Mayhem in the Midlands – Saturday – May 24, 2008
It's mid-afternoon in Omaha. Just finished my panel on "Pet Peeves: Killing Animals vs. Killing People in Mysteries." The moderator was Sean Doolittle (author of Dirt, Burn, and Rain Dogs). Others on the panel were Pat Dennis (comedian and author of Hotdish To Die For), and Marilyn Victor (co-author of Death Roll).
This panel was unstructured and allowed the audience and the panel members to discuss the issue of the killing of animals as a plot device in mysteries. There were as many opinions voiced as there were people in the meeting room (about 25). Many readers would not read books where animals were killed. Many would not read books where animals were killed without a very good reason. Many would not read books where animals were killed if they had developed any emotional investment in the animal character. Others were fine with animals being killed as long as the book was well written and the deaths advanced the plot. One aspiring author in the audience worried that her almost-finished book on a serial pet killer would be a non-starter with publishers. After almost an hour of conversation, both pro and con, the best advice the panel could give her was to write "her" story and see what happened.
Personally, I think expectations have much to do with whether or not a reader will accept the murder of animals in a work of fiction. I say "murder" deliberately because the intentional killing of an animal evokes a different reaction than if the animal dies of disease or old age. If the author is going to market his/her book as a thriller, then the expectations of the reader are different than if the book has been advertised as a cozy or traditional mystery. Thriller readers are more likely to accept killing an animal as part of the plot. Cozy readers may or may not, depending on the animal involved and their personal attachment to the fictional character.
It was an interesting discussion. Killing fictional animals is a dicey proposition. On the other hand, no one had any angst about killing fictional people. There's more than a little irony in that.
Tomorrow I head home!
Happy Memorial Day to all.
Murder Off the Books