Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Getting in the spirit...

By Pat Remick

I have not been visited by the ghosts of dead heroes, pets nor family members. The spirits apparently prefer to spend time with more interesting -- or receptive -- human beings. Therefore, adhering to this month's spooky theme has been a challenge.

My husband suggested writing about our Lhasa Apso (seen here in the most mysterious and ghostly photo I could manage) because legend has it these dogs were bred to guard Tibetan temples against evil spirits.

My dog does have an annoying habit of barking at the wind, but not strangers who come to the house. Perhaps I should give more credence to the possibility that he is preventing ghosts from calling on us. However, I have a difficult time viewing our happy-go-lucky Buddy as a ferocious guardian against otherworldly beings.

Next, I considered writing about what terrifies me, which would be things that could harm the people I love. Fellow New Hampshire author Jodi Picoult readily admits the themes of her best-selling books center around subjects that most frighten her and her hope that by addressing them in fiction, she can prevent these horrible things from happening. I do the same.

Then I gave a great deal of thought to what might frighten others and concluded the unusual thinking processes of people who enjoy writing about crime and murder might very well qualify as spine-chilling.

For example, Buddy and I sometimes take early morning walks through a wooded area and I often wonder if something, or someone, other than the usual forest creatures is watching and waiting to pounce. When the hair rises on the back of my neck, I become very aware that it would be easy for someone to attack, kill me and escape. (At just 18 pounds, Buddy isn't much protection -- remember, he only barks at the wind.) What's more, there are several locations that offer excellent opportunities to conceal a corpse. Believe me, I've looked.

I think that if other people knew how much time mystery writers spend thinking like this, they might find it ... well, unsettling, to say the least.

I can't even engage in recreational activities, such as attempting to climb a mountain with my spouse, without thoughts of murder and mayhem. As I complained to a National Forest Service official recently in an entry on my personal blog, "Because we're mystery writers, we also know that mountain trails provide optimum opportunities for serial killers and other wackos. If we could figure out that someone hiking without ski poles to defend themselves – and no emergency button to push – easily could be dragged off into the woods and murdered, so can they."

It is impossible for me to drive by an overgrown highway median, enjoy the view of a large body of water or even visit a historic fort surrounded by vegetation without thinking: "That would be a good place to hide a body." My husband and I often discuss ways to commit murder -- and not get caught. Reading the ingredients on household products can prompt musings about new opportunities to dispose of people and evidence. An intriguing news story can trigger imaginative and macabre discussions of "what if....?"

Normal people might find these traits peculiar at best -- and possibly even horrifying. But I consider them just part of "getting in the spirit." How about you?


Gina said...

You're right, Pat. You are scary.

I find myself speculating along the same lines. My non-writer friends ask, "Why would you even think of such a thing!" when I describe some clever plan for homicide.

If thoughts could manifest themselves, I suspect we'd all be dead - killed in intriguing ways, of course, with all the evidence wisely concealed.

Joyce Tremel said...

I'm so happy we all (crime fiction writers, that is) think the same way!

My hubby told me once that I'm a very sick person. I said, "thank you." After 30 years of marriage, though, he's starting to think like me. Last year we visited a company that manufacturers log homes, and as soon as they showed us the kiln where they dry the logs, we looked at each other. A perfect place for a murder.

Ramona said...

I think being a writer is something of a curse, because you are always thinking like a writer.

My walking partner reads a lot but she's not a writer; she's a pediatrics ICU nurse. She's patiently listened to me yammer away about writing for years. The other day, she slapped me on the arm and told me I had ruined her reading pleasure, because she was on her break at work, reading "a trashy novel" (meaning, sexy), and she realized there was no character development, which is not something she'd ever cared about before, but listening to me made her notice that and it ruined the (sexy) book for her. So now I'm in the dog house.

Annette said...

I was just talking to a friend the other day about someone who was annoying the heck out of us and I pointed out that I knew of many ways to kill someone and hide the body. Not that I'd ever use that knowledge for anything other than my writing, but it's somehow a comfort to know I possess such power. Heh heh. Also, it's fun to know I could make anyone who annoys me into a character in my next book and kill them off that way. Heh heh.

Jenna said...

Ah yes. The head of a mystery writer is a scary place, indeed. We're all wired that way. And it's quite a lot of fun to go out to dinner with the Sisters in Crime and watch the faces of the other diners when someone says, "I need to get rid of this guy; you know, Susan's brother; how do you think I should do it?" and the discussion turns to committing the perfect murder, and then someone else says, "Oooh! Oooh! I just saw this great place to hide a body! Dump him there when you've killed him!" and before you know it, the police arrive.

(On another note, it's equally entertaining to go somewhere with the romance writers and watch people squirm as the discussion turns technical. The police don't get called in, although people sure do blush a lot and sometimes they leave in a hurry, too.)

Buddy looks like Zoe, my dog. I thought she was a Shih-tzu/Chihuahua mix, but maybe she's a Lhasa instead. We got her gently used, from a second owner, so no one really knows.

Laurie said...

I enjoyed your post, Pat. I'm glad to read that I'm not alone with my thoughts.

For me, I think that a lot of it comes from my being the daughter, niece and sister of law enforcement officers and then myself being a retired agent. And add in mystery writing and reading...

Patg said...

We are a sick bunch, but I bet we are the sanest because we vent all this horror with like minded friends. I've lived in my moorage for almost 17 years now and I'm always staring into the water expecting to see a body. And coming home at night??? Well, it's no wonder I live with the a constant case of the chills.
A dog that barks at the wind, wow, I instantly thought of two possible paranormal stories. One would have a demon hunter moving in next door to you Pat. You are walking in the woods and you spot a great place to hide a body. Buddy starts barking and what you feel is a scary moment is in reality a time freeze--check your watch after one of these moments to see how much time has passed--because behind you a demon hunter is fighting and killing a demon and using that great place to store the demon's remains. You continue your walk believing you just had a great mystery idea. But it fades.

MaryQ said...

News stories about bodies being found always get me going. I can't help but come up with scenarios of how, who, when & why.
If I keep contemplating it, I come up with evidence left behind & who would find it & how. Next thing I know, I have a story brewing (no pun intended there - with Halloween witchery & all).
Patg - I love your thoughts on Buddy's barking at the wind.

Gina said...

Jennie -
If you think romance writers make folks blush, try being a lawyer in a paternity case some time! I've turned opposing counsel all shades just trying to explain in detail why their client's method of birth control doesn't really work.

PatRemick said...

It's quite a relief to have you all publicly proclaiming you've got the sickness from this genre, too. And PatG, great story idea. Thanks!!