I saw my author-friend, Tony Broadbent, not too long ago. We hail from the same hometown back in the old country. We got to chatting and he gave me a pat on the head and told me, “You’re like the Gary Oldman of the mystery world.”
Gary Oldman is one of my favorite actors, but I wasn’t sure of the correlation and asked, “Is that a good thing?”
“Yes,” he exclaimed. “There’s a lot of anarchy in your writing.”
How subversive, I thought. I’m a rebel without an agenda. Mother will be delighted.
Well, the little exchange got me thinking about my writing. I don’t think people hit the keyboards with an agenda or a theme tucked under their arm—or if they do, it sort of sticks out. Agendas and themes develop on a subconscious level. Well, they do for me. I don’t go out of my way to put a slant on my stories. I just try to entertain, but inadvertently, I show a little leg now and again. So, I looked for the anarchy. And I think I saw it in the shape of conflict.
Stories require conflict. It’s a driving force that characters and stories thrive on, especially in mysteries and thrillers. The nature of the genre means there are going to be casualties and collateral damage. So, I like to inject my stories with a lot of conflict. The problem is that I’m quite a literal person and I think about things in very pure terms. Blame my engineering background. When I think conflict, I think about it in its most basic of meanings—total annihilation. Everything my lead character holds dear is under attack. I create this person so that I can destroy them. I place them and their world in an ivory tower, then go about stacking as much C4 explosive around the foundation as possible to blast it all apart. It only seems fair, doesn’t it? Conflict by its nature is salt to a wound. Character assassination is key for me. Only by putting everything in a protagonist’s world at extreme risk can the character grow. There can’t be a comfort zone or a safe haven for this person. Wouldn’t you want to read about a character in a situation like that?
I flicked through some of my stories to see what I did to my characters and the annihilation is always there. Characters are put through the wringer and their lives will never be the same. The theme is there in We All fall Down. The story’s protagonist, Hayden , has every facet of his life attacked. His career is destroyed. Friends will die. Others will die if he doesn’t act. The authorities will see him as the bad guy. His life will never be the same and there will have to be a lot of rebuilding by the end, but he’ll be a stronger and more courageous person for it. And what was the flashpoint for all this carnage? Taking a job with the wrong people at the wrong time.
So I guess I do have anarchistic bent. Sorry. It wasn’t intentional. It’s just the way I tell ‘em.