When a Crime Fiction Writer Throws ‘Bait and Switch’ at the Reader

Bait

I got an interesting email response to my last post from fellow Christian writer Mary Vee. She stated she hated it when an author broke my “rule #5 for writing detective novels.”

 

Rule #5: The criminal should be introduced early in the story, amidst a field of plausible red herrings.  There’s nothing worse than having the criminal sprung on the reader, out of the blue, at the last minute. There could be more than one culprit. So, secondary culprits can be introduced later. Still, it’s sort of cheating to wait till the very end even for those to be brought into the story line. Don’t want to give the reader a bait-and-switch feeling. Finding out who the killer is at the end ~ good. Introducing the killer at the end ~ bad idea.

My author friend said she’d read several novels that had done that (dropped the killer into the story at the  end and then wrapped it all up neatly) and she disliked them terribly. She felt as if she’d been robbed…cheated. Then she got even stronger saying perhaps “embezzled” was the word she was looking for because the author has set her up and then let her fall.

Tipped Hat

She went on to say that if the clues were there and she got caught banking on the wrong killer, if she got caught in a “red herring snare,” well that was just pure fun. Hats off to the author.

Personal Branding ~ A Must For Authors

Nike, Boca Raton

 

A few of the authors in my American Christian Fiction Writers North East Zone Group have been kicking around topics such as taglines and platform. This made me think of personal branding. In today’s world, is an author a brand? I think, yes!

 

 

Moi 2In the marketplace, it’s human beings who call to us and the heartbeat of social media is human beings. Like it or not, your readers are also your fans.  The author must have a loyal following.

Writers might argue (and so might some readers) that the story is alive. It’s the book that need the following. However, it’s the author who has the real heartbeat. And heartbeat is important. It’s the human factor that attracts in marketing. You can’t just throw a book at someone. You have to engage them.

 

 

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When I interview writers on my blog, I often ask them to send a “personal” photo that’s related to one of the answers in the interview. This would be a photo other than their book cover and their head shot. And I try to ask at least one interview question about their lives in general that would lend itself to providing that photo. Quite often the interview answers come back to me without that personal photo. It’s my contention that authors become much more interesting if they allow readers a peek into their lives. Almost everything in our lives contributes to our writing, so there has to be a myriad of small things we can share with readers that don’t fall into the “too much info” category.

 

Harmful Intent 2Taglines are important. I’ve got two of them.

  • Literature that reads like pulp fiction
  • I like my bad guys really, really bad; and my good guys smarter and better

I think authors need at least one. The tag line should be at the top of their web page and blog. They should mention it frequently in marketing.

 

 

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I often include photos of myself with animals because I love critters and because they’re featured in several of my whodunits.

Writing is personal and the author’s image online should also be personal, without becoming too intimate. Authors shouldn’t cross that too much information line. There’s something amazing about being able to master language and write 80K, 90K or 120K words and have those words come out in the form of an exciting novel. Authors are not no-talent reality show personalities.  So, while in marketing, we want to come across as totally human, we must do that without disclosing the most private parts of our lives to the public.

Edgy Christian Fiction Just Ain’t That Edgy Anymore ~ Tracy Krauss and I Simul-Post on Each Other’s Blogs

Tracy KraussWow, Tracy and I have been saying we’re going to have this discussion on this blog for quite a while. Somehow real life kept getting in the way, but I’m glad we’re finally getting to it. This might also be a good place to announce that the two of us are taking over the Edgy Christian Fiction site. We are just beginning to get out sea-legs there, so the site will be undergoing some visual changes in the near future, but its spirit will remain the same. http://edgychristianfictionlovers.ning.com/

 

Now let’s get on to the discussion…

 

NikePixNike: It seems the subject has come up naturally in our emails for quite a while now of how “edgy Christian fiction” doesn’t seem so scary to many Christian readers and writers anymore. Isn’t that right Tracy? We’ve noticed traditional publishers who, five or more years ago, had unbendable rules about certain taboos are now more relaxed in that area. Of course, Christian writers making a beeline to publish as indie authors has pushed the envelope. And to my mind, that’s the true definition of edgy…pushing the edge of the envelope into deeper, more complex and troubling issues.

