From time to time, we writers of mysteries and thrillers stop to ask ourselves: “Are our villains a little too ‘on-the-nose?'”
That is to say: Have we painted a huge sign over the antagonist with the words “Bad Guy” painted in vivid red? If so, we need to dial back some of the descriptions. It’s supposed to be a mystery. Right?
For instance: The guy who hopped the fence at the White House this weekend. Turns out he’d been arrested a few months ago in Virginia. And he left some clues in his car that — had he been created by one of us mystery writers — would have been just a tad too obvious.
The New York Times tells us: “Among the items found in Mr. Gonzales’ vehicle in July was a mini-arsenal of 11 guns including two shotguns and four rifles, some equipped with scopes and bipods that a sniper would use and ‘a map of Washington, D.C., with writing and a line drawn to the White House,’ law enforcement officials said. He also had four pistols, three of them loaded, and a revolver.”
The only things he seemed to be missing were a jet pack, Acme explosives and a coyote.
Mystery writers: Let’s try to make our bad guys slightly less obvious.
Oh, and for those of you who think our gun laws are out of whack in this country, please take heart. The Virginia police did arrest the gentleman with the arsenal and the map with a line drawn to the White House.
He was charged with reckless driving.
I don’t believe in taking credit for another writer’s work. Unless, of course, I can get away with it.
So we’re at the fantabulous Sunriver Books this weekend for a signing. It’s one of those terrific bookstores that sets Oregon off from so much of the rest of the country, where independent bookstores are rare or long gone. Katy King and I get there early to help set up. We’re wandering about when a young couple notices the display of books.
The guy says, “Are you the author?”
I lack the humility gene. “Yes I am!” I beam.
“Can you sign a copy? My dad would love that.”
“Of course!” I reach for my pen.
“He’s a huge fan of the show.”
Now, I’m a trained journalist. That makes me a keen observer of the world around me. Nothing escaped my attention. Not even Katy, turning crimson and laughing her ass off.
“Thanks!” I beam. The guy turns and hands me the book to sign.
“Any Other Name.” By Craig Johnson.
Craig is the creator of Longmire, who is the protagonist of the hit A&E network crime drama. And Craig’s coming to Sunriver Books, too.
First question: Have you met Craig? Big, studly looking guy. Favors cowboy boots and cowboy hats. He looks like … well, Longmire.
I freeze, staring at the book. And I consider just signing the damn thing. Hell, Craig Johnson sells a ton more books a year than I do! Why not?
Second question: Have you met me?
Katy, of course, realizes that it’s all good and well to impersonate another writer. So long as it’s not one who outweighs me and who regularly packs heat. She snares the elbow of the young woman in the couple and deftly guides her to the display of my books.
The upside: She bought my book. And the guy bought Craig’s book which, let’s be honest, is a terrific mystery novel. And I avoid a high-noon showdown on the 13th hole at Sunriver Golf Course.
But for just a split-second there: I had a hit TV series.
That was a nice split-second.
Come see Craig Johnson — no, the other one — at 5:30 p.m., Tuesday, Nov. 11, in Sunriver Books.
Very excited to be at Sunriver Books this Saturday!
As the glamorous Katy King and I travel around, it becomes clear that most of the United States suffers for a lack of independent book stores. Thank the gods, that’s not as true in Oregon. We have a wide array of terrific indies here. Sunriver is one of my favorites.
Can’t wait to see everyone there!