Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Why We Write Mysteries

Many authors write about their reasons for writing mysteries--and I've written mine more than once. My usual answer is that when I'm writing a mystery I can make it end the way it should--which isn't the way it always happens in the real world. Too many murderers manage to get away with their dastardly deeds. In my worlds, the bad guy always gets it in the end.

Authors often state that their first interest in writing mysteries came about because of reading the Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew mysteries when they were kids. Though I gobbled up every Nancy Drew mystery that I came across, I also read any other mystery I could get my hands on, including those intended for adults.

Perhaps, though, what had a greater influence on me was the mystery radio shows that I listened to as a kid, The Shadow Knows, Inner Sanctum, Mr. and Mrs. North and many, many others.

But, probably the greatest influence was the daily newspapers. We lived in Los Angeles and at the time my parents subscribed to three: The Herald Express, The Los Angeles Times and another that I don't remember the name of, but was like the tabloids of today. Los Angeles had plenty of intriguing and sometimes gruesome murders to fill the front pages of the newspapers--often with movie stars somehow involved.

The most famous one, The Black Dahlia, I heard about first on my little Philco radio. For some unknown reason, that radio picked up police calls. My mother had forbidden my sister and I to listen to them--but we did almost every night after we went to bed.

I heard the police radioing each other when the found the pieces of the Black Dahlia in that vacant lot. They spoke quite explicitly about what they had found.

Sometime in the night, I felt something on the bed. I reached down and touched a leg. I was afraid to touch anymore for fear I'd feel a bloody stump! I screamed.
Mom came running into the room. "What's the matter?"

I kept my eyes closed tight. "There's a leg on my bed."

Mom quite calmly said, "Yes, and it's attached to your sister."

Of course she knew we'd been listening to the police calls again. And when the morning paper arrived she knew what we'd heard.

That's something I've never forgotten. And that's one case where despite all the theories, no one really knows who killed the young woman called the Black Dahlia.

That will never happen in one of my books, in the end, the reader will always know who the bad guy is.

a.k.a. F. M. Meredith


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Very interesting that you were actually able to listen in on the police radio reports for such a famous case! Thanks for sharing.

I enjoy writing and reading mysteries because it's so cathartic--you have this horrible thing happen in a town and then order is restored again at the end. Like you, the killer is always found and taken away in my books.

Mystery Writing is Murder

L. Diane Wolfe said...

I admire those who can write mysteries - my brain just doesn't work that way as an author! LOL

L. Diane Wolfe

Dana Fredsti said...

That's a great if somewhat morbid anecdote, Marilyn! It is bizarre that your radio picked up police calls -something else that would make a great plot device. I wonder if that still happens randomly like that?
I was fascinated by the Black Dahlia story when I first read about it. So they never did figure it out?

Mark Troy said...

So who do you think did it? Was it George Hodel or William Heirens or somebody else altogether? Was her murder related to the Cleveland Torso murders?

Mark Troy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
F. M. Meredith, author said...

I don't think they ever really found out who killed the Black Dahlia. I've heard and read about all of the theories.

My radio was a cheap little Philco. My sister and I were forbidden to listen to police calls, but we did every chance we got.

When the stuff came through about the Black Dahlia, no one used any kind of police code--it was all pretty straight forward and very gruesome.