by a bullet meant for him and he's wracked by guilt. Maybe he drinks too much or has PTSD. And some obstacles are external and related to the investigation. His prime suspect turns out to be innocent as a lamb, or he finds the smoking gun only to have it vanish.
Female sleuths must suffer, too, even the amateurs. You can't handle your heroine with kid gloves or the story will be boring. Pile on the conflict – a hateful boss, a vengeful ex-husband, a lying best friend, a wicked stepmother. The key to creating an interesting character, and an interesting story, is coming up with the right mix of "what ifs" and knocking everyone's best-laid plans sideways and crooked.
I love thinking up possible misunderstandings and screw-ups and snafus. In my most recent book, Where the Bones Are Buried, I send not one, not two, but three human wrecking balls crashing into Dinah Pelerin's happy love nest in Berlin. To be honest, I wasn't quite sure how she would deal with this whammy. They say that adversity builds character. It certainly reveals character. In adversity, all of my characters, including Dinah herself, tend to lie, a quality which I think makes them very human. Not all of their lies are evil or pernicious. Some are merely defensive and self-justifying. But lies tend to snarl things up and lead to even worse trouble. And when somebody tells a whopper, it can hurl the protagonist's hopes and dreams and aspirations so gang agley she may never get over it – especially if the source of the whopper is her mother.
Poor Dinah. But if I have taken a perverse pleasure in making her life difficult, in the end she has the pleasure of unsnarling the lies and solving the murder. As in real life, the achievement is sweeter for having gone through such hardship.
Jeanne Matthews was born and raised in Georgia. She graduated from the University of Georgia with a degree in Journalism and has worked as a copywriter, a high school English and Drama teacher, and a paralegal. She currently lives in Renton, Washington with her husband, who is a law professor.
About the book:
Where the Bones Are Buried by Jeanne Matthews
ISBN: 9781464203466 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9781464203480 (paperback)
ISBN: 9781464203473 (paperback - large print)
ISBN: 9781464203497 (ebook)
ASIN: B00RW0BJYW (Kindle edition)
Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press
Publication date: January 6, 2015
Dinah Pelerin has finally put her life in order. Living in Berlin with her boyfriend Thor, she has landed a job teaching Native American cultures at the university. She's never felt happier. And then her Seminole mother Swan shows up with a crazy scheme to blackmail a German tax dodger and dredges up a secret Dinah has kept hidden from the IRS and from straight-arrow Norwegian Thor, a former cop now with hush-hush international duties.
Germans harbor a century-long fascination with the American Wild West and American Indians. Some enthusiasts dress up as Indians and adopt Indian names. Like Der Indianer Club which has invited Swan to a powwow where she plans to meet her blackmail victim. Dinah tries to head her off, but arrives at the scene too late. A man has been killed and scalped and Swan quickly becomes the prime suspect. Torn between love for her mother and dismay at her incessant lies, Dinah sets out to find the killer—hoping the killer doesn’t turn out to share her DNA. But Swan isn't the only liar. Everyone is lying about something. Margaret, Swan's dead ex-husband's former wife, come to the city with Swan. Dinah's teen-age "ward." Thor. Especially Dinah. Ghosts of Germany's terrible history haunt Berlin while she faces exorcising a hateful ghost of her own.
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