Saturday, May 15, 2010
Mayhem in the Hamptons
For the second year in a row, the BookHampton stores in the Hamptons have sponsored some of the most notable mystery authors from New York City and Long Island at a series of talks at their three stores.
One of the most interesting of those this weekend was entitled, "What Did I Do: Choosing a Victim," with authors Nelson DeMille, S.J. Rozan (in photo), Alafair Burke, Linda Fairstein, Tasha Alexander and Andrew Gross speaking on how they pick their victims, as well as the villian. The authors acknowledged that, these days, their victims are often sympathetic people. Burke explained that, as a reader, she was tired of the victim just being "victim number 7 -- and they had no tie to the life that was lost. It was always important to me that the loss of life would be depicted."
Linda Fairstein, a former prosecutor, said she hated "flat stick characters."
"I want the flesh and blood of characters, and what that had to do with the killing," she said. "Juries don't like 'bad' victims," such as prostitutes, so as a lawyer, it was her job to "learn their life." In fiction, she does the same: "It's always important for me to create that character fully."
Even when the victim is not a good person, the authors agreed that character had to be fleshed out. Said Rozan: "You don't need to have great sympathy for the victim. You just need to understand who he is, you have to establish humanity."
In the British tradition, DeMille said, you had a murder in the library and "38 people wanted the victim dead....But if someone like a drug dealer is killed, no one else cares about him, but the detective does. That's his job."
Villians are just as important.
For Alexander, in writing the villian it's "more interesting to have a villain who's been pushed and pushed. You get a reader not to sympathize, but to understand."
Said Gross: "Good guys are static. They provide the moral lens you look through. Bad guys are the ones who create the energy of the book. That's the character the readers will be turning the page for."
And, the authors agreed, God help the writer who picks an animal as a victim. DeMille spoke about a novel in which his hero killed three dogs. "I had so much bad reaction," he said. "But all the murder and mayhem in the book -- no one noticed."