JAN BROGAN: Although I never watch car racing, my husband and I happened to be flipping between stations at exactly the moment that the Indy race cars crashed on the Nascar track in Las Vegas last week.
Drawn into the drama, we kept flipping back from the Patriots game to the race track to find out what was going on. We were stunned, and even shaken, when it was announced that veteran driver Dan Wheldon had died.
As the cars took their laps around the racetrack, a solemn memorial, and the camera panned to the spectators, standing, head bowed, with many of the women crying, I had an ungenerous thought. Wasn't this why people watched car racing - because a crash was always possible? Wasn't it a little like going to the Coliseum, but crying when someone got fed to the lions?
And now, as they talk about making IndyCar racing safer by not racing on small oval tracks, I wonder could they ever really make it completely risk free? And if they could, what would that do to car racing?
And here at Jungle Red, we all use murder or the threat of death to fuel our mysteries and thrillers. So my question this week Reds, is --how high do the stakes have to be for there to be excitement?
And if it weren't for death, would we even have drama?
RHYS BOWEN: Jan, you are so right that people go to car racing hoping for the spectacular crash.
It's interesting to me that the mystery novel has come to mean the Murder mystery novel. What seems to have happened in recent mysteries is that the stakes have been raised for the protagonist. He/she is now involved/facing old demons/personally stalked or hunted by the villain. I think today's reader wants the thrill of danger--look how many movies have car chases, and exploding buildings--and the cerebral puzzle is no longer enough. After all, kids are growing up playing all those violent video games in which they experience a constant adrenalin rush.
JAN: I know, it's kind of sad. It's like we've all got such attention deficit disorder that we need the ultimate stakes to be involved to keep our attention.
LUCY BURDETTE: I guess in the old-fashioned puzzle whodunit the personal stakes for the sleuths were not so high. But these days, especially for amateur sleuth mysteries, the character has to have a damn good reason for meddling in what is truly professional business. I think about that issue all the time: Why in the world is a food critic (or psychologist or golfer) getting involved in solving this crime? I think readers may hold us to a higher standard as more good books get written and published.
I had such an interesting conversation with my editor a couple of weeks ago about the current popularity of cozy or lighter mysteries. I wondered if this had to do with the disheveled state of the world--that people are looking for better news, less heavy reading. She wondered if romance readers might be crossing over to the cozies because romance has become more and more eroticized. Talk about higher stakes for writers!
HALLIE EPHRON: How high do the stakes have to be? Good question, Jan. I think the drama is greatest when the stakes for the sleuth are personal. Even in lighter mysteries--or especially in lighter mystery novels. If readers just care about explosions and murders, they can read the newspaper.
ROSEMARY HARRIS: When I worked for ABC (and somewhat for ESPN) we released a video series with CART, one of the major racing organizations, and the hypocrisy surrounding the reasons people watched this so-called sport was mind-boggling. My particular interest was in what we should put on the cover and what words we were allowed to use in marketing what were essentially videos of the most spectacular crashes. One of my least favorite video assignments ....and they sometimes including working with wrestlers, porn stars and anorexic fitness divas.
I think some of my favorite recent mysteries have just one murder. What the Dead Know comes to mind...wasn't there just one in that book? I reject the notion of so many writers these days that a book isn't a "real" mystery unless multiple co-eds are murdered in brutal fashion. And these guys think they're being interesting by having intricate mutilations or the exchange of body parts. Sorry, I think that's boring. Maybe that's another reason traditionqal mysteries are doing well (relatively speaking.)
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: "Excitement" is what stuck me, Jan. Is that what readers are looking for? I think--motive. Motive. If someone does something for a reason that readers understand-tht make's the terrible thing seem realistic..and therefore, exciting.
Let me say-I'm an Indy girl, so I've gone to the 500 several times. The last, I was sitting next to a friend's 10 year old son. There was HUGE and horrible crash. I thought--oh, I can't let him see this! I grabbed him, to hide his face. He about punched me in the nose to escape-he was so eager to see the wreck.
DEBORAH CROMBIE: What an interesting question, Jan. I don't watch car racing, and in my naivete I have to admit I'm shocked by the idea that people watch them primarily for the crashes . . . But horse racing is dangerous, too, and I love it, although I'm absolutely horrified when there's an accident on the track. And no matter what they do to make either of these sports (or many others) safer, there is still always the possibility of tragedy. But life isn't SAFE. It's not meant to be safe. And I suppose that brings us to mysteries and their enduring popularity. I think we like being reminded that life is precarious. But we also like the sense of resolution and sometimes justice that we find in mysteries--seldom is real life so neat.
Are our for violence as consumers getting higher? We think so, yet that would be an interesting question to pose to an historian. Hangings at Tyburn, anyone?
JAN: Debs, I think you hit the nail on the head. We like to be reminded that life is precarious. I think that's what gives it meaning.
What do you think about life, death, drama and meaning? How high do the stakes have to be to keep your interest?