Back in the day, I wrote a murder mystery. As in – back in the day – before I was published. Looking back, I realize the problem. I am a terrific wimp when it comes to violence, since I will absorb all information about such things and imagine them happening to me. As my dear friend Julianna Baggott said to her children when they wanted to watch a scary movie with her, “I get scared playing CLUE.”
Me too, which is why I don’t think I could bear to do the research involved in creating a convincing murder-mystery. It’s the way I am. There’s a deep niche in my brain that collects danger, disaster, death and destruction, and a long slippery chute by which all things happy drop through a trap door, never to be seen again.
Despite, or perhaps because of, this character flaw, I have to say that the most common complaint/compliment I hear from readers is this inability to murder those who deserve it. I speak of the many letters I’ve gotten having to do with a particular character in my first novel, DIANA LIVELY IS FALLING DOWN. Readers are vociferous, they are unequivocal, and many of them are after blood, or at least justice. You see, my protagonist, Diana, is married to an overbearing, some might even say vile man. As my most recent email, from an eminent, internationally known scholar of comparative religions, proclaimed “And as for Ted--what a shmuck! A really memorable literary asshole!”
One of my first letters came from a federal prosecutor in Arizona who was deeply disappointed by my ending, only because he felt that Ted had gotten off far too easily. (Of course, I reminded him that this is what sequels are for.) Sweet little old ladies with names like Eustice and Bertha write to ask why I would have neglected the opportunity to ‘cut off the man’s balls and hang him up to dry.’
Certain reviewers and friends alike have quibbled that surely there did not really exist in nature a villain as bastardly as Ted, while others still have congratulated me for finally ‘outing’ what they see as a fairly pernicious trend among certain people who manage to be both successful at their subject area but complete failures when it comes to those things for which their careers don’t give awards, say kindness, generosity, a propensity to ask others (including their wives and children) about themselves, that sort of thing.
Now, on the other hand, I have many many professor friends who are the opposite of this. I’m married to one, my very best boy friend, who is, at this very moment mixing me a martini and cooking dinner. I hang out with the good ones, and there are many. However, I must report, gentle readers, that there does exist, both in nature and way more frequently in culture, such a creature as Ted.
If you clicked on the links above, you may have noticed my vile husband contest. First, I apologize that the deadline of December 31st, 2005 has come and gone, but the truth is that 1.) I didn’t get a single entry and 2.) I don’t have the technical wherewithal to change the date or details of the contest without falling into the rabbit hole known as the learning curve of internet protocols.
Poor web management aside, I’m flummoxed. Is there not a single woman who can tell me a story I might share with others? (Believe me, I will change his name and yours too.) I myself have seen real, live, vile husbands on other women’s arms and wondered how in the world they managed to STAY MARRIED. In fact, it was curiosity about that general question, the witnessing of some seriously difficult husbands and just the slightest bit of imaginative fairy-wand-waving that made me write the book in the first place. (The fairy-wand thing came from my niece, Tasha, who, when she was in second grade would wave her hand through the air at people she didn’t love a whole lot and say, with a flourish and a pointed finger “POOF, you’re gone!”)
So that’s the sort of mystery I’m bent on solving. Where have all the vile husbands gone? Has some group of geriatric vigilantes come along and hung them out to dry, their most precious valuables removed for safekeeping? Or have I set the bar too high, asking for a completely vile person when no one is exactly such. Even Ted had his strengths, which will, if I ever publish the sequel, be tested. The poor man will already suffer at least a short exile to Wales, sans alcohol and professional status, plus shallow in-laws, wandering wife, and a baby-on-board.. Until then, I leave it to my hosts, women with gumption, gumshoes and at least a little glitter, to bravely go where few before them have gone, into the Ass-Hat-Sphere, magnifying glasses in hand, to seek revenge, or even revelation, of the crimes no one, or at least no one in my cyber-circle, is willing to commit. (At least to memory.)