Going to the Dark Side
But first, thanks to the Murderati gang, especially J.T., for
Over the past 6 years I’ve written four books that – while
not cozy – feature an amateur sleuth who’s a video producer. The situations
Ellie Foreman finds herself in aren’t light, but she has a dry sense of humor
that helps keep her grounded. More important, she has a support system and
family structure that, in some ways, curtail her behavior as well as the arc of
the plot. The danger and chaos she confronts — whether it’s neo-Nazis, the Russian
mob, or terrorists – are short-lived. By the end of each book, her world order is
restored. She goes to sleep without any demons plaguing her or her family.
In my third book, AN
IMAGE OF DEATH, I introduced a character from a different world than
Ellie’s. Arin was from Eastern Europe, and her life fell apart when the Soviet Union collapsed. Her husband became an arms
smuggler and disappeared. Her best friend was drawn into sexual trafficking. Arin
was forced to make choices just to ensure her survival. She became an illegal
diamond courier who ended up making a good living from illegal activities. Anything
to feed her son and herself. At the time I thought Arin was an anomaly. A one-time
As I read more about crime, both true crime and fiction… as
I watch the “if-it-bleeds-it-leads” news stories, I’ve come to believe that the
act of bad things happening to good people – like Arin — is more random than not. Victims of crime become
victims because they’re simply in the wrong place at the wrong time – not
because of some grand design.
Sure, you can argue that someone who lives in a gang-infested
neighborhood is more prone to a drive-by than someone in the affluent suburbs…
or that the house with snowbird owners is more likely to be robbed than a house
whose occupants are present. But the selection of the person who is shot, or
the home that’s targeted, is essentially a random act. It depends on a number
of factors, any one of which might suddenly change. The drive-by victim might
be at the grocery store, rather than on the street, and thus survive. The home targeted
for a robbery might be occupied by a son or daughter home from college and so
escape theft. The actual doing of the crime
can be as flimsy as a feather quivering on air currents.
Even orchestrated conspiracies — the stuff of great
thrillers – in which plans are conceived over months, years or decades – are
often thwarted at the last minute by a random event or observation. Remember
the film (the original version) of The
Day of the Jackal? De Gaulle turns
his head just as sharpshooter Edward Fox lets loose with a shot. A random head-turn
vanquishes the evil and saves France.
The fact that disaster is only a hairs-breath away… that the
worst could happen to anyone at any time, given the circumstances, is a powerful
driver, and I realized wanted to explore a character who understands that.
Enter Georgia Davis, my protagonist in EASY INNOCENCE.
A cop for
years (Like Arin, she was introduced in AN
IMAGE OF DEATH), she’s now a PI. She has baggage. And secrets I’m just
learning about. But her greatest strength is that she implicitly recognizes the
fragility and vulnerability of life.
My friend (and fabulous writer) Michael Dymmoch likes to quote from the film Shakespeare
in Love. She always says that everything will work out if you persevere, work hard, and are talented
enough. Although Michael is talking
about writing, Ellie subscribes to that theory. She’s an optimist. She even
tries to control her universe. She would never dwell in the dark. For her everything
can be fixed.
Georgia doesn’t have any illusions. She knows it’s useless to try and control life. Of
course, it helps that she has a less than sanguine view of human nature. She
doesn’t doubt the cruelty that goes on behind closed doors — even in beautiful
surroundings. She realizes that because it’s random, evil can never be
destroyed permanently. In fact, she embraces that randomness. She is still committed
to fighting it and railing against the injustice it triggers, but knowing it
will always be there in one form or another is part of her world view.
It’s a dark view of the world. But it’s a compelling one. After all, we are all
gapers, aren’t we? What’s the first question we ask after a senseless crime or
accident? Why? How did it happen? When we hear the answer, maybe we shiver, or our
stomach lurches, or we give our kids an extra hug. But we know, at a very basic
level, that life is random. That we don’t have control. That we can’t prevent
That’s why I’m writing darker these days. To plumb the
depths of that randomness – to see how it affects characters in my imaginary
world. Maybe it will even teach me how to accept it in the real world.
But enough from me. Readers, why do you read dark? Or not?
Writers, why do you write it?
Libby’s 5th novel, Easy Innocence is a “spin-off” of her award-winning Ellie Foreman series. Libby also edited the acclaimed anthology Chicago Blues. Originally from Washington DC, Libby has lived in Chicago for 30 years and finds the contrast between the beautiful and the profane in that city a crime writer’s paradise. She lives on the North Shore. Her next work, a stand-alone thriller called Set the Night on Fire takes place in part during the Sixties.
P.S. — A wine suggestion, from a friend of Murderati — Chateau Souverain Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2004. Yum! Coppola bough the Alexander Valley vineyard in 2006. I’m not sure how that will change the appellation, but it’s worth a try in the later years as well. Many thanks to fellow scribe Chuck Driskell for the suggestion.
And a boatload of thanks to Libby for standing in today. Don’t forget, Simon Wood joins us next week!