Guns, Germs and Lead Pipes

I kill imaginary people for a living. Like John Cusack’s hitman in Grosse Pointe Blank, I’m not quite sure why I do it. Maybe my psychological profile fits a certain “moral flexibility.” I hate doing it with a gun, though.  That’s not to say I haven’t used firearms in my fiction. Guns are efficient, particularly in novels where characters often hit their targets. Readers know what to expect when I mention the gleaming slide of a semi-automatic or a sleek, sloping trigger. And, as American police officers have handguns as part of the uniform, chances favor death by bullet for bad guys (real or invented). My problem with guns in fiction is that they are used all-too-often in the mystery and thriller genres and they deliver death a little impersonally for a psychological suspense book. Shooting someone from five feet away lacks the immediacy that I think readers want when they’ve been inside characters’ heads trying to unravel their thought processes.  I’ve drowned people. There is a certain metaphorical satisfaction to this method of dispensing with marked characters. Sinking beneath the water evokes a burial. The character slips beneath the surface and disappears, the layers of water like fresh shovels of dirt. It also has literary roots (Ophelia in Hamlet, for one). I’ve pushed people off buildings. This method of dispatching with characters has the benefit of working for both women and men. The imaginary person needs only to be someplace precarious and off-balance–in other words in a setting that evokes the atmosphere I’ve been trying to create all book.  I’ve also bludgeoned folks with blunt objects. Writing a scene in which a character was beaten with a lead pipe was extremely difficult for me. I think it took two days to craft and involved looking at head injuries online as well as watching police interviews of suspects in crime of passion killings in which the victims were beaten (YouTube has everything.) I cried a bunch that week. But I think the scene came out with the amount of violence required for the character’s emotional state in the moment.  In a book due out 2018 and currently with my editor, I drugged a character. Employing this method involved reading up on drug side effects and what substances particular pills can and cannot be combined with. The benefit of using this tactic is that I could create considerable tension in the lead up to the death. Would the character imbibe the poison or not? And what if he or she tasted something off? One of the more interesting ways of eliminating a character that I read was in Christine Carbo’s The Wild Inside. It involves a bear and bait–and fortunately for my sensitive stomach happens off-screen, so to speak.  So, writer friends, join me in this morbid discussion. How do you get rid of your victims? Are there any methods that you avoid and why? What are some of the most interesting ways of eliminating characters that you’ve read?  (Also, thanks to Jared Diamond’s book for inspiring my title–even though Guns, Germs and Steel is an amazing historical study of why certain groups of people have experienced a kind of global hegemony and has NOTHING to do with murder mysteries.)          

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