A writer’s work can be like a mirror, reflecting aspects of his life that has an influence on his thoughts that even he may not realize. Is Stephen King an optimist? Is Richard Paul Evans an idealist? My answers to those questions would be no and yes, simply judging by what they’ve written. In looking over my own work, I’ve noticed some themes that appear again and again.
Barbara Scott, an editor and online friend, in a tweet recently suggested looking for recurring themes in your own writing. So I did. The thread in Irregardless of Murder, I found, seemed to be reunion. My main character, Amelia, is in her forties, single and comfortable. She likes things as they are, but when she literally stumbles over a murder, it starts a domino-like effect that ends in her tying up one really big loose end in her own life.
In Death Dangles a Participle, I see reconciliation and forgiveness. Three young people, two boys and a girl, have messed up, big-time, and their road to recovery—if indeed there is one—is bumpy and loaded with potholes. The other people in their lives must decide if it’s worth the effort to repair the relationship. I also touch on the futility of revenge at the end. And, of course, there’s a murder that links all this together. I am, after all, a mystery writer.
Another Think Coming isn’t part of the Miss Prentice series. It’s set in a tiny town in Texas (that’s called alliteration, students) and is about God-fearing seventy-ish widow Esther MacBride who decides to exact justice from the man she holds responsible for her grandson’s death. Needless to say, she hasn’t consulted God about this, in fact, she declares herself “hopping mad” at Him. The theme in this one is again the futility of revenge and also forgiveness.
The corrosive effect of revenge is also showcased in my current work-in-progress Murder in the Past Tense (#3 in the Miss Prentice series) which, if all goes well, should come out this Spring. When a murderer embraces hate and the idea of revenge for decades, it can only end in disaster. I’ve enjoyed going back in time with my character Amelia, getting to know her and her friends as teenagers. We even find out why sassy, glamorous Lily Burns started smoking: boys!
There are the trivial things, too. One fellow writer pointed out to me that a store’s fitting room (euphemistic in the extreme—especially if you’re trying on a swimsuit!) appear in both Irregardless of Murder and my to-be published Texas novel, Another Think Coming. Until she said something, I hadn’t noticed this, and would probably have put a fitting room in another story, because they’re such handy places to eavesdrop! Another triviality I noticed myself was a propensity for resting one’s head against the cool window as the character rides in a car—or in another case, a bus. I like to do this myself (but only if I’m a passenger).
I was asked in an interview why I chose to write about mysteries, and it caused me to search my reason: because I favor resolution. For instance, there is such a thing as a resolved chord, which I prefer in music. (You’d know it if you heard it.) I also prefer resolution in a story, that is, right wins out and wrong is defeated. All of my books end that way. Justice is done, even if there are some heart-wrenching moments along the way. I believe it’s part of the basic human condition to long for resolution and the ultimate resolution, the ultimate happy ending, is the one provided by God.
Our earthly plot involved getting ourselves in such trouble that we could never be forgiven. We were scheduled to be punished. But a Hero stepped in and took the punishment for us. All we have to do is accept it.
It’s what every soul longs for, resolution and a home to go to for our own happily ever after. This is a theme I can’t emphasize too much.
Book Two in the Miss Prentice series, DEATH DANGLES A PARTICIPLE, follows Amelia, Gil, Vern and Lily in the wintry North Country is available now at Amazon, B&N, CBD, and DeeperShopping in both e-book and paperback. Book three, MURDER IN THE PAST TENSE that introduces us to Amelia and friends as teenagers, is scheduled to be released Spring, 2014. Ellen also writes weekly articles at The Wordsmith Journal Magazine under the title, "Behind the Mystery."