I write mysteries--mostly murder mysteries--for a living. It's what I do, it's what I like to do and it's what I have become (in a small circle) known for. I've been doing that for over 16 years now. But I still haven't gotten used to the questions people ask when they find out this is my job.
No, I'm not going off on the "so, are you still writing?" rant again. This is about something else.
With WRITTEN OFF, the latest of the E.J. Copperman titles to be published, I was thinking a little bit more about the writer's life because the character narrating the story is an author whose circumstances are a little like mine. But so far I haven't had anyone ask Rachel Goldman the question that most baffles me when I get it in conversation or at an author "event."
"Do you get revenge on people in your life by killing them off in books?"
So here's your answer: No.
There appears to be some odd temptation among those who do what I do for a living to purge their anger and frustration by naming characters after people they don't like and then offing said characters in some especially ostentatious method. I guess that makes them feel better, and if so, more power to them. I never question another writer's method.
But I never do that. For one thing, there aren't that many people I'm angry with. Most of them are orange-colored Presidential nominees and other public figures and there's no fun in killing them off in books. Especially since I almost never set my mysteries anywhere but in suburban New Jersey and we don't get that much traffic in major party candidates here.
I just really don't get the impulse, to tell the truth. Killing off someone I don't like would require me to spend time mentally with that person while writing, which is the last thing I need. And I wouldn't get any satisfaction out of the practice. The next time I saw that person in real life it would just serve as a cruel reminder of my utter lack of power in the non-fictional world. I'd probably crawl into bed and stay there for a week, which would be a real inconvenience when the bed got made in the morning.
I don't often name characters after real people anyway. Again there's the problem of thinking about a real person when writing a fictional one, which means I can't make fun of the ones I like and I have to think about the ones I don't. There's no upside. I will occasionally name a character after a contest winner or something, but that's usually a person I've never actually met. Easier to do whatever the story requires under those circumstances.
In the interest of full disclosure, very early on I did fashion one murder victim after a guy I sort of knew in high school who had achieved some notoriety, if you want to call it that, in subsequent years. But I didn't really know the guy very well so I could mold him into exactly the kind of person I needed the character to be, and I gave him a completely different name for many reasons, some of which didn't involve the possibility of a nasty lawsuit. And now that I think of it, that character turned out not to be so dead late in the book, anyway. So I can stick to my statement: I haven't ever "killed off" a real person for symbolic revenge or any other reason.
When I was writing the first Aaron Tucker novel For Whom the Minivan Rolls, I figured nobody would ever read--let alone publish--a book written almost entirely by accident by a first-time novelist who clearly had no idea what he was doing. So I gave the character some of my own circumstances and made up others. And no, I did not kill off anybody I had ever actually met.
But once Aaron had made his 17th comment about how lovely his wife Abby's legs were and a neighbor met my wife in the supermarket and called her Abby (thinking he was being amusing), I resolved never to get that close to home again.
So do me a favor and don't ask me about my wife's legs, okay? It's fiction. All of it.
For legal reasons.