This is my first posting with The LadyKillers, and I am happy to be part of this great group. I am not new to writing …my 36th novel came out this fall…but I am new to mysteries. Writing them. I’ve been reading them for many years.
The topic LadyKillers gave me is Hope and Despair. Cheery, eh? Especially for this merry time of year. No problem, I well know the pair, and they sit at my side when I’m writing.
Hope and Despair…yeah, I’m intimately involved with them…we’re roommates, officemates, soulmates. They’re my constant twin shadows and they’re bookends to me and my characters’ lives.
Hope was what I so often had these past several months when longtime friends let me know of their serious illnesses. Despair took over when those friends lost their fights. Hope waltzed in when I moved into a new house and a new town…a new start! Despair waltzed along right behind when the roof leaked, the air conditioner went out in the height of summer, and the sump pump broke and turned the basement into a lake when I dared go away for a weekend.
We’re good friends.
Hope flourished in my writing life when I had a finished manuscript and appointments with agents at a mystery convention this past summer. Despair was on its heels, however, when agent after agent told me I’d written a novel in a genre that didn’t exist on the shelves and so they’d have trouble placing it. “No such thing as a cozy police procedural,” one of them told me. When I tried to market it on my own, I largely got the same response…though a few told me it was well written. Ah, Hope flickered.
And then Hope smiled.
I sold the book to a publisher who didn’t care that it was a square peg for a round publishing hole. It recently came out and I’m getting good reviews, cracked the Top 100 for a day on Amazon, was featured in a rave review in the Huffington Post.
Ah, Hope wins. I knew she would.
Despair can still be my shadow, but it is not going to be throwing a party in my presence anytime soon.
I use the pair in my writing, Hope and Despair, and encourage my students to likewise do so. Hope and Despair are integral components in any juicy read, no matter the genre. Hope without Despair can’t shine so bright. And Despair? It’ll be responsible for rotten book sales if its counterpart doesn’t show up.
I like to emotionally and sometimes physically hurt my characters. I call up the “bottom moments” in my own life to put me in the right mood for driving my characters into a downward spiral. I let Despair fuel my fingers on the keyboard as I draw my protagonists into some dark holes in their souls. I’ve been there…my characters can relate.
I demand that my favorite characters experience the absolute worst…and then I try to pile it on a little thicker. I want them to suffer and anguish and to glance in the mirror and see Despair staring back.
In their blackest moments, those characters become close to human. They make a stronger connection with the reader, make the reader feel something…sympathy, maybe anger at me for putting them through such awful times. But feel something.
Then I let Hope trickle in.
I believe Hope is at its most beautiful best when Despair is hanging heavy. Hope shines and pulls my protagonist up, blossoms all glowing and encourages the characters to defeat their foes…solve the murder and the mystery... and climb out of those dark holes in their souls. My protagonist will always achieve some measure of victory in the end—after taking that long, slow dance with Despair, Hope demands it.
Hope must always win or the book isn’t worth my time writing it, and it’s not worthy of your time reading it.
Hope casts the better shadow.