Thursday, October 27, 2011

Thursday's Thugs: The Unreliable Narrator

Not all unreliable narrators are villains. Dean Koontz's character, Odd Thomas, is one of the most famous unreliable narrators. Odd Thomas is more hero than villain. There are times when he leaves you wondering. Wonder and questioning are the essence of the unreliable narrator.

With villainy, the unreliable narrator blurs the lines between good and evil through obfuscation, withholding essential truths, outright deception, distracting the reader by espousing views that are repugnant, or being incapacitated in a way that contradicts his or her version of events.

Another way mystery authors accomplish the unreliability of the narrator is to present several versions of the same story from the point of view of different characters. In this version, villainy is depicted through the biases and character flaws of the different points of view. The essential facts remain the same, but each storyteller presents them in a different light. Citizen Kane demonstrates this very well in presenting five varying views of the main character through the eyes of acquaintances. This kind of story leaves us questioning who we should believe.

In mystery, Agatha Christie experimented with the unreliable narrator as a villain in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and Endless Night. Not being able to trust the narrator of the story was almost unheard of before Christie. In The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, her villain withheld information, obfuscated facts, and evaded answering questions, but never outright lied. Although I enjoyed the story, she was widely criticized for "not playing fair with the readers." Having read the story, as well as all the other Christie books, I can say that she did not play unfairly in presenting the facts. The murder can be solved with the information given, but the controversy serves as a warning to writers today.

Being unfair to the reader is a cardinal sin with mystery readers. If your readers feel cheated by the omission of details, it can damage your reputation as a mystery writer. I'm not trying to warn you away from writing unreliable narrators, though. Excellent mysteries can be and have been written using all states of reliability. Some of the best stories depend on ambiguity and shades of truth to create the desired mood. The real question to consider: are you up to the task of writing this kind of bad boy? If you are planning to use this villain, you must pay attention to presenting all the clues readers need to solve the puzzle.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Magna cum Murder 2011

Magna cum Murder is a great little mystery convention that Sarah and I discovered shortly after our first short mystery stories were published. We look forward to it every year. This year is going to be particularly fun because Parnell Hall is the guest of honor. Below is a sample of what to expect from him:

I'm going to be on the "how to use the internet to entertain and increase your fan base" panel with him. Don't worry. I have promised our moderator, Larry Sweazy, that I won't sing and all of us have agreed to focus on entertaining our fans. After all, that's why we write.

If you are not familiar with Larry Sweazy, shame on you for missing my presentations on writing historical fiction. Larry is a great writer of historical mysteries set in the American West. I love his books and quote him shamelessly when I talk about the nuts and bolts of writing a good historical. He has an exceptionally visual talent with setting. When I grow up I would like to emulate him.

When you add to this the fun of hanging out with gal pal authors, Brenda Robertson Stewart, Marian Allen, and T Lee Harris, we have the makings of a spectacular weekend.

My spouse, Sarah Glenn, will be kicking it off on Friday afternoon with her panel focusing on the book for this conference, Dame Agatha's DEATH ON THE NILE. Her topic is: "Strangers on a Boat: When almost everyone is a new character, who can you trust?" I am a huge Christie fan. Even if my favorite living author wasn't hosting the panel you could still expect to find me in the front row for this one.

I hope I'll see you there too.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Mystery and Horror at That Book Place, Saturday, Oct. 15

What do vampires, neighborhood associations, nano-technology, detectives, secret societies, university bureaucracies, corrupt police, hell-houses, and ghosts have in common? All these subjects have appeared in stories by the writers of Mystery and Horror, LLC. Sarah Glenn and I, the writers of Mystery and Horror, will be at That Book Place in Madison, Indiana this weekend talking about all these things and more. If you would like to ask us questions or hear what we have been up to this year, we would love to see you there.

Come by and pick up bookmarks, post cards, and a little chocolate. Stay and chat for a while. You don't have to buy a book to have a good time. Of course, if you do want one of our books, we will be there to sign it for you. We will also be reading a few selections from our work and maybe from upcoming novels.

Like a good mystery? Sit back, relax, and let me take you into Nessa Donnelly's world of secrets... secret identities, secret societies, and the secret plots hatched in Lexington during the 19th century. I'll bet you didn't know life across the river was so full of intrigue.

Sarah will introduce you to everyday horror and outrageous humor as Cynthia Leach tries to cope with life after death. It's not easy to be a vampire in an Irvine, California, gated community. Just don't let her humor fool you into thinking everything she writes is as funny as her novel, All This and Family, too. The mystery she's written for Pill Hill Press's Big Book of New Short Horror is one of the creepiest stories I've read in years.

Anyone in the mood for something truly different might want to take a look at a mystery the two of us teamed up to write. Emails at the end of time make up the ePocalypse anthology. For this book, writers teamed up to write apocalypse stories in an email format. I don't have any to sell, but we will have one on hand for you to look over. Drop by for a few minutes or stay until we leave, either way, we'll try to make sure you enjoy the time spent with us.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Weekend Writer: Advice?

Weekend writer isn’t an entirely accurate title for this entry. Writers are always working. I’ve made two trips downtown this week to inspect historic buildings for a scene I am working on in my novel, spent hours discussing promotional efforts with my spouse, worked on getting things together for upcoming events… You get the picture. This week I have also taken on a new writing project. I am the newest Lexington area Examiner columnist at

You might think that my writing background would make me the ideal person to write about historic buildings or neighborhoods. I’ve always been a political activist, so they could have requested that I write about local politics, but no. I am the new relationship writer.

I am not kidding.

I am writing about relationships. I am going to be answering letters from readers about their problems with home, family, love life, co-workers, and anyone else who puts them into a situation they don’t quite know how to handle. You are reading the blog of the Lexington Area’s “Dear Aunt Gwen.”

Why me?

Maybe it is that large family I grew up in, or the fact I studied politics and history, or my history of being a Girl Scout leader? I am not quite sure what the thinking was, but when I expressed doubts about doing the column, my friends assured me that I would be great at doing an advice column.

What do you think?

Do I have what it takes to give good advice to people about their problems? Stop by and check out my first couple columns and tell me how I’m doing?

Right now I feel like I could also use some advice on my own fears. So far my mail has been a trickle (only two people have written to me), but I worry what will happen if the column catches on. How much time will I have to write novels and take on learning to write a play? Can I handle doing a column and keeping up with the rest of my life?