Today’s guest for the Mystery We Write blog tour is Derringer Award winning author Earl Staggs. Earl has seen many of his short stories published in magazines and anthologies. He served as Managing Editor of Futures Mystery Magazine and as President of the Short Mystery Fiction Society. His novel MEMORY OF A MURDER earned thirteen Five Star reviews online at Amazon and B&N. His column “Write Tight” appears in the online magazine Apollo’s Lyre. He is also a contributing blog member of Murderous Musings and Make Mine Mystery. He hosts workshops for the Muse Online Writers Conference and the Catholic Writers Conference Online and is a frequent speaker at conferences and writers groups. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Website: http://earlwstaggs.wordpress.com
John: Welcome, Earl! Glad to have your smiling face before us.
Earl: John, you gave us interesting questions for our appearance here, and it was good mental exercise to come up with answers about things we don’t think about on a regular basis. Exercise, whether mental or physical, is a good thing, so thanks for that.
Here are my responses to some of your questions. I hope your readers find them interesting.
John: What is the relationship between fiction and truth?
Earl: The foundation of mystery fiction is a simple truth: “Committing a crime is wrong.”
We write mystery stories to illustrate that truth. We could stop writing stories. Instead, we could print posters with those words on them and staple them to every tree and fence post. That would place the truth out there for all to see. It would not be very interesting or entertaining, however, and certainly not the most effective way of illustrating the truth. When we see the same words over and over again, they become invisible.
So we create fictional stories about the countless number of crimes that can be committed, the countless ways of solving those crimes, and we create a myriad of fictional investigators and sleuths to follow the clues. If we do it in an interesting and entertaining manner, we have done our job much more effectively than those millions of posters. Our readers come away from our stories satisfied that our good guys have bested the bad guys. They may not realize that all we’ve done through fiction is drive home a simple truth.
John: We’re often advised to write about what we know about. How does this work for the mild-mannered mystery writer who never saw a corpse or has never been hassled by the cops?
Earl: “Write what you know” may apply to non-fiction and some mainstream fiction, but not to mystery. If it did, only cops and criminals would be writing it. When the rest of us write mystery and crime stories, we open the door to our imagination and pull out an ingenious crime. Then we leave the door open until we find a clever way to solve it. We don’t need to have experienced it personally. We only need a fertile imagination and the will to write it as it could happen.
John: Are you proud of your style? If so, why? What’s special about the way you use language?
Earl: People often tell me my writing is lean and clean and free of excess wording. I take that as a compliment and I’m proud when I hear it.
I try to use simple, everyday words. Strunk and White taught me not to use a twenty-dollar word when a ten-center is handy, ready and able.
I didn’t begin writing that way, but little by little, I found myself comparing what I enjoyed reading to what I was writing. I preferred reading when an author pared down to the fewest and most exact words possible. Over the years, I’ve tried to learn to write that way.
John: Which is more important to you as you write: memory, research, or imagination?
Earl: No question about it. Imagination. Every story begins with an idea. That idea may be based on something from memory or may require some amount of research, but that only plants a seed. From that seed, it’s a matter of letting imagination fertilize the idea until it grows into a complete and satisfying story.
John: Great answers, Earl. You’ve given us a lot of tips, and a lot to think about, too.
Earl: Thanks for the opportunity to visit here, John. And thanks for inspiring me to exercise. I really need to do more of that.
Now, to everyone who read all the way to here, you’re invited to drop by my Blog/Website at: http://earlwstaggs.wordpress.com and visit with my special guest for the day.
While you're there, you can read Chapter One of MEMORY OF A MURDER, my first mystery novel, which earned thirteen Five Star reviews.
Also while you’re there, don't forget to sign up for the drawing on December 9. The first name drawn from those who leave a comment will receive a print copy of MEMORY OF A MURDER. The second name drawn will have a choice of an ebook or print copy of SHORT STORIES OF EARL STAGGS, a collection of sixteen of my best short stories.
A final note from John: During the Mystery We Write Blog Tour, I will be keeping track of the comments left for the guests on my blog. After the tour, I'll draw one name out of a hat, and that lucky person will be given a copy of my new book, Behind the Redwood Door, as well as a copy of my short story collection, Generous Helpings. But I'll need to contact the winner, so if you're interested, leave your email address at the end of your comment.