by Barb, in her office in Portland, Maine, enjoying the breezes
For a little more than a year, I’ve been doing a library/conference presentation called “Mystery Making: How They Do It!” (or some such, local listings may vary) with Sheila Connolly, Hallie Ephron, and Hank Phillippi Ryan. (Parnell Hall filled in for Hallie at Malice Domestic 2018.)
The audience writes out index cards with names, weapons, settings, occupations, and motives, and then deposits the cards in paper bags. We pull the cards out of the bags and build a mystery “on the fly.” Along the way, the audience learns something about how a writer approaches the decisions made during the task of making a mystery. They also learn something about the mystery-thriller-suspense sub-genres.
Hilarity ensues. At least it has every time we’ve done it so far.
One time we reached into the Motive bag, and out came the motive, “stole his/her parking space.”
I loved this motive.
Hank, however, was having none of it. She has a new thriller coming out, Trust Me, and she was representing the art of thriller writing in our group. “The stakes have to be bigger, much bigger,” she said.
“This can work,” I countered. We’d already established that the protagonist was a librarian. (We were at a conference full of librarians at the time.) All downtown libraries have insufficient parking. “What if the killer thinks he’s entitled to the senior librarian parking spot, but gets passed over somehow?” I asked.
“The protagonist’s family is going to be killed if she doesn’t figure this out and stop it,” Hank insisted.
“What if the killer now has to park at City Hall four blocks away and walk to work in the wind and snow?” I asked. Having worked for fifteen years for companies that sold and supported software at institutions of higher education, my favorite joke is, “Why are the politics in academia so vicious? Because the stakes are so small.” I was on a roll here.
“No, no, no,” Hank said, “More stakes. The world is going to end.” (This may not exactly be what she said, just the way I remember it. These sessions get pretty wild.)
The parking space went by the boards and the game moved on. But it was a great lesson for me in the stakes.
In my corner of the cozy mystery universe, I don’t need it to be the end of the world.
I just need one person who believes losing that parking space was the end of his world.
I haven’t written the parking-space-as-motive mystery yet, but I am sorely tempted to see if I can pull it off.
A Contest! This one should be a lot of fun, and we hope to see entries from many of you. The subject: Where Would You Put the Body?
The contest: Send us a photograph of the place you’d put a body, along with a description of why you chose that spot.
Where do you send it? To email@example.com
What will you win? This nifty Poe tote bag and a bunch of books and other goodies.
What’s the deadline? Thursday, June 28th. Grab your camera and send us those pics.