Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Wednesday Wanderings

I've run into an interesting situation with Unnatural Causes as I wind towards the revelation of the murderer:  though the main characters are able to piece together his/her identity, he/she has hidden their tracks too well - my heroes know whodunnit, but they have no way to prove it to the authorities.  The body is gone; simply going to the guard would result in a he said / she said scenario, and neither of my investigators have a lot of political capital.  (Politics, influence and power are an integral part of the storyline, much to the dismay of my extraplanar narrator, who has no patience for this kind of thing.)

I have no idea how I'm going to resolve this; however, I also know I'm an incubator and ideas develop on my mental backburner.  So, I'm continuing to write - there are a few more major scenes before the confrontation - and hoping that something will come to me.  If worst comes to worst, I can go back and edit in some weak link that the investigators can use.  Or maybe ... just maybe ... the solution will be that there is no solution.

When I started writing this novel, my motivation for choosing it over other projects was two-fold.  First, fantasy mystery - in the sense of a mystery / detective style story set in a secondary world, rather than a mystery / detective story in our world with fantasy elements added - is something I've always wanted to write.  It fits very neatly into the "mannerpunk" style that I like writing, where social status, politicking and battles of wits are more important than armies.

Second, this concept flexes my writer muscles with some challenges:  I've never written a novel-length mystery story before; and my first person narrator is an extraplanar being who I was very determined to make FEEL alien to the reader, not just a human in a funny suit.  (And it is a very funny suit:  familiars materialize in this world as a blend of human and two or more animals.)

I initially set out with the goal that I wouldn't know whodunnit until shortly before the investigators did, but I found that untenable for laying out the storyline, so I stopped and worked out the motivation and nature of the crime.  I did, however (and this is a slight spoiler), make myself promise one thing:  I wouldn't go with the easy out of "everyone dunnit," where multiple people were in some way responsible.

The idea of multiple attempts on the same life does fascinate me, I'll admit, because of some of the opportunities it presents.  The classic example is of three men in a desert.  Two of them independently decide to kill the third.  The first man poisons his water canteen.  The second man pokes a hole in the canteen so the water drips out and he dies of thirst.  So ... who actually killed him?  I love thought experiments like this.

But since I have done it before, it felt like a cop-out in this case.  I still couldn't resist having multiple components to the murder, but ... you would have to read it for details.  What I've enjoyed with this book is that when I started it, I deliberately made the choice to write slowly.  I'm an incubator, so I wanted the time to let it ferment in my head (now I'm mixing my culinary metaphors) and not reach for the most obvious tool in my toolbox. 

The title Unnatural Causes, by the way, is a bit of occult geekery.  In pre-modern magical thought, the natural was the realm of things that behaved as they were in nature:  birds fly, leaves, and so forth.  The supernatural was the realm of God, demons, spirits, and so forth.  Between that was the unnatural:  things that behaved in ways that were against the natural order.  So, for instance, a rock fired from a sling was as unnatural as a magical spell!  Science and magic dovetailed.  In many ways, this liminal view of the world was what kept magical thought alive.

Besides being an obvious play on "death by natural causes," Unnatural Causes is also particularly appropriate because the magic in the setting is essentially technology:  enchanters build "thought machines" to execute their spells.

So in the end, rather than be anxious about this problem in my novel I haven't yet solved, I'm excited to see where it takes me.

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