 
Unless we live in isolation and in a totally Christian bubble, the culture and the times are influencing Christian writers. Many of us have experienced societal problems in our own families – things that as recently as in the 1990s and the early 2000s, most American Christians did not face. If our teenage and pre-teen children and grandchildren are not sexually active, they have classmates in public school who are. If they are not experimenting with drugs, they know kids in the neighborhood who are. They have intimate knowledge about sexuality in their teen years that many of us didn’t have until after our marriage. For these and other reasons, it is no longer possible for some Christian authors to write novels that do not have somewhat edgy themes or sub-themes. I am one of those authors. My historical novels, and my contemporary, HARMFUL INTENT, which just released, are sweet in the romance department with a few warm intimacy moments, but as they’re whodunits, they have gritty police procedural elements. They also encompass adult issues (such as child abuse, abortion, adultery, substance abuse) in a tasteful manner.

 

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Tracy: I totally agree with everything you’ve said, Nike. Society isn’t he same anymore and it is unrealistic to expect to reach the modern demographic – Christian or otherwise – if we are hamstrung by outdated rules and regulations. I am not saying that authors should purposely cross any lines simply for the sake of doing so. It’s not about compromising our faith or even lowering moral standards. The Bible is clear about what is acceptable behavior for Christians. However, because of societal pressure, more and more people – even Christians – find themselves in unsavory situations. These are stories that need to be told. People make mistakes. Growing spiritually is a journey and with today’s pressures people have an even harder time sticking to the straight and narrow.

 
For instance, my husband and I were talking the other day about how things have changed since our parents’ generation. My parents (at least to my knowledge) never had any experience with drug use. Growing up in the sixties and seventies, we both have plenty of experience and would be hard pressed to find anyone we know of that same generation who hasn’t. I remember seeing a scandal on TV during the nineties when a well known politician revealed that he had smoked pot as a university student. There were calls for his resignation. That kind of response would be laughed at today. Who didn’t smoke pot in university? (I know I did.) It’s not something I am particularly proud of, but it’s just a fact.

 
The same goes for sex. Kids are experimenting with sex at a younger and younger age. I teach secondary school, and again, I would be hard pressed to find a virgin past the tenth grade. I even know several girls who have experimented with same sex relationships because this has now become almost cool. It’s mainstream. None of their peers bat an eye. The response is, “How else am I supposed to know if it’s for me?” While this is an unfortunate lie of the devil, it is also the new reality. Even Christian kids and young adults are having trouble standing up to the pressure.

 

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Nike: You so nailed it. Whether it be through public school sex ed classes, or what passes for PG-13 movies, kids today know a great deal about sex. What they’re getting from media and their friends is often presented in an extremely crass manner. There’s nothing lovely about it. I’m hearing from my 16 year-old exactly what you mentioned about same sex experimentation among girls…that it’s thought to be cool. And let’s be honest. The boys are excited by it. And the school tells the girls it’s perfectly appropriate to experiment in that way.

 

 
An increasing number of Christian authors have been called to write novels in such a way so that Christians who are facing these difficult issues with their own children and grandchildren can find comfort, be uplifted, and not feel so alone. Often those in the pews are hiding these problems from their fellow church goers. Even though many of them are going through the same issues, they dare not share the burden because of shame. This is an area where Christian fiction can break new ground and minister to those in the body of Christ who are hurting.

 

Wind Over MarshdaleTracy: I love what you just said about Christian fiction being a vehicle to minister to the body of Christ. This is exactly what I feel called to do in my writing. I am a firm believer that fiction can be a powerful tool. I have been ministered to by various books I’ve read, as I’m sure you have, too. (Frank Peretti always comes to mind. I’m still his number one fan! Francine Rivers is another writer whose books have had a profound impact.) Most of the time I try not to compare myself to what others are doing, but once in awhile I feel inadequate – like my work is shallow or too romantic or not theological enough… or whatever. Then I get feedback from readers saying that they identified with a certain character or have gone through a similar circumstance and I know that God is using my words. Even if the impact is felt by only a few, it is still ministry. Not every church has thousands of members.

 
Whether I am the right person to minister to the teens we talked about earlier is still up for debate. In all honesty, I doubt it. So far my audience has been more along the lines of thirty – somethings to fifty-somethings and that’s okay with me. The point isn’t so much the target audience as the fact that society has changed – for everyone. There are people who need to know they are not alone in facing some of the issues that plague our current culture. These could be recent converts, backslidden Christians, or people disillusioned with playing ‘church’. I seem to come across more and more of the latter these days and that tells me something. People are searching but they are tired of the status quo.

