September 25, 2011

A Pint of Bitter Murder

Question #1: So… you write murder mysteries?
Answer #1: No, I blog about various things.

Question #2: …but you like murder mysteries right?
Answer #2: I’m not sure, I’ve never read one.

He got up and chose another seat some row away from me. I giggled thinking to myself… what in the world am I doing here. Sitting in the back row of Park Theatre on with my notebook and pen in hand, staring down at my “BLOGGER” name-tag hanging from my shirt.

The lights were dim as I sat amongst 60 or more people, eagerly awaiting the show to begin. I'm painfully aware that I am the least knowledgeable person on murder mysteries in the room.
As I wait, I think back to years ago, when I was an English major at The University of Manitoba, and was attending my first Thin Air Festival. I clearly remember attending with my Creative Writing classmates, who were also skeptical about giving up a Friday night to go to a “book reading”.
Now here I am years later, and hooked on the festival and all it has to offer – including “A Pint of Bitter Murder”. A staple in the programming, but one show that I’d never encountered before.

A struggle with the microphone ensues, as is often does when a show is about to begin. The audience is silent and still waiting for the first of the two readers to start. I’ve worked myself up a bit about the ‘murder’ aspect, prior to attending. I’m waiting for someone to cue the eerie music, like the theme to Rod Sterling’s Night Gallery, but the theatre remains silent. 

Alison Preston: The Girl in the Wall
Alison Preston is called up first. She flips to the beginning of her new book entitled, The Girl in the Wall. It seems silly, but to my surprise, the story has begun like … a story.
“George had heard of adults who wished they were dead, but not from children who hadn’t reached their sixth birthday.”
I sit listening,  intrigued by the character Morvin, a young girl who was “born dead”, as the first line of the story states. Morvin is described as a bit off as she grows up, always staring at people awkwardly throughout her childhood without smiling or talking. Her older brother George becomes the main character in the story and Morvin’s eccentricities are described to the reader through his reactions to her.

As Alison reads, the audience doesn’t sit back in their seats, but rather, they lean forward with puzzled looks on their faces. They are curious about the characters. And just as fast as the story has begun, Alison’s time is finished. The audience remains leaned forward in their chairs as if they weren’t ready for the story to stop. There is a quick pause, then applause takes over the venue.
“Well damn it now I need to know what happens,” whispers one lady to another in the row in front of me. 

David Annadale: The Valedictorians 
Next up is David Annadale presenting his book The Valedictorians.
David chooses to read a piece from halfway through his book. He sets the scene at a trendy nightclub in the Hamptons. His style is so easy to follow and to picture as you listen.

Now here is the part I was waiting for. He describes a murder that his main character Blaylock commits. Here is what I'd been telling myself all week to brace myself for- the gruesome and scary murder. But to my surprise (and relief)... I’m laughing. This is a murder mystery with a witty and unexpected humorous tone to it. 

As David reads the audience is right there along with him, following his character as she his held up by gangsters and forced out of her Corolla. But instead of shaking, crying and pleading for mercy, she gets out of her midsized sedan and asks where they want her to go. She points to the house from where the gangsters had emerged and marches past them and towards it egging them on. 

David’s definition of characters is phenomenal and original. The unexpected nature of their actions left the audience laughing and intrigued by the main characters dismissal of common female stereotypes. And just as David describes her leaping from the darkness of the house and stabbing another gangster in the ear – he is finished reading.

Both David and Alison are called back up for a writer Q & A period. The audience poses questions about writer timelines, character discoveries and developments and the impulse to resolve difficulty in plot lines.  I look down at my watch and realize that over an hour has flown by.

A Well Spent Saturday Afternoon
Murder mysteries are not what I expected – they are much more. No longer do I think of those choose your own ending mini-book mysteries I used to hate. “If he walks through the door, go back to page 18. If he sits down on the chair, continue to page 87.” 

Finally I have two books to sit down with, to break into a new genre. That’s the most difficult I think, especially if you have an interest but are not sure where to jump in.
My best advice for Murder Mystery, or for any genre, is to attend Thin Air again in 2012 and challenge yourself to a new genre. Break down barriers and broaden your reading horizons, because there are always gems like Alison and David at your fingertips waiting to be found.

- Miss Stacia Franz


  1. I'm excited to share even more activities and ideas with you! The first edition (happy dance!) comes out Sunday morning, December 11th! Here's a sneak peek of what's inside

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