Tag Archive for: Death Roll

Collaboration in the Stygian Swamp

Marilyn Victor – In her real life, Marilyn is an administrative assistant for a construction company. She started her writing career in grade school, penning Dark Shadows, Man from U.N.C.L.E. and James Bond stories for her friends, none of which she ever finished. It wasn’t until years afterward when she started brainstorming on how she could combine her love of writing and love of animals that she and Michael came up with the Snake Jones mystery series.

Michael Allan Mallory – Michael works with computers in the Information Technology field, which must be amusing to his old college professors because he has a degree in English Literature. He also managed to sneak out a degree in Electronics, much to the consternation of those who tried to peg him as only a liberal arts kind of guy. He studies and teaches wing chun kung fu in Minneapolis and trains in Chen style tai chi. His favorite mysteries come from the classic period of the 1930s and 1940s, although he enjoys a good yarn no matter what era it was written

Marilyn: “Hey, our guest blog is due for the Stiletto Gang. What should we write about?”

Michael: “What? Don’t you have an idea? I’m blank.”

Marilyn: “You can’t be blank. We’re writers. Creativity is supposed to flow from us.”

Michael: “Yeah, well, my flowing days are long gone. I got nothing.”

Marilyn: “Me neither.”

Michael: “We’re so screwed.”

Marilyn: “We should be able to talk about our writing. Like how rich and famous “Death Roll” has made us.

Michael: “Except we’re not famous-well, perhaps less obscure. We’re almost recognizable in the vast stygian swamp of authors. And rich? Let’s not go there. Too depressing.”

Marilyn: “Stygian swamps, huh? You like those murky metaphors. Okay. There is a Nancy Drew thread happening on the site. We could talk about that.”

Michael: “Um. I’ve never read Nancy Drew. Have you?”

Marilyn: “Does it have horses?”

Michael: I don’t think so. She had a dog, Togo and a cat, Snowball. They didn’t show up very often.

Marilyn: When other girls were reading Nancy Drew, I was reading Misty of Chincoteaque, King of the Wind and The Black Stallion.

Michael: I bet our own heroine, Snake Jones, grew up reading Nancy Drew. Snake is spunky, resourceful-

Marilyn: And she has a dog.

Michael: We do have one thing in common with Nancy Drew. More than one author wrote the books. The stories were outlined by one person and written by another. Several others as I recall.

Marilyn: Hey, I thought you said you never read Nancy Drew.

Michael: You’ve heard of the Internet?

Marilyn: Ah, instant expertise. Hmm. Does that mean if our Snake Jones mysteries become a huge success, that forty years from now some other author will be writing them and calling themselves Marilyn Victor and Michael Allan Mallory.

Michael: You wish.

Marilyn: Along with a million other authors. Sigh. Ok back to business. Thinking back on all those animal books I read as a kid, it makes me think of how animals have played a part in the genre since the beginning of the modern mystery.

Michel: Good point. Poe’s The Murders in the Rue Morgue featured an orangutan—or ourang-outang as Poe called it. Then we have the title character there’s the horse in the classic Sherlock Holmes tale Silver Blaze. And Toby, a blood-hound, appears in the Holmes stories several times. In the 1920s and 1930s the popular Philo Vance novels by S.S. Van Dine included The Kennel Murder Case and The Canary Murder Case, which leads us to there’s Dashiell Hammett’s masterpiece: The Maltese Falcon. (And will you please stop editing what I’m writing.)

Marilyn: That’s what co-authors are for. Besides, we’re going over the word count. And that wasn’t a real falcon in the story. It was a statue.”

Michael: Still counts. The falcon iconography lends the story intrigue and a sense of danger, like the real bird. Who’d get excited about a book called The Maltese Bunny? The use of animals in the title or as a character helps create a mood.

Marilyn: True, true. (Revenge is not sweet, Michael. Knock it off)

Michael: Hey, you edit me, I edit you, hopefully it makes for better writing.

Marilyn (ignoring him): But things changed in the ‘60s when Dick Francis published Dead Cert, his first horse racing novel. After that, animals often became more than background characters. Stories often centered around them.

Michael: You know what my theory is on that? It coincides with the environmental movement in the late ’60s and ’70s. Since then, people have become more aware of the planet and its wildlife. They care more about animals and what happens to them.

Marilyn: I like that. Which reminds me….

Michael: What?

Marilyn: I have to go feed the dog.

Marilyn Victor and Michael Allan Mallory

More Mayhem! May 24, 2008

Mayhem in the Midlands – Saturday – May 24, 2008

It’s mid-afternoon in Omaha. Just finished my panel on “Pet Peeves: Killing Animals vs. Killing People in Mysteries.” The moderator was Sean Doolittle (author of Dirt, Burn, and Rain Dogs). Others on the panel were Pat Dennis (comedian and author of Hotdish To Die For), and Marilyn Victor (co-author of Death Roll).

This panel was unstructured and allowed the audience and the panel members to discuss the issue of the killing of animals as a plot device in mysteries. There were as many opinions voiced as there were people in the meeting room (about 25). Many readers would not read books where animals were killed. Many would not read books where animals were killed without a very good reason. Many would not read books where animals were killed if they had developed any emotional investment in the animal character. Others were fine with animals being killed as long as the book was well written and the deaths advanced the plot. One aspiring author in the audience worried that her almost-finished book on a serial pet killer would be a non-starter with publishers. After almost an hour of conversation, both pro and con, the best advice the panel could give her was to write “her” story and see what happened.

Personally, I think expectations have much to do with whether or not a reader will accept the murder of animals in a work of fiction. I say “murder” deliberately because the intentional killing of an animal evokes a different reaction than if the animal dies of disease or old age. If the author is going to market his/her book as a thriller, then the expectations of the reader are different than if the book has been advertised as a cozy or traditional mystery. Thriller readers are more likely to accept killing an animal as part of the plot. Cozy readers may or may not, depending on the animal involved and their personal attachment to the fictional character.

It was an interesting discussion. Killing fictional animals is a dicey proposition. On the other hand, no one had any angst about killing fictional people. There’s more than a little irony in that.

Tomorrow I head home!

Happy Memorial Day to all.

Evelyn David
Murder Off the Books