 
One of the things I’ve tried to do over the years in my writing is avoid giving pat answers. (Other than the fact that Jesus is the answer. Period.) Working through the rest of life’s problems will be messy. Even ‘good Christian’ families have struggles that might surprise if shared openly. My husband and I used to pastor a church and believe me, our family is not perfect by any stretch. In essence this is what the whole ‘edgy’ debate is about. Accepting people where they are at, allowing them to see that they are not alone, and finally, pointing them toward the one who can support them along the journey.

Harmful Intent, Amazon Lg

 

Nike: I have a background in public relations. I worked mostly in the bridal industry, but also for a private college. The rule of thumb is that for every one letter or email received, there were ten other individuals who were impacted but did not write. I’ve gotten feedback that the characters in my novels, warts and all, feel like real people with real struggles. I also have a readership of mostly women from 30-something to 50-plus. But these are the very women who are often struggling with children and grandchildren facing these issues…in a day and age when parental authority is being pushed aside. And these women are struggling with marital issues, adultery, divorce.

 
Yes, most definitely, Jesus is the answer to all problems, but a lot of people can’t seem to wrap their minds around that. This is where a good story as a vehicle can help. I’ve been told by Christian nay sayers that the crime scenes in my whodunits are a tad too gritty. I can assure everyone that what I describe isn’t even close to the reality police detectives, CSI, and EMS personnel see at a real murder scene. I’ve also been told murder mysteries can’t minister. They’re simply entertainment, and often dark entertainment. It’s my firm belief that at the heart of all crime fiction (Christian suspense and the most worldly general fiction thrillers) is the struggle between good and evil. My novels are a bit of a warning, wrapped up in a good story with lots of humor. I also try to depict ordinary, decent people struggling against evil. Many non-Christians as well as backsliders were finally able to submit to the Lord after a total awakening to gross evil. They saw raw, gross evil, admitted Satan was real, and then were forced to admit a Holy God was real.

 

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Tracy: As a ‘fan’ of your work, I don’t think your crime scenes are too graphic by any means, Nike. I wonder if these critics have read Ted Dekker? He is rarely blatant about the gospel message, but the ‘good vs. evil’ theme definitely resonates and this does speak to people.

 

 
I think my own writing is edgy in terms of the moral failings that the characters have to work through. (Pornography, promiscuity, drugs and alcohol abuse…) I’ve also tackled potentially controversial topics like the occult, native spirituality, and intelligent design. I don’t try to wrap these issues up neatly since I don’t presume to have all the answers. Instead, my goal is to make people think; make them ask questions and potentially investigate the topic further. For instance, my first novel AND THE BEAT GOES ON is about a scientist who comes across evidence for creation and then has to grapple with his believes about the origins of the universe. I’ve had a lot of feedback from readers saying they like the way the book asks more questions than it answers. One lady wrote me a hand written letter because she didn’t have a computer, but expressed her appreciation for the way I addressed the issue of intelligent design without trying to ‘explain’ everything. Another woman of native ancestry commended the frankness with which I addressed smudging in WIND OVER MARHSDALE, while another said she identified so strongly with the character of Joleen in MY MOTHER THE MAN-EATER because of her own checkered past that she bought a copy for her sister-in-law, a non-Christian who also had a similar past.

 

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Nike: Life is not easy by any means. The technological age has brought many vices into our homes. With a click of the TV wand, or a click of the mouse we can be face-to-face with full frontal nudity…and if we don’t have parental guidelines locked into place, so can our children. Teens plan and engage in gang-bullying via the internet. Church goers may find their child or grandchild is the victim of this bullying, or is part of the gang out of fear if he/she isn’t she/he will be the next victim.

 
Christians who are facing these issues no longer want to feel like pariahs within their churches. They don’t want to have to pretend any longer they’ve got the perfect Christian family. Many backsliders left because they did feel like outcasts. I hope my novels can reach them. I hope my stories can reach seekers who have more questions than they have answers about God, the meaning of life, and what it’s all about.

 

 

Purchase Links:
WIND OVER MARSHDALE: Amazon http://amzn.to/1j1ceE8
HARMFUL INTENT: Amazon http://amzn.to/SsPthK