Saralyn Richard’s award-winning humor- and romance-tinged mysteries and children's book pull back the curtain on people in settings as diverse as elite country manor houses and disadvantaged urban high schools. Along with writing, Saralyn also teaches creative writing and literature. Learn more about her and her books at her website where you’ll also find links to her on other social media sites.
Writing About Death
by Saralyn Richard
As a mystery author, I’m often asked how and why I write about death. “You’re such a genteel lady. Why don’t you write about happy things: parties, petit fours, and puppies?”
I do write about happy things. Parties, petit fours, and puppies inhabit my books, for sure, because those are some of the delightful things about life. Authors of fiction do their best to represent life in all its magnificent aspects, and sometimes that includes writing about death.
Because I write mysteries, and characters sometimes die, I’ve interviewed numerous people who have experience with death: funeral home employees, gravediggers, policemen, physicians. I’ve always been struck by the serenity and matter-of-fact attitudes these sources have exhibited. The “death is a part of life” philosophy prevails.
Once I spoke with a mortician, who told me that when she prepares a body, she is humble and respectful, realizing that she is the last person to interact with the deceased. When she finishes the job, she goes out into the wide world and her senses are sharpened. She feels more alive than ever, more determined to make every living moment count.
That’s how death is. Death reminds us of life, how precious, how fragile, and how fleeting it is.
Mystery novels should not be confused with treatises on death. On the contrary, most mysteries I read, and certainly those that I write, are entertaining whodunits, designed to engage readers in solving intellectual and emotional puzzles. If a character dies along the way, the event is more plot than theme, a challenge for other characters to overcome, a life’s lesson to learn, a world order to restore.
Bad Blood Sisters
Bad Blood Sisters is the story of Quinn McFarland, a young woman who has grown up in her family business, a mortuary. Quinn’s family has often joked about death, but this summer death stops being funny. Quinn’s estranged BFF is brought into the funeral home, a victim of violence, and Quinn realizes that the blood oath they took and the secrets they buried now put Quinn in extreme danger.
Thanks so much for hosting me on Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers. I'm honored to be part of the demography.
I love this response, Saralyn. I get that question all the time. Why don't your write about nice things? I think you're right. I think tackling all aspects of life give you a fuller appreciation of the good.
Thanks, Poetica. I also think of the quote by P.D. James, "The mystery is not about killing. It is about the restoration of order."
You're very welcome, Saralyn. Come back any time.
Your thoughtful essay provides insight into why authors write about crime and death. As you say, it's not that authors are ghouls but rather that they venerate life so highly and want others to do so. However, mysteries also provide an escape, which we all need once in a while.
I enjoyed your essay, Saralyn.
Death is a part of life. Incorporating it into a mystery provides an avenue for the reader to experience death's emotional effects vicariously. Or to relate to it in some way, building a connection with characters (in a series) to see how they cope with the loss. This is what happened when a character in a series I write was 'killed off'. Readers were upset but in the next book, readers see how this very personal loss is being handled by the protagonist. Maybe, in some small way, it might even be helpful to them.
And I guess if one doesn't wish to read about death, mysteries aren't for them :-)
Thank you, Daniella and Liz. You are both so wise, and I love "talking mystery" with you. I might add that dealing with death goes back to Greek tragedy--but that's a topic for another blogpost!
Lovely response, Saralyn. Captures a wonderful attitude, that I certainly share, in both real life, when friends pass away, and how I try to capture deaths in my writing.
Thanks for reading and commenting, Geza. This is certainly a deep topic!
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