Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Do You Ever Scare Yourself?

by Janis Patterson

Not too long ago a writer friend posted that she was having trouble figuring out how to poison a character. Nothing seemed to work, either through symptoms (she wanted the character to live), or availability, or treatment.

A bunch of us replied, trying to help find a substance that would fit her story's parameters. I contributed, reeling off a list of reasonably available poisons as well as their symptoms and antidotes. From memory.

I was sort of shocked. Yes, I've known for years that there is a lot of really weird knowledge tucked here and there in the messy storage of my brain, but for the first time it really hit me that I really do know this stuff to a frightening degree. Of course, anyone could look it up either at the library or on the internet, but to be able to rattle it all off from memory... it shook me.

Now I'm really rather a good person. I don't kick puppies, kittens or children (with one notable exception, but the animal torturing little brat totally deserved it!) ; I obey the law and take my fair turn at a 4 way stop sign; I recycle and give to charity. But I also know how to eliminate scores of people without even thinking hard. What on earth is St. Peter going to say - assuming, of course, that I get that far.

Which brings up another question: going on the assumption that I never commit a criminal act with my rather esoteric knowledge, what if someone reads my book and uses it as a blueprint to commit a crime? A real one? Does that make me some sort of accessory before the fact? While the idea is admittedly a stretching of probability, even if I were innocent in the eyes of the court, I don't think I would be innocent in the eyes of my own honor. Yes, the murderer could have just gone to the library or internet to do his research, but why should he do so much work when I've laid it all out predigested for him?

I can hear some of you scoffing now, saying I'm too sensitive and other, probably more unattractive epithets, but this is my mind and heart and sense of ethics we're talking about. However, I love writing mysteries and have no intention of giving it up.

So, I take refuge in following the footsteps of some of my betters and cheat. I use exotic poisons and poisons you can find in your kitchen cabinet now. I describe the symptoms and the dosages... but not all of the process. I always leave a little something out. People will always kill other people, but not with my help. If they want to poison someone, let them do the work on finding out. Leave me out of it. I'm just a storyteller.


Pamela S Thibodeaux said...

laughing out loud LOL! I love the post!
I don't write murder mysteries so I don't have to worry about this but you seem to have it all figured out.

Good luck and God's blessings

Kathleen Kaska said...

Great post, Janis. I often wonder what someone would think about me if they looked at my browsing history on the internet. They might think I have a thing for firearms; I don't. They might think I'm into embezzlement; I'm not. They might think I gamble, lie, cheat, steal; of course, I don't. Being a mystery writer is great fun.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

I've horrified myself a few times as I got into a mystery novel or a horror story. Probably the scariest one is in my novel DARK MOON RISING which combines romance with mystery and supernatural horror. Writing a couple of the scenes in that book I did frighten myself.

Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

Mystery writers are an interesting bunch, always looking for new ways to kill people, when in reality most of us would never considering doing anything bad.

Susan Oleksiw said...

Interesting discussion. When I first began writing mysteries, I was surprised at how dangerous most of my garden was, and then I accepted that most really good gardeners know all this and a lot more. What once startled me was how unfeeling I was after I killed a particular character--that's the part that surprises me. Shouldn't I feel bad? I don't, and I just keep on writing.

Kathy L Wheeler said...

hahahha. These comments are awesome. I wrote a story where a friend of the heroine was killed. I read it to my husband, he came back and said "I have an idea where you don't have to kill him."
I told him, "honey. He's a character in a book. Plus it make the situation feel hopeless." I still crack up thinking about that conversation. I know this isn't mystery related, but the killing part made me think of it.

authorlindathorne said...

A few years ago, I read a book that made me nervous the author may've set something in motion that others would follow (bad others) as a method to kill. I'm not going to mention the book or the author, but after it came out I saw all sorts of killings done all over the world just like the premise used in that book. I doubt those killers had read that specific book, but sometimes when information becomes very public, it's like a domino affect and masses of people pick up on it, and sometimes it gets in the hands of bad, dangerous people. In my first book, the victims are killed from being shot by a gun. That's been out there forever, so even if my book sold big time (which is hasn't), I don't feel I would've encouraged any one to use a gun to kill. But in my 2nd book (not yet published), my victims are killed by blunt force trauma. The thing here, is the murder weapon is something used as both a disguise and a weapon. It's unique and I don't know of murders where this duel-role device has been used as a weapon, so as I brought this murder weapon into my plot, I couldn't help but hope no bad-sick person would think it was a great idea and use it. Your post here caused me to relive some of those thoughts and concerns. I enjoyed reading it.

LD Masterson said...

Look at it this way. It's really easy not to poison someone if you don't know how. But when you know exactly how to do it and refrain from using that knowledge...well, even St. Peter would have to be impressed.

Morgan Mandel said...

I know what you mean. I'd feel terrible if someone hurt themself or others because of something I wrote.