Why Do You Write Mysteries?

By Pat Remick

Why do you write mysteries instead of another type of fiction?

Many Sisters in Crime tell me Nancy Drew was their inspiration — was she also yours? I did love that series and I’ve always enjoyed the intellectual stimulation that comes with attempting to solve the puzzle of a fictional mystery.

But the reason I write mysteries has more to do with the the brutal murder of a beautiful blonde newlywed almost four decades ago than a fictional girl detective.

I was a new police beat reporter at a newspaper in Lubbock, Texas, when Deborah Sue Williamson was brutally stabbed 17 times and left to die in the carport of her new home on Aug. 24, 1975. Her husband said he found her body when he returned from working at the pizza restaurant he managed. Her wedding dress lay on the guestroom bed and her purse was missing, along with their wedding album.

She was only 18 years old.

Her slaying, which remains unsolved today, shocked the West Texas city of 225,000. My editor proclaimed that the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal would carry a front-page story every day until her killer was found. By the time he gave up almost four months later, I knew more about Deborah Sue Williamson than anyone had a right to beyond her immediate family.

For more than 35 years, her murder has haunted me. When a crazy drifter named Henry Lee Lucas confessed in the 1980s to her slaying and over 500 more – crimes he later recanted – I knew it wasn’t him. Her parents did, too, and even sold their home to finance an investigation to prove it so police would continue looking for the real killer.

And it is a grave injustice and an unspeakable tragedy that her murderer still walks free today.

I think about this whenever I write a mystery story or work on my novel. I’ve used pieces of Deborah Sue’s story in my fiction. I imagine the terror she felt and remember how desperate her parents were to see the crime solved, sharing everything possible with the police and this reporter in the hope it would lead to her killer.

Unfortunately, I have been a far too frequent witness, professionally and personally, to the devastating aftermath of crime, including the murders of Deborah Sue and other people dying in horrible ways. These tragedies never leave me. Incorporating them into my writing sometimes makes it easier to try to understand and deal with them.

Fiction also offers an opportunity to right great wrongs. There, we can make sure the killer is caught and there is justice for the victim — which is not something we can guarantee in real life.

So why do YOU write mysteries?

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12 Responses to Why Do You Write Mysteries?

  1. Powerful story Pat. I always wonder the toll it takes on reporters–bearing witness and telling stories to engage. The search for justice is what attracts me to both writing and reading mysteries.
    Thanks for this post!

    • Rhonda Lane says:

      I hope Pat doesn’t mind me chiming in here … Covering tragedy – whether it’s war, a fatal fire or streetcrime – DOES take its toll on reporters. No one likes to talk about it. No one wants the reputation of not being able to “handle it.” Only recently has the journalism elite begun offering services for it. Columbia Journalism School offers a free resource called The Dart Center for journalists traumatized from covering tragedy. http://dartcenter.org/ I wish they’d had it back in the day

  2. I like the fact that murder mysteries have real plots, so doing a mystery as my first book helped me get over the what’s-going-to-happen thing. The intellectual challenge of structuring the puzzle “backward” for the reader to solve is also really fun.

  3. patremick says:

    I agree, Robbie — mysteries definitely have real plots, as opposed to some novels I’ve read lately. And yes, Julie, it does take a toll on reporters unless they’re able to separate themselves from the story, which isn’t always easy. But if you don’t, you can’t do your job. Police officers and firefighters certainly know this well, too.

  4. Nancy Gardner says:

    Wow, Pat, being a crime reporter must have been difficult. I’m glad you’ve found a way to make use of that experience. As to me, I’m drawn to the quest for truth found in mysteries. Even though, plotting and figuring out a good puzzle comes hard.

  5. Beth Kanell says:

    Pat, thanks for sharing this powerful story; I hope justice and healing for Deborah Sue Williamson’s family will come. Your motive for writing mysteries awes me.

    Our part of Vermont has suffered too many murders recently, and two women who died in the past year or so were acquaintances of mine — members of my community whom I knew by name and face. It has changed how I read crime fiction (with more dread, in fact). But it hasn’t changed how I write mysteries, which for me is a process of framing within the plot/character puzzlebox the very humanity that connects us with each other.

  6. edithmaxwell says:

    That’s a gripping story, Pat. I remember at least one of your stories in which I can see parts of that real-life tragedy.
    I write mysteries because that’s what I like to read. Seems like a kind of dumb rationale compared to yours, but that’s how I got started!

  7. joyce lavene says:

    What a story, Pat! I’ve known many mystery authors with similar tales. I got started because I love reading mystery – and writing romance was hard since I love plot! I worked as the only reporter for our small town newspaper for many years. It seemed to be that all of our murders were solved right away but there were a few that I still question to this day.

  8. Sylvie says:

    Although I don’t have a personal connection to a crime like Pat, the reason I write suspense is because the bad guy always gets what he deserves–something that doesn’t always happen in real life.

  9. patremick says:

    I love learning about everyone’s motivation for writing mysteries — and loving to read them is a great reason IMHO. Like Sylvie, I also like seeing the bad guys (or girls) getting what they deserve. I think the my graphic showing “Mystery Writer:Writer of Wrongs” also be “Righter of Wrongs.”

  10. Rosemary says:

    Wow..I remember that story. My first book was inspired by a true story – not a murder but a dead body was found – and I decided to write my own version of what might have happened. I don’t think I could be a journalist covering horrific crimes – I like my bad guys to get what they deserve in the end and that doesn’t always happen in real life.

  11. Rosemary says:

    ..I guess I should have read Sylvie’s post!

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