My Fiction And Me

As a proud member of Idiosyncratica , a writers blog-ring founded by my friend, Gary Murning, I will now embark on the first of our monthly writing topics:

[…] each member should introduce the other group members to the kind of fiction they write or enjoy reading and explain a little about how it relates to them — why it inspires/drives them etc.

Since I’m still developing my writing style and have only ever written short stories long, long ago for a creative writing class, I don’t have a lot to say on that front. That being the case, I will share with you what I enjoy reading, and do my best to explain why.

I would like to start by saying that I enjoy a large variety of fiction. I was nine years old when I read To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. It was the first novel I ever read from start to finish. After that, I joined a book club at school and started reading all sorts of fiction – from the “wholesome” Ann of Green Gables to the macabre short stories of Edgar Allen Poe. I also enjoyed The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, among other classics. Although I loved them all, I confess that my favorites were the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys mysteries. And perhaps that’s where it all started for me.

Crime fiction. That’s where it’s at for me! I like legal thrillers but became increasingly bored with John Grisham. While reading several of his novels back to back a few years ago, I started to feel as if I was always in the same house, but with different curtains and slightly rearranged furniture. Don’t get me wrong, as a crime novel junkie, I read anything I can get my hands on, and Grisham writes it better than I ever could. I’m just uh… rambling, I guess.

I have to say that of all the Grisham I’ve read, The Rainmaker was my favorite. I think because it seemed more realistic to me; it centered more around the struggles of everyday people in their natural habitats than most of what Grisham writes. I recently read a legal thriller my son gave me called Hard Evidence by John Lescroart and I liked it quite a lot. I might try and find more by him.

While I enjoy all crime fiction, my favorite sub-genre is, by far, the police procedural. Ah, yeah! I love the gathering of evidence – the forensics, the autopsies, the interrogations, the undercover investigations. The hunt.

Patricia Cornwell is not my favorite; her characters are bit underdeveloped in my opinion. Nevertheless, I’ve read just about everything she’s written because the main character, Kay Scarpetta, is a Medical Examiner, so she gives me the opportunity to observe “the hunt” from that perspective.

I also enjoy Tess Gerritsen and an author by the name of David Wiltse who I only recently discovered when my son brought me one of his books entitled Close To The Bone (my son sometimes brings me books from yard sales in the neighborhood, and he was once given a box full of books for chasing down a neighbor’s dog and returning it to her).

But of all the crime fiction I’ve read, my favorite author is Mark Billingham, hands down. Each story is fresh and new; I don’t ever feel like I’m reading a re-run of a previous book. His characters are alive and vibrant, unlike the characters of other writers who seem more like props than people. And I absolutely love Detective Inspector Tom Thorne! He never stops developing; you learn something new and surprising about him in each new novel.

OK, the easy part is done. I’ve told you what I read, now I need to tell you why and how I feel it relates to me.

To start with, I am very much a people-watcher. I don’t watch in a nosy or judgmental sort of way, I’m just curious about people and find them intriguing. Taking the bus as often as I do, I have many opportunities to quietly observe people; their personal habits and mannerisms that even they may not be aware of, as well as the way they interact with those around them. I watch people everywhere I go and at every opportunity. Again, without judgment or condemnation; I simply take it all in.

While average people can be quite fascinating, reading crime novels gives me an opportunity to watch medical examiners in the morgue, crime scene investigators in the lab, surgeons in the operating theater, detectives on the street, and even psychopathic serial killers in their basements. Granted these are all fictional characters, but it’s as close as I’ll ever get. And I suppose that’s why character development is so very important to me.

This may sound slightly odd, but I believe I have learned a lot about human nature, in the real world, from reading crime novels. While reading them, I am constantly reminded that “good guys” aren’t without their faults, and “bad guys” aren’t always purely evil.

It’s difficult to imagine a psychopathic killer, for instance, cleaning his bathroom, ironing his shirts, playing frisbee with his dogs, mowing his lawn or cooking an omelet. But it’s not so difficult to believe, is it? It’s just not the sort of thing that immediately springs to mind when we think about the criminally insane. The kind of stuff I read makes me think about it; it humanizes them and suddenly they are not so… disposable, I suppose.

We may not need quite as much reminding that cops and other “good guys” aren’t always on their best behavior. But seeing/reading one that you’ve come to admire suddenly do something that goes against everything he or she has stood for, to that point, has a way of bringing it home. When a detective who has always done things by the book, is suddenly found planting evidence, for instance, because it seems to be the only way to catch a murder suspect who everyone knows is guilty, it can be something of a wake-up call. Even if they always work by the book, but engage in an extramarital affair, for instance, we are still reminded that they are hardly infallible.

The lines become blurred between good and evil; right and wrong, and I’m reminded that there’s a little of each in us all. I believe this can help strengthen compassion, foster empathy and help us relate better to one another as people.

