I've Got a Question for You—

Today, several of my co-workers tried to engage me in a conversation about the sick screenplays of the VA Tech killer posted on aol.com, hoping I might shed some light (from an author's perspective) on what would make this person tick. (Yeah, right. Like I've got some special 3-D glasses to interpret the ranting of a mad man.)

It's true, when I write fictional characters, I delve into the deviant mind and try to adapt a specific villain as a foil to my hero/heroine. But for me, the wounds of VA Tech are too fresh. I write murder & mayhem for a living now. I think I'll sit this one out, thank you very much.

I've tried to distance myself from this latest mass murderer—not wanting to give his life a higher and undeserved priority than the poor victims in this case. So to distract myself from these horrific and sad events—and yet work along the fringes of it—I wanted to ask you a question. Many of you are readers of crime fiction. I certainly am. For the purposes of this discussion, I'd like to define crime fiction as mysteries, suspense thrillers, true crime books, etc.

Why do we read crime fiction?

Personally, I'm a voracious reader and although my shelves are crammed with an assortment of many types of books, I still gravitate to the suspense thrillers and crime fiction. So to answer the question for me, I think I read them for the suspense factor, certainly. There's an undeniable rush of adrenaline when I read these types of books. And I've lost hours of sleep too.

But I also read them to see the world righted again. And I like the mental stimulation of crime solving, especially when forensics are part of the investigation. Although I don't need a tidy ending to the stories I read, the good guy generally prevails and the world is restored after the villain is caught and punished. Real life isn't always wrapped up so neatly and well ordered.

But what do you think? Why do you read crime fiction? Do you think books allow us to feel more in control because in a fictional world, wrongs can be righted with more certainty than real life?

Jordan Dane


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Well said Gerald. In crimefiction I can be a PI, a policeman, an amateur sleuth, and in some instances, see the world through the criminal's mind. I also like Robert's comment about "righting wrongs" which I have never thought of before. Right now I am reading The Devil's Redhead by David Corbett which is all about redemption, as is Robert Fate's Babyshark.
I may be in the minority about the righting wrongs thing, at least I sometimes feel that way when looking for new fiction to read. But I think that it is the unconventional way in which justice/truth happens in mystery/crime fiction that appeals to the common man. In other words the reader says to themselves "that's what I would do" or "serves them right". The hero of the story may break the rules and be unlikeable in many ways but eventually they right the wrong somehow.
I hadn't thought about a reader playing both the hero and the villain but that really makes me think. Maybe we get more of that kind of rush as authors since we invent these characters. I once heard an author say she never wanted to be in the POV of the villain and never did it. That shocked me. How can you ever get the full feel of the conflict if you don't show what each of the main characters have at stake?
i use to read encyclopedia brown when I was little and then I progressed to superweazel, and then even more when I was a child. My cousin got me addicted to historical romance, but since I didn't want to do all that research in history, I decided to mix my love for figuring out crime with romance with my obsession to write all the time and come up with stories that i would read.

I then progressed from romance to erotica and one reader told me I should be called a erotic suspense author, LOL, because I still mix suspense/mystery with erotic romance.

hence, I am a suspense romance author and also sensual noir author.
I read crime fiction because I have to know what's going on in the market, and what I can "get away with." I particularly want to read the new stuff that includes characters who are also real people.

DaVinci Code was a page turner, but it was not about people. It was cardboard cutouts moving through a contrived plot to give us information--not that there's anything wrong with that. I will do a separate answer in a few minutes telling you how and why one reader, my ex-wife present "friend", who is not a writer but a constant reader.
OK, this is a different answer and a different person's point of view. I have asked for and received permission to speak for m ex-wife\. (I don't know why I just don't call her my wife except that we haven't remarried.)

She likes books that make her laugh or that are about things she likes. She likes horses, thus Dick Francis, who I don't think is funny at all. She likes Parker's Spenser because of the repartee between him and Hawk. She likes Peter Bowen, who I have never read, both because she thinks he's funny and because he writes about the West. She likes Tony Hillerman because of the Native American lore.

I answer the question for her, because she would never think to write in a million years. And would never go on a list to discuss her ideas. She's a pure reader.
LOL I think the X should definitely come off that title you have for her. Sounds like you guys are good friends though. As an author on myspace, I'm beginning to get a feel for readers on my friends list and I can guarantee you that the average reader does not sweat the details that we authors do. It's part of the tortured artist syndrome. But no matter what an author's readership base, each reader reads for their own reasons and buy books because the author struck a chord with them. An author won't appeal to everyone. That's why I never feel like I'm in competition with any other author. As eclectic as I am as a reader, I know many authors appeal to me. I just want to encourage reading--period.
From the general reading public's point of view I think what you said about your friendwife's preferences is an important one. I'm very often interested in British Authors because I want to find out about life in England. There are a lot of theme series like this because I think Publishers recognize it, series with recipes, one's with information about herbs, that take place out of a coffee shop or a haunted bookstore. I think Readers look for something that interests them about the book or series in addition to than whether it's a mystery.
Good point. One of my first books written (hidden under my bed now) dealt with Alaska, a place I had lived for 10 years. I thought I knew it, but found out that when talking about the Prince of Wales Island, I was a novice about the Native life and culture. So I consulted with the local Chamber of Commerce and got great info, but made a dear friend in the process. We're still friends four years later. She made the book come alive for me with her take on the details. It made the book richer. Sometimes we can get caught up on the plot and characters as we world build, but the more subtle 'day in the life' aspects can be a draw for readers too.
People have given some marvellous answers about why they're drawn to crime fiction. Personally, I'm engaged more by imaginative writing and character than by plot. I'd add that a major reason I read is to study the craft. Even while I'm caught up in the work, a part of me is analysing why I like it and what makes it good. And when I come upon novels that fall short because of bad writing or tedious plotting, whether by new or established writers, I enjoy gloating. If they can make it, so can I - or at least I can dream.
Atmospheric settings and beautiful narratives are a love of mine too. Robert Crais and Dean Koontz are two of my favs that I enjoy reading every word, sometimes more than once. I particularly like it when I forget I'm an author and let the book draw me in. That's the best.
I've really given this question a lot of thought since it was posted yesterday, and the only answer I keep coming back to is that crime/mystery fiction is what catches my interest.

Occasionally a book outside of that genre will pop up that I just have to read, but I started reading mysteries as a kid-The Three Investigators, Encyclopedia Brown, whatever I could find. It didn't take long for me to exhaust the children's section (this was before the days of Stine, and writing for young adults like they were adults) and move on to the adult's section on the first floor of the library. My mother immediately got nervous about what I was reading, my interest in mystery no longer seeming so innocent.

Eventually true crime books started finding their way into my reading list (very quietly after my mother confiscated a library copy of Helter Skelter, telling me that just because things like that happened in the world didn't mean we had to read about them).

Now, my reading covers a variety of nonfiction and fiction (always avoiding romance and Oprah). The nonfiction is usually true crime or something that satisfies my science geek and the fiction, more times than not, is a mystery novel. There are a variety of reasons why I choose the ones I do, but really the truth is, I just like them.


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