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For some time now, I’ve been thinking quite seriously of killing someone - several people actually - and I think I might just do it.
I enjoy a good investigative crime show and after about five seasons of Bones, I felt like I could almost write the show myself. It’s the same with NCIS. Enough binge-watching and you start to detect a formula. So, for a bit, I was thinking I might finally take a stab at writing some fan fiction. But, it didn’t materialize.
More recently, I’ve been getting into what are called “cozies.” If you’re unfamiliar with the term, it refers to a genre of fiction novels that can be described as light murder mysteries. They’re quick and easily digestible, often involving yarn craft of some sort. That’s how I got started with them. I’m a knitter/crocheter - a “fiber artist” if I want to sound classy - in my free time. To give a few examples: the Yarn Retreat series by Bettie Hechtman, the Haunted Yarn Shop mysteries by Molly MacRae, and the Nick & Nora mysteries by T.C. LoTempio. Like any self-respecting hair salon or optometrist office, they often have punny titles. Right now, I have checked out from the library: Meow if it’s Murder, Last Wool and Testament, and Wound Up in Murder.
Call me predictable, but throw yarn and cats together with a splash of intrigue and I’m in. So now I’m devouring cozies like potato chips.
That’s what got me started thinking about committing my own crime. And since I’m inexperienced at writing crime stories, that’s probably just what they’ll wind up being - a crime. I’ve got a time period in mind, a lead character, a backstory, a few intended victims, and a villain or two. I even have what I think is a brilliant idea for the cover art. So these simmering thoughts of committing literary homicide are slowly coming to a boil. My main stumbling block, at this point, is dealing with my setting. For reasons I couldn’t explain, even to myself, I’m itching to put my amateur sleuth in a World War II America setting.
I don’t know jack about life in America during WWII.
They say, “write what you know,” but I don’t think my own time period would be all that fascinating. I for one would be bored to death. I wanted to shoot for that era when women were just starting to enter the workforce en masse. For fear of being exposed as the fraud that I am, I have created a mental list of things I need to research. Did Americans have to ration their food as they did in Britain? What terms and phrases were common at that time? What were the latest trends? Can my main character avoid being racist without seeming wildly out of context? Can you murder someone with a hula hoop?
I am aware that the resources for WWII information are practically limitless. The trouble is finding the right ones. I began watching the Ken Burns documentary The War and found that I was depressed and horrified. That’s probably the appropriate response to war, but not really what I wanted to know about the home life of early 1940’s women. I really never understood why this period in time has been so romanticized, but I guess I’m eager to join the bandwagon. There must be an appropriate film that captures just what I need in the way of quick learning.
My paternal grandfather, as well as my maternal grandmother, were involved in The War, so I have a few vague anecdotes to draw from. It’s a pity they’re both dead now; I can’t pump them for details without dragging out the Ouija board. I have access to some old letters, but they aren’t from quite the perspective I’m looking for either. I found a podcast with first-hand accounts of home life during the 40’s, which looks like my best bet for the moment. And I’ll obviously go to IMDB for some more film titles.
Now that I’m writing all of this, I’m realizing that I’m going about my task the lazy way. If I wanted to get serious, I’d go back to the library and start pouring over historical accounts of politicians and soldiers. I’d read about the machines of battle and strategic plans. I’d memorize the famous milestones and what happened in Normandy, Stalingrad, and the Battle of the Bulge. I’d get a subscription to the History Channel.
But that would certainly extinguish any momentum I have going on this project.
I’m not reading any hard-hitting biographies of Winston Churchill or deep examinations of the ethical problems with atomic weapons. What I am reading are light mysteries about cats and yarn. That’s what I want to write - sans cats and yarn probably, but the feeling is the same. So how much research do I do so that I don’t make an ass of myself by getting historical facts wrong without doing so much fact-checking that I never get around to actually writing? Where’s the balance here? Can I take myself seriously as a writer of cozy murder mysteries without absorbing all there is to know about WWII?
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