I also get a deep sense of satisfaction from watching things play out to a logical conclusion. When the people involved in solving the crime or trying the case follow the evidence exactly to where it leads (without creating any detours), and the truth comes out, I feel deeply gratified.

I’ve occasionally wondered if this carries so much weight with me due to my being raised by religious fundamentalists who were anything but grounded in reality. Perhaps I feel somewhat vindicated by seeing the same logical principles that I used to escape the bondage of religion being used, understood and valued by “good guys” as opposed to being dismissed as “Satan’s deceit” (that’s definitely a topic for another day).

Although, at the end of the book, when all the evidence has been presented and I finally know what exactly happened, I am sometimes left not understanding why.

Some things are so unfathomable that I don’t think they can ever be fully understood by people like you and me. Sure, it’s easy to understand superficially: a child is abused and grows up to abuse others, and that kind of thing. But the grotesque and morbid methods of abuse that a small segment of the population can inflict on others without a shred of remorse is where most of us are left hanging, wondering, why and how.

And yet these predators are just as human as the rest of us. It really makes me think…

Sorry I went on for so long. I really love my books. Unfortunately, I don’t know very many people who are interested in what I read, much less why. Guess I got a little excited. I’ll try to keep it relatively short next time.

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8 responses to “My Fiction And Me

  • archiearchive FCD

    It is interesting to read of your dislike for Grisham’s repetitions. I found the same with one of my favourites albeit in a different field, Hammond Innes.

    Is it just me, or is a theme developing here. An omniverbal love of the way words run along a page and in doing so provide insights into our fellow humans. Never ourselves, of course. We know everything there ois to know about ourselves [wry grin]

  • Gary Murning

    Harper Lee seems to be cropping up quite a bit. I didn’t mention To Kill a Mockingbird in my topic post, but that book was one of the few that I was made to read at school that I enjoyed and which inspired me (another was an Alan Sillitoe short story collection which featured The Ragman’s Daughter.) One that I especially hated, however, was Treasure Island. For some reason, it just bored me rigid!

    And yet these predators are just as human as the rest of us. It really makes me think…

    Me too. And I really do think that fiction has a part to play in communicating that. The monster is the smiling neighbour, sometimes, who puts his rubbish out just like you and I. A good story can make us question, think — help us know when it is and isn’t safe to trust.

    Great post!

  • Mike

    Hey, Archie! Lottie’s computer is on the blink, so I’m moderating comments for her in the meantime; she’s not ignoring you and will respond when she’s back online.

    I think you’re right – we all seem to see other people as suitable fodder for our speculation and interest, but only rarely do so for ourselves. Mainly, I think, because we would then all be self-obsessed twats.

  • Lottie

    Archie: I find that in observing others (fictional or real) I not only learn about my fellow humans, but my introspective abilities are strengthened as well.

    Gary: I never could get into Treasure Island either.

    The monster is the smiling neighbour, sometimes, who puts his rubbish out just like you and I. A good story can make us question, think — help us know when it is and isn’t safe to trust.

    Definitely keeps me on my toes. 😉

    Mike: Thanks for helping out with moderating and stuff. I wasn’t sure how long I’d be without my computer. I’m back. Obviously. 😛

  • Mike

    No, you’re not 😛

  • Lottie

    I think you may be right.

  • Miss Behaving

    It was interesting to read why you like or dislike the different crime novels out there.

    I read all the David Wiltse’s available years back and loved them , John Sandford too.

    Have you read any Val McDermid? I have only come to her books recently and gobbled them all up, she approaches things from the profiler point of view with the wonderfully quirky Tony Hill.
    I was first drawn to her books because they are set in the North of England where I am from and because she makes reference fairly often to actual crimes that happened in the North, most notably those committed by The Moors Murderers ( Ia Brady and Myra Hindley) and The Yorkshire Ripper,( Peter Sutcliffe) both of which had a direct impact on my
    upbringing, particularly my freedoms as a teenager.
    I have now read all of hers and am scouting around for someone new ( to me) who has written a stack of books for me to get my teeth in.
    There is nothing as good as discovering a hitherto
    unknown ( to you) author.

    As a child I loved all the books my mother bought for me, Noel Streatfield, Enid Blyton, Laura Ingalls Wilder etc. I have found myself disapponted that my daughters have not shared my love for them.

  • Lottie

    Oh, I bet the profiler perspective is very interesting. I’ll definitely look for Val McDermid. The name actually rings a bell, but I can’t place it. I’m already hooked based on what you’ve shared about the actual crimes she writes about. It must have been quite scary for you, though, living in the middle of it all.

    There is nothing as good as discovering a hitherto unknown ( to you) author.

    If you haven’t read Mark Billingham, do so immediately. 😀

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