Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson here. As many of you already know, I’m a firm believer in reading as an escape from the real world. Relax, I’m not going to get political, or at least not radically so. On the other hand, the time escaping into a book is most necessary is when all the news on television, in newspapers, and on social media seems to be dark, depressing, and/or unrelentingly dismal.
There’s an interesting dichotomy at play here for writers. Even when we don’t intend it to, our work often reflects what we perceive to be going on around us. I’m not alone in this, but for the purposes of this blog, I’ll only talk about my own experience.
Since the fall of 2016, I’ve written one unsold historical novel and several cozy mysteries. Almost all of them have had one thing in common. They’ve featured characters—villains, although not necessarily the ones who committed the murders my amateur sleuths are trying to solve—who exhibit some of the worst characteristics of men who misuse power. I’ve created a character who is an evil, bigoted, charismatic cult leader, another who is a shady entrepreneur/con man, and a third who will do anything to win an election. You can probably guess at some of the other tendencies they exhibit. In the realm of sixteenth-century England, and possibly the reason that book hasn’t yet found a publisher, I went darker than I ever have before to write about false accusations of witchcraft and possession against women. Men were the ones who were witch hunters. Men were the ones who performed phony exorcisms. In many cases these were not based on any true religious belief. They were an excuse for sadistic, sexually deviant behavior. The details survive in historical records. I watered them down, but they’re still disgusting.
Now anyone who has read any of my published books knows that, even in my murder mysteries, I don’t tend to dwell on the gruesome stuff. Half the time you don’t even see the body. That’s still true, at least in the cozies. My continuing characters are good people trying to right wrongs and there’s a lot of humor worked in, too. Well, I think the scenes are funny—opinions may vary. But there has also been this darker, more serious side to the last few books, a byproduct of the times we’re living in.
I’m making a concerted effort to be more upbeat in what I’m currently writing. The villains are back to having good old-fashioned motives like greed and revenge. I don’t want to deal with people who have serious psychological issues anymore.
I don’t want to read about them, either. They’re hard to avoid in news reports but when it comes to what I’m reading for pleasure, I choose to escape. And therein lies a dilemma.
I’m not the only writer whose stories have been getting darker over the course of the last few years. I haven’t stopped reading new books by favorite authors (many of whom are also friends), but I find that, more and more, I’m falling back on the books on my “keeper shelves” for comfort reads. There’s a dual advantage to this. If I haven’t read a certain title for, say, ten years, I probably don’t remember much of the plot. Even better, if I’ve kept the book, it’s pretty much guaranteed to be one in which there isn’t an excess of violence and depravity. If it’s a mystery, the criminal will come to a bad end. If it’s a romance, no matter how tangled, the lovers will resolve their differences by the final page. There’s something reassuring about such outcomes, and getting “lost in a book” is the best way I know to avoid being overwhelmed by the sense of impending disaster that can come from spending too much time in the real world.
With the June 2019 publication of Clause & Effect, Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett will have had sixty books traditionally published. She won the Agatha Award and was an Anthony and Macavity finalist for best mystery nonfiction of 2008 for How to Write Killer Historical Mysteries and was an Agatha Award finalist in 2015 in the best mystery short story category. She was the Malice Domestic Guest of Honor in 2014. Currently she writes the contemporary Liss MacCrimmon Mysteries and the “Deadly Edits” series as Kaitlyn. As Kathy, her most recent book is a collection of short stories, Different Times, Different Crimes. Her websites are www.KaitlynDunnett.com and www.KathyLynnEmerson.com and she maintains a website about women who lived in England between 1485 and 1603 at A Who’s Who of Tudor Women.