I ran across this old bit of Q&A chatter about “The Case of the Checkered Murder” that I’d put up in a writing group after having a satirical murder mystery published in June 2008 by Mystery Authors, at http://mysite.verizon.net/mysteryauthors/).
Q Walt, would you stop scribbling for a moment and explain what you were doing with this story?
WG The detective yarn is ripe for satire. This is a send-up of the clichés found in Raymond Carver, Agatha Christie and, currently in a New York Times serial, by Cathleen Schine.
Q Isn’t that sort of like mocking one of the Little Golden Books? Detective fiction is easy picking for satire because it’s so stylized. Satire indicates the writer feels he/she is superior to the work being satirized—but your choice of subject doesn’t have the greatness to be poked at.
WG Satirical pulp is a good place to start. I asked whether these writers had a sense of humor, and no one said they did. I could also do a send-up of sci fi (bug-eyed monster at the supermarket) or New Yorker fiction (characters who do nothing, go nowhere, and then wonder just what happened). I also like the inherent irony of the detective genre — the combination of circumstance or a result that’s the opposite of what’s expected or considered appropriate. Besides, I have published some detective stories.
Q Okay, we start with the stereotypical tough Private Investigator with a hangover...
WG Who’s a woman and not a man, but who still talks in staccato bursts and drinks rye. Then there are the “usual suspects.” A checkers theme instead of the usual intellectual chess metaphor. An ending right out of The Maltese Falcon.
Look, this is humor — not literature. Just check out the crap that passes for drama for humor on TV. Soap opera, for example, is inherently histrionic and two-dimensional. Isn’t there something worth thinking about here?
Q Don’t be defensive — but that cheese sandwich ploy is rather lame? This little piece took you — what? Five minutes to dash off?
WG More like half an hour — plus rewrite. But I don’t have the patience to write something serious. It all gets rejected.
Q Writing is such an artificial form of communication, and assumes readers will actually interpret words and ideas in the way you mean them to. Why on earth don’t you get a real job?
WG I truly believe less than a small percentage of personal communication gets through to both parties. She asks, “Do you want to see a movie?” when she really means “I’m bored to tears.” You say, “I don’t mind seeing that Oscar nominee,” when you’re saying, “Damn, I’d rather sit at the PC and install that new program.” Having made this somewhat defensive statement, I write because I failed semaphore in Cub Scouts, no one knows Morse Code, and English has the largest number of words in any language. If we can’t communicate — thoughtfully, calculated, precisely — in English, how else can we?
Q So you took a shot at satire. What’s the value of writing that never gets read? It’s the old “if-a-tree-falls-in-the-forest...” conundrum. And, you’re not exactly Michael Crichton or Stephen King.
WG It isn’t a question of why, any more than you ask why a fish swims or a bird flies. I write because pursuing a character or an idea in the formal framework of a short story or an article is cathartic. Moreover, it’s fun. At the very worst, “desk drawer” writing is akin to peeing in a blue serge suit. It gives you a nice warm feeling and no one notices.
Q Any more, er, plans to write satire?
WG Well, blogging is a good subject. It’s the new oral tradition — people chatting on a level you’d expect among strangers on an elevator. But they spill their guts about the most amazing things!
Note to friends and readers: This was a self-interview. If you’d like more serious fiction, try “Queen at the End of the Bar,” published by Gumshoe Review, at http://www.gumshoereview.com/php/Review-id.php?id=2915