This is the first essay in a series where I look at some of the topics that I touch on in my books. I try to make my books funny and lighthearted, but any time you have murder, you have conflict, and the conflict should be worth something, right?
Dear Jessamyn is a podcast I’ve been listening to for the past couple of years. I found it through the Instagram yoga community. Jessamyn Stanley is a beautiful yogi, has written a couple of books about yoga, she advocates marijuana legalization, and she’s polyamorous. People started asking her for relationship advice using Instagram direct messages, and she and her partner Ashe Danger Phoenix have turned that premise into a podcast.
What’s polyamory, you ask? It is engaging in multiple romantic relationships, with the consent of everyone involved. So, the opposite of monogamy, and the opposite of cheating (FYI- I’m not polyamorous, I’m quite old-fashionedly monogamous, thank you very much). Jessamyn and Ashe talk about radical honesty in all their relationships and recognizing the freedom that comes from not having to be everything for one’s partner.
The podcast is alternately hilarious and maddening- the couple sometimes uses the recording time like a therapy session, which is exhausting, but they are funny, and it is a fascinating window into another world.
Where does this connect to my writing?
It made me wonder if love triangles are cheap plot devices. It made me wonder about using jealousy as a motive- is it lazy writing?
In my Ms. O. Mystery series there is a slow burn love triangle. Book 2, which I’m working on right now, has an affair and the “other woman” is the murder victim, and of course there are lots of suspects, including the “cheater” and the “cheated on.”
So, I am thinking about the whole construct.
I am also thinking about representation.
Is all this thinking too serious for a cozy mystery? Particularly one where there is a telepathic raven who cusses? But if we don’t put our serious philosophy into pop fiction, where do we put our serious philosophical musings?
Blog posts, obviously.
One of the things I love working with in the cozy setting is the huge cast of characters I get to play with. The Ms. O. Mystery series is set in the fictional mountain town of Goldburgh. The sleuth works at the middle school, so there are teachers, townspeople, relatives, friends and enemies. That cast of characters can be murder victims, suspects, red herrings, best friends, mentors and murderers. Motives can be based on money, revenge, jealousy, drug deals gone bad, real estate deals gone bad. Cozies help us consider other viewpoints, like almost all fiction does. So why not introduce somebody who is polyamorous?
Can I have a character who can offer a different point of view, without being preachy about it? Maybe there’s a friend who can throw in her 2 cents, when they’re sitting around talking about the affair, to offer a different perspective? Of course.
I already have a character in mind for it… she’s been in book 1, and the free short story. Maybe she and her partners can come to Thanksgiving dinner… or they can at least be naked in the hot tub at Friendsgiving.
There’s always the fear that I’m doing it wrong, of course, same as having hispanic characters or black characters or young characters, when I am neither black, hispanic or young. But if I only write about monogamous, straight, old white women, it perpetuates the problem. Also, it sounds kind of boring.
What do you think? If a love triangle is lazy plotting, how do we tweak it, so there’s enough conflict in the story to be interesting? How do you feel about romances mixing in your mysteries? Is it like the old ads for Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, 2 great tastes that taste great together, or do you want your love and murder strictly separated? What about preaching in your pleasure reading? Are there good examples of people weaving social commentary into pulp fiction? I think Abigail Padgett does a great job in her mysteries, which are fun and intriguing, without being pure fluff. Who are some other authors? Let me know in the comments.