SO YOU WANT TO WRITE A MYSTERY

(Okay--So Where's the Motivation?)

By Dorothy Rellas

"Can you believe it?" I waved the opened envelope in my husband's direction. "Mysteries Unlimited rejected my short story."

Artie glanced up from his racing form. "So, what else is new?"

"I had a feeling about this one. It was good--really good."

"The way you're grinding your teeth, you must have gotten the usual form letter."

"Might as well have, for all the sense the editor's comments make. What does this mean? 'Good descriptions of the characters, but where are they coming from?'"

"Who are the characters?"

"Kim, a woman who's a sales rep and Sandy, a bookkeeper who lives in the apartment downstairs. I really fleshed them out."

"That's why the editor liked them."

"Sure, but then he says, 'Story doesn't grab me.'" I looked up. "Can you believe that? My critique group thought it was wonderful, and Alicia loved it."

"Your sister can read now?"

"Very funny. She reads a lot, and unlike you, she enjoys my stories. She said she couldn't put this one down."

"Must have been a pretty simple mystery to hold her attention."

I ignored the insult. "Very simple. Sandra suspects that the man who's been calling her and hanging up, leaving bizarre little baubles in her mail box and ringing her doorbell late at night is a co-worker. After the police tell her they can't do anything without more proof, she decides to ignore the situation. Kim offers to investigate--find out what the fellow is up to. The ending is really suspenseful."

Artie put down his racing form. "Why?"

"What do you mean, 'why?'"

"Why does Kim decide to find out about this guy?"

"She wants to help her neighbor. I've shown Kim to be very compassionate--she does things for people."

"Geez. She's going after a dude who could be a serial killer just because she's compassionate?" Artie shook his head. "I don't buy that."

I sighed. So much for thinking my husband might know what I was talking about. "There are people in the world who actually think about something other than who's going to win tomorrow's sixth race at Santa Anita," I said.

"Well, now that you ask..." Artie looked down at the racing form. "It just so happens I have a sure thing--"

"People who think of other people," I yelled.

"I'm all for thinking of other people. But to go after some weirdo who's potentially dangerous, she's gotta have really strong motivation."

"You're not an editor." I waved the letter in front of him. "This one obviously knows that compassion is her motivation because he doesn't mention that at all."

"Agreed, I'm not an editor, but I am a reader," Artie said. "I'm the poor slob who's gonna plunk down a couple of bucks to buy the magazine. And when I read your story about a dumb blonde who says, 'Golly, wouldn't it be fun to dance around with some lunatic who stalks women,' I'm gonna be really annoyed."

"She's a brunette." I sat down in the chair across from Artie. "Okay, Mr. Genius--what would you suggest?"

Artie sat up straighter. "Glad you asked. My advice would be to give her something really gross from her past."

"I can do that. How about if someone had done the same thing to her when she started her job? Followed her, sent flowers--"

"I'm yawning already. Try again."

"A step-father who--"

"No step-fathers. They're old news."

Artie, who was an authority on any subject you could mention, was starting to get on my nerves. "Anyone can criticize. Make a constructive suggestion."

"It's gotta be something that made such an impression on her, that she'd do anything to see that her friend doesn't go through the same thing. I could come up with a dozen different ideas."

"One will be sufficient." I reached for a pen on the end table. "Okay, start talking. I'm ready to consider any pearl you spit out." Which only proved how desperate I was.

Artie leaned his head back against the chair and closed his eyes, a sure sign he was thinking--or dozing off.

"Let's see--how about Kim with a sister who was in college? A classmate comes on to her." He suddenly opened his eyes and sat forward. "She rebuffs him, and he starts leaving ominous messages on her answering machine. She laughs it off. But when the messages get downright sinister, she decides on a meeting to convince him to leave her alone. Then something really awful happens to her."

I leaned forward, too. "Like what?"

Artie shrugged. "You figure that out. But at least I've given you Kim's reason for becoming involved. If I read the story now, when the police can't do anything, I'd understand why Kim is willing to put her life on the line in order to get the sneeded proof. She's got a reason. The big word--motivation."

I hate it when he's right about something.

"I know, how about if the sister was killed by her stalker?"

I scribbled furiously on the back of the manuscript. "Kim isn't about to let that happen to her friend Sandy. I just need to mention it briefly, and--"

"Anything else I can help you with?"

"Go back to your racing form. And thanks, I owe you one."

"Better give me your stories from now on so I can catch these glitches before you send them out."

I looked around for something to throw.

"And you really shouldn't grind your teeth so much. You're gonna wear them down to nubs if you're not careful."

Copyright 1999 Dorothy Rellas