Cindy Sample, “Murder and Mayhem: Crafting the Humorous Mystery”
I’ve been addicted to murder mysteries since the age of six when I discovered Nancy Drew books were far more intriguing than the adventures of Dick and Jane. By the time I turned eight, I’d read the entire series. Precocious child that I was, I decided to help out that slacker Carolyn Keene by writing the next book for her. I turned my third-grade spelling words into a sixteen-page novella called “Nancy Drew and the Haunted Mansion.” If my mother hadn’t made me go to bed at 8:30, imagine what I could have accomplished. Maybe an Edgar nomination? When the teacher gave me an A+, I was officially bitten by the writing bug. Once you’re bitten, it may go dormant for a while, but it will never disappear.
In the next forty years, a marriage, two children, and a corporate career as a traveling CEO intervened so my dream was put on hold. Temporarily. After a divorce, I discovered that the best anti-depressant in the world was to read a great mystery, one that combined not only a puzzle for me to solve, but humor.
When I realized I was spending more time at work plotting murder than plodding through paperwork, it was time to begin my new journey. I knew exactly what kind of books I wanted to write. But it turns out crafting a suspenseful mystery that will also keep the reader laughing out loud is akin to walking a tightrope over Niagara Falls. It’s a constant juggling act between maintaining suspense and providing giggles.
As a single mom who has tried on-line dating, I had more than enough stories to plot Dying for a Date. While the act of meeting someone new can be terrifying, it can also provide tons of material, much of it hilarious. When your dates keep dropping dead and you become the # 1 suspect, the suspense heats up. And so does the humor since the single soccer mom sleuth has to prove she’s innocent. Tangling with a killer is scary. Forgetting it’s your turn to be snack mom? Pure terror!
How do authors keep their audiences glued to their chairs, wondering how the protagonist will elude the killer’s clutches? After ramping up the drama, will a funny remark give them an opportunity to smile and relax, or stop them cold?
Humor comes in many forms: irony, sarcasm, hyperbole, slapstick, puns and more. The trick is to keep the humor relatable and rooted in truth. Readers who identify with and root for the protagonist will laugh, because they recognize themselves in her actions and words. In Dying for a Date, when Laurel McKay is faced with a gun, she states,” I didn’t want to flee; I just wanted to pee.”
I know I’m not the only member of the “hot flash” set who can relate to that statement.
In the sequel, Dying for a Dance, my klutzy heroine trips her instructor and snaps off her shoe heel, discovering how dangerous ballroom dancing can be. When she stumbles on a dead dancer with that same heel stuffed in his mouth, she realizes it can also be deadly. Although the scene where my clumsy sleuth chases the killer across the dance floor amid sequins, flying feathers and falling bodies is hilarious, the suspense heats up when she and the killer tango together.
I always enjoy a good chase scene and combining humor and suspense can again prove a difficult task. In Dying for a Date, I chose to choreograph the world’s slowest and most original chase scene. Using a backhoe. Now I’m known for my unusual chase scenes and can’t wait to craft a zip-line chase over palm trees and waterfalls for the third book in my series, which moves the action from the gold country of northern California to the big island of Hawaii.
I’ve been diligently working on Dying for a Daiquiri, a book that has required copious amounts of liquid research! Writing this sequel also brought about an interesting “aha” moment. After spending an unsuccessful week trying to knock off my proposed victim on paper, I woke up in the middle of the night with a huge revelation. Although I had envisioned an excellent murder plot, the consequences of killing this particular person meant a far darker mystery than I normally write. There is no way Laurel could embark on all of those optional tourist excursions I had planned on researching and enjoying myself if I stuck with my original plot concept. I’m blown away by the fact this character actually spoke to me. And she is thrilled I’ve upgraded her from a dead body to a suspect!
My own thrill is when someone tells me they feel like crap in the morning because they stayed up all night to read my books. Now that’s a compliment!
Cindy Sample is a former corporate CEO who has also served on the boards of the Sacramento Opera and YWCA. She is a past president of the Sacramento chapter of Sisters in Crime and is a member of MWA, RWA and NCPA. Dying for a Dance
was a finalist for the 2012 Lefty Award and also won the 2011 NCPA best in fiction award. Her latest novel, DYING FOR A DAIQUIRI
, is forthcoming this year. Her website is www.cindysamplebooks.com
and you can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
. Find Cindy at www.facebook.com/cindy.sample
From Dying for a Date
One of the deputies stood next to what resembled a gigantic black baggie. My heart plummeted two feet when I realized it was a body bag. The deputy nodded to us. “Evening, Detective. Is this the woman who was with the victim?”
“Yes, Sam. She’s agreed to identify the body. Ms. McKay, are you sure you’re ready?” Detective Hunter’s palm rested on my back as he gazed sympathetically at me.
“As ready as I’ll ever be.” I swallowed and braced myself for the unveiling.
Sam unzipped the bag then looked at me for confirmation.
His eyes were closed but the pale face and damp curly silver hair were undeniably recognizable.
Omigod. I gasped and frantically looked around as the butterflies in my stomach morphed into an assault team of flying pterodactyls. Hunter took one look at my face and led me over to some shrubbery alongside the patio. A hundred dollars’ worth of Dom Perignon was eliminated within seconds.
I pressed my hands against my heaving stomach. “I don’t know how you detectives get used to seeing dead bodies.”
“Your first is never easy.”
“Well, I’m not planning on making a practice of it.”
“Glad to hear it. I’m not sure our sheriff’s department is large enough to handle your social life.”