Everything’s a Threat If You Look at it Right

First off, many many thanks to MWPA for selecting In Solo Time as winner of the Maine Literary Award for Crime Fiction for 2018.

I’m both honored and humbled, knowing the caliber of the writers we have here in Maine.

Second, a reminder of two bookish events in July. The fourteenth annual Books in Boothbay takes place on July 14 from 9 AM to 1 PM at the Boothbay Railway Museum, where you can meet more than 35 of Maine’s best writers of all kinds. Admission is free—love to see you there.

And this year for the first time, I will be taking part in the Beyond the Sea Book Festival in Lincolnville Beach on July 21, 10:30 AM to 3:30 PM, just up the road from Camden. Check out the list for many familiar names.

And thus, to this month’s musing:

Taking a long walk along the harbor out to Bug Light on a hot Sunday morning and Anne and I walk past a backyard with a tall yellow sign with the legend Crude Oil Pipeline Runs Through Here.

“Not growing any tomatoes in there,” I say as we power-walk past.

“Why not?” my good wife asks politely, used to my spiraling flights of fancy.

“Pipelines? Oil? I suppose unless you wanted to grow tiki torch tomatoes.”

“It’s not going to bother your hypothetical tomatoes. The oil is inside the pipe.”

“Exxon Valdez? Keystone XL. Pipeline bursts in the Dakotas? Environmental disasters? The seepage would poison the soil. You couldn’t grow anything healthy.”

“You are such a negative person.”

Thus endeth that conversation.

But later, holding tight to my sweating can of Veridian and half-watching a Red Sox blowout of the hapless Nats, I ponder her accusation in the context of how I spend most of my time, putting characters in ugly and criminal situations, and decide that, no, it’s not negativity but a firm understanding of the threat in every little thing.

Because that’s what we crime writers need, isn’t it? When we settle down to tell our stories of people and worlds devastated by illegal and immoral activities, then try to set those worlds right? In pursuit of keeping our readers engaged, we turn every possible thing into a threat, an opposition for our characters to overcome.

I’m reminded of a throwaway paragraph in an Annie Proulx story about how the farmer used to mix arsenic and corn in a pan to keep the raccoons out of his garden and his wife didn’t wash out the roaster before cooking the Christmas turkey. And what happened after.

Some threats may be overt and some may not, but often we have to find the most surprising threat in something fairly innocent-looking, just to hold our readers’ interest. We want you to say “I never thought of that.”

For if we didn’t see the possible threats in everyday situations, how could we, dear reader, scare the pants off you? And if we couldn’t scare you, how on earth would we keep you tied up long enough to tell our story, then put the world back together when we’re done? So in a sense? It’s on you.

Because if the pipeline doesn’t crack, then the tomatoes wouldn’t grow full of carcinogens, and the gift of summer produce to the neighbor with the noisy Chihuahua wouldn’t kill him (the neighbor or the vegetable-loving dog?) undetectably. And what fun would that be?

About Richard Cass

Dick is the author of the Elder Darrow Jazz Mystery series, the story of an alcoholic who walks into a dive bar in Boston . . . and buys it. Solo Act was a Finalist for the Maine Literary Award in Crime Fiction in 2017 and In Solo Time won the award in 2018. The third book in the series, Burton's Solo, came out in 2018 and Last Call at the Esposito in 2019. Sweetie Bogan's Sorrow was published in 2020, to thunderous pandemic acclaim. The sixth book in the series, Mickey's Mayhem, will come out in 2021. Dick lives and writes in Cape Elizabeth.
This entry was posted in Dick's Posts, Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Everything’s a Threat If You Look at it Right

  1. Nicely put. Evil is everywhere when you give your mind free reign.

  2. Gram says:

    I thought your reaction to the sign was normal…does that mean I read too many mysteries?

Leave a Reply