Why Write Crime Fiction?
(or any other kind of made-up stuff that never happened…)
by Mary Anna Evans
Author of environmental thriller Wounded Earth
The protagonist in my thriller Wounded Earth, Larabeth McLeod, is the kind of woman who changes the world. I love her for that.
She sees a problem—polluted water or soil or air—and she invents a way to fix it. She uses that knowledge to found a company that employs lots of people. The world is a better place because she’s in it, and that’s one of the reasons readers cheer her on. The man who is stalking her, a man so evil that he calls himself Babykiller, is so angry at the world and at humanity that he’s willing to strike back in some terrible ways. Larabeth doesn’t intend to let that happen, despite the fact that fighting back could cost her everything.
Characters like these are a gift from God for a writer like me. They matter, but sometimes I ask myself, “Do I?” Don’t you ever doubt your place in the universe?
Someone please tell me I’m not the only neurotic soul who wonders whether she has earned her spot on the planet on any given day. When undergoing a bout of end-of-the-day emotional accounting, I feel good about having made sure my daughter had a balanced dinner or about recycling the cans that held the Coca-Cola I probably shouldn’t have drunk.
Mopping the kitchen floor and dusting the furniture don’t give the same karma-improving feeling. The floor and furniture will be dirty again tomorrow, so how exactly have I made the world a better place by cleaning them today? And don’t even get me started on laundry…
So where does my profession rate when it comes to making the world a better place? Am I wasting my time and talents by spending my days writing thrillers and mysteries? Should I go back to environmental engineering, where I have the opportunity to help our society learn to clean up its messes?
Really, one could ask these questions about any work of art. Lovely music, pretty pictures, graceful dancing, exciting stories…none of these things put food on the table. Yet art is what makes us human. It is the only tool we can use to communicate the wordless feelings in our hearts. I can’t show you my soul, but I can paint a picture of what’s in it. Even better, I could write you a story.
Human beings have been telling stories for all of time. Before we settled in cities, before we learned to grow our food, before we could even light a fire to cook that food, we told each other tales that shared important knowledge or that beat back the terrors of the night. Crime fiction is simply a descendant of those old, old stories.
I consider crime fiction to be the literature of justice. I introduce my readers to a world of my own design, then I set it askew in a dramatic way. Murder can do that. Then, slowly, I labor with Larabeth (or Faye Longchamp or whoever is my protagonist of the moment) to set that world right.
This isn’t always possible in real life. Crime goes unpunished and murderers do walk free. But in the tightly controlled world of my creation, justice can be served.
Sometimes, I dance along the boundaries of that justice. What is just is not always what is legal, and what is legal is not always what is just. By exploring that gray and murky boundary, I ask my readers to consider how they want their world to be. When they close my books, they go back into that world with ideas that are slightly different than they were before. Maybe they will be gentler with people who are different from them. Maybe they will stand up and say so when something is just not right.
I hope so. Because I think that asking people to think hard about right and wrong is an excellent way for a writer to earn her place in the universe.
Mary Anna is the author of environmental thriller Wounded Earth, as well as the awardwinning Faye Longchamp archaeological mysteries and Red Adept’s top short story collection of 2010, Offerings. All her work is available in ebook form. Wounded Earth and the Faye Longchamp mysteries are also available in print.
Personal blog: http://maryannaevans.blogspot.com/
Group blog: http://theladykillers.typepad.com/the_lady_killers/