Around the age of four, I fell in love with the letters of the alphabet. Following the philosophy of the day, my parents would not teach me to read but spent dutiful hours reading to me. The letter “y” and the “w” with all its syllables sounded so exotic. I would hear my parents spell out words (y-e-s spells “yes”), but I didn’t know which of the squiggles in my books was a “y” or a “w.” Fascinating and frustrating.
Then…school! I remember being so surprised at the appearance of a “y.” What a disappointing letter! It was squat and had an appendage hanging down below the line. I thought it should look more like a “b” or a “d.” As time went on, I got used to its appearance and forgave the “y” for laying down on the job, so to speak. I learned all my letters. Letters began to make words, words became stories, and then teachers were asking me to write!
Was I a big girl or what?!
Since those grade school days, I have written skits, essays, stories, policies and procedures, legal documents, books, anything else assigned to me, and other stuff just for fun.
Writing is so self-indulgent that I often wonder why everyone doesn’t spend their free time with a pen in hand (or a keyboard at their fingers). Don’t like someone? Bump them off. Someone is a pompous jerk? Hold them up to ridicule. Spouse is an affront to the human race? Take a lover…between the pages.
Finally, serious fiction called to me. At least, I was serious about writing it, primarily mysteries and horror. Distinct genres in the bookstores, they are just slants on real life as far as I am concerned. Mysteries have entertained me all my reading life, so I try to return the favor. The analyst in me loves the precision of mystery plot development, clues appearing all along the way but in a manner to elude or mislead the reader. The clues have to be there, the author must play fair. Without the clues, the book becomes crime detection, another entertaining genre but not a mystery. I particularly like mysteries in which the reader figures out “who dun it” but the characters don’t, plodding on in dull ignorance of the carnage all around them.
Like garlic, horror is a strong flavor best introduced slowly until the reader is saturated with its odor. Of all the literary genres, horror has the most difficulty in achieving respectability, yet its power is the least diminished over time. Only the romance is as enduring. The fear of darkness, the sinking despair of betrayal, the panic of confinement and torture, the irresistible urge to open the locked door, these are all horror literary devices and still effective when done skillfully.
I prefer horror which is just one step outside of daily life, a small but jarring detail only slightly out of place, like a piece of glass in your ice cream cone. Oh well, remove it and keep on eating. Licking. Enjoying all that creamy coldness until you find another piece of glass, and this one cuts. You look around and everyone in the ice cream parlor is looking at you, and all of them are bleeding from the mouth. And smiling.
You get the idea.
Regardless of what we write or how we write it, those words on paper are our ticket to the grand show: the unbroken human story-telling tradition that began on cave walls, got chiseled into stone tablets, engraved and painted on pyramid chambers, copied laboriously by armies of scribes and monks, and now flies through the ether according to physical principles that most of us poorly understand if we understand them at all.
Why do we do it? Paid or not, published or not, successful or not, we just want to tell a story. It’s the story that matters, not the method or the language or even the writer.
And we all know it.
Blurb: Betrothal, Betrayal, and Blood, a dark murder mystery, reflects bits and pieces of people and places that have crossed her path. Barbara Custer, Publisher, Night to Dawn Magazines and Books, has published a number of JoAnna’s short stories including the Bodies Day & Night series (about a vampire run athletic club) and The Pet Door series (about a portal to some other world for pets and some unimaginables.
How does a small, self-contained city react to a brutal murder in its only tourist attraction? Hush it up? Blame an unknown outsider? Find a scapegoat?
Ask Karl Kelly and Vito Kostowki, San Tobino detectives baffled by the outrageous murders of various visitors to Milady’s Manor: nothing taken, nothing left behind, unrelated victims, no clues.
Milady’s Manor puts San Tobino on the map due to its 200 rooms each lavishly decorated according to a unique theme.
But what if tourists stop coming?
My folks bought me a blackboard with the abcs at the tome when I was five, and I started writing the alphabet with chalk. When I entered the 1st Grade I already knew the abcs. The teacher told my mother she shouldn’t have taught me, it was up the teachers to teach me correctly. My mother did graduate high school, so she just laughed. But JoAnna beat me, I tried writing my first comic book at age ten, a dismal failure (lol). Congratulations, JoAnna!
Excellent article. I fully understand where you are coming from as it mirrors much of my experience. Thanks you.