If you're flipping through the channels and see, say, Gene Kelly here dancing with the umbrella and the lightpost--you gonna click? No, of course not. You'll slowly lower yourself to the couch, saying..oh, I'll just watch this one little part. Right?
Or Fred and Ginger doing the Continental. Or Flying Down to Rio. You'd listen to Put the Blame on Mame. Louis Jourdan singing "She is Not Thinking of Me." Oh, how about Broadway Babies? Struttin' down the avenue, doing what they have to do, to be in a SHOW! And High Society? Forget it. I'm watching every second.
Anyway. What does this all have to do with the hard-driving, thrill-seeking, need-for-speed (and quite hilarious) debut author Tammy Kaehler?
We'll just let her tell you. (And see below for today's question..and today's FREE BOOK!)
From Singin’ in the Rain to Racing ‘Round the Track
by Tammy Kaehler
I grew up watching classic movie musicals from the golden age of Hollywood. My obsession started with Shirley Temple and moved on to Singin’ in the Rain, The Band Wagon, Top Hat, Summer Stock, you name it. Everything with Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Gene Kelly, Judy Garland, and other favorites. The movies were fun to sing and twitch my feet along with, but their worldview was often very traditional—doesn’t the plot description say it all? “Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, BOY wins girl.” With the benefit of age and time, I look back on them and wonder, what on Earth is the girl doing in all of that?
Fortunately, I didn’t internalize that male-female dynamic. I grew up and spent a couple years extolling the values of a women’s college education (I worked in college admissions).
Today, I write a mystery series with a female racecar driver protagonist—and if there’s ever a character in charge of her own destiny, particularly as she hurtles 2,500 lbs. of Corvette around a track at 150 m.p.h., it’s Kate Reilly. (ed. note: That's Tammy in the photo below!) Kate’s story would seem about as far removed from those classic films as it’s possible to get. And yet … not only do similarities exist, but watching those musicals just might have predisposed me to write what I do.
First, there’s the element of beating the odds, with a side dish of suspension-of-disbelief. How do Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney save the orphanage in Babes in Arms? How do Judy and Gene Kelly save the farm in Summer Stock? They put on a show! How does every amateur sleuth in contemporary mystery fiction deal with finding a dead body and being incriminated in the murder?
They solve the crimes while also being a success in their day jobs. In Dead Man’s Switch, Kate Reilly gets a chance at her dream job, shows her potential when it counts, and figures out whodunit. All of these characters—literary or cinematic—have something special. Judy can dance and sing, and Kate can drive. But they also have a touch of the average, everyday person about them, which means we still find them relatable.
Most importantly, what classic musicals and traditional mysteries share is the knowledge that everything will turn out all right in the end. I don’t mean every mystery ending is a happy one, but as SJ Rozan says in her excellent talk on genre, the basic arc of a crime novel is that the reader will get to the end and know what happened. There will be a reason for the tragedy or the crime—which is often better than we get in real life, where events and situations are often random and unexplainable.
In mysteries, as in movie musicals, the good guys usually win and the bad guys are typically caught and punished. The farm is saved, the race is completed, if not always won—and sometimes, the girl even gets the boy. Obviously characters in mysteries aren’t toe-tapping their way into the sunset in every final scene, as on screen … more’s the pity?
Much as I might like to attempt to stretch my point and argue that mysteries are as silly as movie musicals (some cozies are, perhaps), I won’t. I’ll simply admit to enjoying it immensely when the joy or despair in a character’s soul can only be expressed by a soft-shoe, a waltz, or a softly crooned ballad. I guess if Kate ever breaks into song in one of my novels, you’ll know why….
HANK: Well, I just read they are figuring out how to do ebooks with soundtracks! So sounds like you're a perfect candidate. (Do you think that's going to work?)
How about you all, Reds? Are you musical fans? What's your fave? One lucky commenter will win Tammy's DEAD MAN'S Switch!
Before trying her hand at fiction, Tammy Kaehler established a career writing marketing materials, feature articles, executive speeches, and technical documentation. A fateful stint in corporate marketing introduced her to the racing world, which inspired the first Kate Reilly Racing Mystery. Tammy works as a technical writer in the Los Angeles area, where she lives with her husband and many cars.
Ed note: ooh, lookit that cover blurb! Hot stuff!