Not a tidy little murder mystery
An early beta-reader for An Incoming Tide gave constructive criticism about my plot line. I had put a murder in the first chapter, was clear about who-dun-it and gave hints around why-dun-it. She suggested that it would be better to bury the hatchet, put the murder deeper into the book.
But I liked my first chapter with its sordid tale.
That early version went on to follow the life of the murderer—not a happy one, but one in which he was successful and esteemed by his colleagues.
Then, I made matters even worse when I restructured the storyline in a later version. Not only did the murderer not get found out and dealt with, but the whole story flashed ahead twenty-five years without him ever being punished for the horrific murder of the first chapter.
All of this was, alas, not an acceptable morality tale like murder fiction should be.
The murder mystery genre is our modern day morality tale (along with the crime and forensic dramas on tv). In those, the evil doer is caught and punished by the mechanism of society’s system of justice—typically by a detective or scientist who, despite all obstacles, figures it out.
You know the smart-detective story. It goes something like this—smart-detective with annoying character flaws sifts through a handful of suspects to solve the crime; and in solving the crime, smart-detective then saves a poor secondary character still at risk; and, in the end, those impacted by the horrible tragedy are grateful to smart-detective because they are able to go back to living their normal lives never needing to be thought of again.
Any self-respecting author writing about murder knows that is the way it is done.
Well, any self-respecting author except me.
Readers who love books which follow that iconic plot line probably won’t get An Incoming Tide. By not seeing what they think should be there, they’ll miss what is.
I didn’t write to replicate genre. I wrote to be real. After more than four decades as a mental health professional, I knew that life doesn’t imitate art with its tidy storylines and solvable puzzles. As the story emerged, it turned out to be about what I knew from the tough work of being with clients who had experienced interpersonal trauma, about courageous individuals who face the difficult circumstances of their lives and find a way to survive, about beauty that emerges from chaos and darkness. I wrote about the power of healthy, committed, loving relationship.
And, recognizing the harm that humans can do to each other, the story also turned out to be about narcissism, and about folk who just do their job regardless of the impact of their actions on others.
Other writers can produce books that follow genre. Readers seeking stories like that have lots of other novels to read—plug a new set of characters and context into a standard plot and everyone can feel satisfied at the end.
But I’ve been witness to the real life experience of trauma, and of courage, and of beauty, and of love. I would be a disappointment to me if I left behind what I know really well, replace that with what others do. Perhaps, you would be disappointed in me, too.
Oh, a glimpse beyond An Incoming Tide . . . I confess, I really wanted things to eventually turn out okay for the principle character in An Incoming Tide because I also know that people are able to heal and go on, even if it takes a while. So, I have written Undertow, the sequel novel. It is about healing and renewal, and about courage and hope and the healing power of healthy relationships and the presence of beauty in the midst of chaos and darkness too.
Smile. There’s a therapy dog in it, too!
Index of Previous Blogs
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September 2021. "It is beautiful because it tells the truth."
Beauty is not just about pretty, beauty can reveal the subjective experience of external realities.
October 2021. "Flow versus Focus"
As an author, I reflect on these two vastly different aspects of creating readable fiction.