I saw my author-friend, Tony Broadbent, not too long ago. We hail from the same hometown back in the old country. We got to chatting and he gave me a pat on the head and told me I was an anarchist.
“You’re like the Gary Oldman of the mystery world,” he said.
I love Gary, but I asked, “Is that a good thing?”
“Yes,” he exclaimed. “There’s a lot of anarchy in your writing.”
How subversive, I thought. I’m a rebel without an agenda. Mum will be delighted.
Well, the little exchange got me thinking about my writing. I don’t think people hit the keyboards with an agenda or a theme tucked under their arm—or if they do, it sort of sticks out. Agendas and themes develop on a subconscious level. Well, they do for me. I don’t go out of my way to put a slant on my stories. I just try to entertain, but inadvertently, I show a little leg now and again. So, I looked for the anarchy. And I think I saw it in the shape of conflict.
Conflict. Stories require conflict. It’s a driving force. Characters and stories thrive on it. More so in mysteries and thrillers than other genres. The nature of the genre means there are going to be casualties and collateral damage. So I like to inject my stories with a lot of conflict. The problem is that I’m quite a literal person and I think about things in very pure terms. Blame my engineering background. When I think conflict, I think about total annihilation. Everything my lead character holds dear is under attack. I create this person so that I can destroy them. I place them and their world in an ivory tower, then go about stacking as much C4 explosive around the foundation as possible to blast it all apart. It only seems fair, doesn’t it? Conflict by its nature is salt to a wound. Character assassination is key. Only by putting everything in a protagonist’s world at extreme risk can the character grow and thrive. There can’t be a comfort zone for this person. Wouldn’t you want to read about a character in a situation like that?
I flicked through some of my stories to see what I did to my characters and the annihilation is there. Characters have their reputations destroyed, home life obliterated, are framed for things for crimes they didn’t commit, have personal property confiscated or stolen or destroyed. These characters’ lives will never be the same. There will have to be a lot of rebuilding by the end.
So I guess I do have anarchistic bent. Sorry. It wasn’t intentional. It’s just the way I tell ‘em.
PS: Saturday I’m signing at San Francisco Mystery Bookstore.
PPS: Saturday also marks the 39th anniversary of Jim Clark’s death. Jimmy is a personal hero of mine. His name might not mean much to most readers, but Guyot will be shedding a tear.