How Writers Kill
Today’s guest post is from author Abby Vandiver. I took two sessions from Abby during Writer’s Digest’s virtual conference this year. When she introduced herself by saying “I’m an author and I kill people.” It made me want to know more about what it’s like to kill characters on the regular. I invited Abby to write a guest post about it and was thrilled when she said yes.
Abby Vandiver also writes as Abby Collette. She is a hybrid author who has penned more than twenty-five books and short stories. She has hit both the Wall Street Journal and USA Today bestseller list. Her latest cozy series, An Ice Cream Parlor Mystery, published by Penguin Berkley, is out now, with the second book, Game of Cones, coming in March 2021.
While I stood in line at Loganberry, an independent bookstore close to where I live, I was also talking on the phone. I complained to the person on the other end about the main character in the book I was writing. I said into the phone, with people all around me, “She won’t die. I keep trying to kill her, but she just won’t die.” Everyone turned to look at me with horror in their eyes, so I quickly explained that I was talking about a character in my book!
I’ve written twenty-five cozy mysteries and am working on several more. Often when I’m out speaking, people ask what is a cozy mystery? So, in case you don’t know, let me give you a quick explanation. Think Murder She Wrote and Agatha Christie books. They are light, often funny reads, with no graphic violence, and where the murder happens off stage (you’ll never “see” the actual murder take place in a cozy). And that’s exactly why I started writing them.
My first book, In the Beginning, is sometimes compared to Dan Brown‘s books. It’s a mystery, only I didn’t include peril around every corner, no swear words or sex. I just don’t write like that. When I later discovered cozy mysteries, I learned there are certain criteria that make a book a cozy. For example: The setting is usually a quaint town, there are quirky characters, an amateur sleuth and of course, murder! I loved it! Writing in the cozies genre means I can write murder mysteries and still stay true to my style of writing. I was hooked!
Mysteries are my favorite genre, I love reading them and writing them. And while all mysteries don’t have to include a murder, cozies do. So, I have to write about murders. Since all cozies have the same formula, I like to find a way for my stories to stand out. One way to do that is to make the method of the murder unique. I prefer to “kill” the victims in my story in an unusual way, but let me tell you, it ain’t easy! I often search for hours for a way to murder the bad guy. (I only hope that no one in law enforcement would ever have to do a scrub of my computer, I would be in so much trouble!)
Murders in books are not always varied. Most happen the same ways—with a gun, a knife, or poison. But that can be boring! Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve included a gunshot or two in my books as the murder weapon, but for the most part, I like to search for a novel way to do it. And when I use poison, I try to choose one that’s not obvious or well known.
To make my murder mysteries interesting, I like to Google weird ways that people have died. Like Isadora Duncan, the famous dancer. She loved long scarfs and wore them all the time. One day, while riding in a convertible, a breeze caught the end of the scarf around her neck, wrapped it into one of the tires on the car and choked her to death. Weird, right?
Here’s another one: The London Beer Flood in 1814. A high-pressured beer vat burst causing a domino-effect that splintered all the other vats. More than 300,000 gallons of beer flooded the brewery and street and eight people died. That would be a great way to kill someone, don’t you think? Unfortunately, I don’t always get to translate these interesting, true-life examples I find in my Google searches to my stories, but I do keep them in mind to maybe work in one day. Then there are times I can take what I find in my searches and weave them in my book.
In my first cozy series, the Logan Dickerson series, I have a trio of sleuths that solve whodunnits. I decided to make all the murder methods unique, and the first one came easy. I had just watched Pysch (the television show where the main character pretends to be psychic to help the Santa Barbara police solve crimes.) In that particular episode, the victim dry drowned. I hadn’t ever heard of that. I thought, don’t you need water to drown? I didn’t waste any time Googling it. I found that dry drowning happens when no water ever reaches the lungs. While it is not a medical condition, it is a description for laryngospasms—when the body forcefully closes the airways.
I was so surprised with what I found, I knew I had to use it! So, in Bed & Breakfast Bedlam, the first book in the series, I had my victim, Gemma Burke, die from dry drowning. Gemma is hit in the abdomen hard enough to cause those kinds of spasms. She coughed and ached until she finally fell, face first, into a bowl of bouillabaisse.
And did you know you can drink too much water? Enough to kill you? Well, you can! I heard about that on the news, and as I always do, didn’t waste any time looking up what happened. It seemed that a woman, Jennifer Strange, only twenty-eight years old, drank water as part of a radio contest called “Hold Your Wee for a Wii.” She died from not getting that water out of her. So, in the last book in the Logan Dickerson series, South Seas Shenanigans, Campbell Gruger is an athlete and an avid cyclist. In the best of health, his healthy living was his downfall and he died from drinking too much water. You’ll have to read the book to find out how!
I don’t always come up with how I kill on my own. A couple of years ago, I went to a librarians’ convention and told the audience that I have never kill librarians because they are some of my favorite people. Later, when I was signing books, a group of librarians came up and told me they wanted me to kill them! After they explained they meant in one of my books, I agreed. One told me her name was Summer and she wanted to be killed by ice. How fun, I thought, so it is exactly what I did! I wrote a short story, Never Judge a Book, and included Summer and her preferred way to be killed.
You’ll have to read my books to find out what other unique ways I’ve come up with. When you do, let me know what you think. Or, if you’ve heard of an unusual way someone died and think it will make a good story, please, tell me all about it!