Last week, all three of Dell Magazines’ mystery fiction editors—Linda Landrigan, editor-in-chief of AHMM, Jackie Sherbow, associate editor of EQMM and AHMM, and I—were interviewed on SleuthSayers, a blog by and for “professional crime writers and crime fighters.” In exchange for our interviews, a call went out to regular SleuthSayers contributors to blog for our sites. EQMM was delighted to receive this post from Melodie Campbell (known on SleuthSayers as Bad Girl). Called the “Queen of Comedy” by the Toronto Sun, the Canadian author has won nearly a dozen crime-fiction awards, including the Derringer and the Arthur Ellis. She is the past Executive Director of Crime Writers of Canada and the author of a number of highly regarded crime novels. Her short fiction has appeared in AHMM and other publications; EQMM readers will have seen stellar reviews of her Goddaughter series in The Jury Box.—Janet Hutchings
I’m a crime writer. Hell, I’ll put on my other hat (the one with the pointy top) and say it. I got my start writing comedy. Standup and newspaper columns, with the odd (very odd) greeting card thrown in.
I have a certain amount of legitimacy, in that The Toronto Sun called me “Canada’s Queen of Comedy.” Apparently, someone on staff there likes “wild and loopy.” Which may call into question their sanity as much as mine, but I digress.
I now write comic capers (the Goddaughter series). This is because I made the biggest mistake ever made by a person not legally insane.
Way back when we all had pet dinosaurs, one of my plays was performed in Toronto (Burglar for Coffee.) It may have been a bit zany. A television producer happened to be in the audience. After the show, he came up to me and said, “You are completely nuts. How would you like to write pilots for me? You’ll need to move to California.”
I had two toddlers at the time. And I’m Canadian. No way could I see how I could move to California. So I said no. Besides. It was 1993. Who had ever heard of HBO?
As I said, the biggest mistake ever made by someone not legally insane.
So I turned to a life of crime. Okay, writing crime capers. I come by that legitimately, but that’s another blog post. (How to Write Mob Comedies Without Getting Taken Out by The Family. And you thought I was kidding. . . .)
Which brings me to the point of this blog: suspension of disbelief. I’m willing to admit that as an audience, we might agree to “suspend belief” for a little while. As a writer, I do it regularly. As a reader and viewer, I delight when someone takes me into another world.
But enough is enough. Crime fiction and television, you go too far. CSI Hoboken, or wherever you are, take note. Here are some things that drive otherwise fairly normal crime writers (oxymoron alert) crazy:
- Crime scene people in high heels and raw cleavage.
Of all the things that television distorts, this is the one that bugs us the most. Ever been on a crime scene? Ever been in a lab?
For six years, I was Director of Marketing for the Canadian Society of Medical Laboratory Science. I’ve been in a freaking lab or two. Take it from me: it ain’t a place for date-night shoes and long, loose hair. You want my DNA messing with your crime results?
Network producers, stop treating us like ignorant adolescents who need to be sexually charged every single moment. Stop. Just stop. It’s insulting.
- Gunshot victims who give their last speech and then die, kerplunk.
Full disclosure: I was also a hospital director. (Strange, I know. Comedy and healthcare. But believe me, the ability to laugh under pressure is what keeps us going in hospitals.)
People who get hit with a bullet to the heart die, kerplunk. They aren’t hanging around to give their last words. People who get hit in the gut may take many hours to die. It’s not a pretty sight. Take it from me. They usually aren’t thinking sentimental thoughts.
- Where’s the blood spatter?
If you stab someone while they are still living and breathing, there is going to be blood spatter. Usually, that spatter will go all over the stabber. So sorry, creators: Your bad guy is not going to walk away immaculate from a crime scene in which he just offed somebody with a stiletto. You won’t need Lassie to find him in a crowd, believe me.
- Villains who do their “Fat Lady Sings” pontification.
Why does every villain delay killing the good guy so he can tell the poor schmuck his life story? I mean, the schmuck is going to be offed in two minutes, right? You’re going to plug him. So why is it important that he know why you hate your mother and the universe in general?
Someday, I am going to write a book/script where one guy gets cornered and before he can say a word, this happens:
<INT. A dark warehouse or some other cliché. >
The smoking gun fell to my side as Snidely dropped to the floor.
“Dudley!” gasped Nell. “You didn’t give him a chance to explain!”
I yawned. “Bor-ing. All these villains go to the same school. You heard one, you’ve heard them all.”
“Isn’t that against the law?” said Nell, stomping her little foot. “Don’t you have to let the bad guy have his final scene?”
The smoking gun fell to my side as Nell dropped to the floor.