By Catherine Dilts
The sun slants through the blinds, casting lemon bands of light across the bistro table. You lift the coffee mug to your lips. Pause.
“So how are you going to do it?”
Your friend wears a prim expression as she states, “Ligature strangulation,” in the same tone she’d use to utter “sugar cookies.”
“Hmm. I don’t know. Jack is a big guy. Maybe you need to slow him down first. A vase to the back of the skull?”
“Too violent.” She nibbles a pastry.
“Like strangling him isn’t violent?”
“I’m thinking more along the lines of a little something slipped into his drink.” Your friend takes a hearty swig of Earl Gray. She glances past your shoulder. “Oops.”
You turn to follow her gaze. The ladies at the next table send furtive, and nervous, looks your direction.
A) Invent a movie title and name the perpetrator and victim Angelina and Brad?
B) Kill the witnesses and stuff them in your vehicle trunk for later disposal?
C) Introduce yourselves, explain you are mystery authors, and hand out bookmarks?
To talk shop generally means discussing work matters when not at work. Since most of us write fiction in solitary situations, when we meet socially, we can’t resist discussing our current projects. Talking shop in public when you are a writer carries its risks. If you didn’t want to attract the attention of strangers, you should have picked a different career.
Writers wander the internet researching terrorism, poison, and serial killers. We attend police and FBI citizens’ academies, and take notes at forensics workshops. Naturally, we want to discuss our discoveries with our peers.
And sometimes only our peers understand.
At a mystery writers meeting, a frazzled author declared her certainty that she had just landed on a government watch list. Another writer turned to her with a bland expression and asked, “Researching your new novel?”
These conversations are vital. We need to bounce ideas for mayhem and murder off folks who read and write the same types of fiction we’re creating.
My suggestions to prevent an unfortunate interview with law enforcement:
1) If you’re going to talk shop in public, throw in phrases like “in my current novel” here and there.
2) Attend a mystery or thriller writers’ convention, where no one will think it alarming when you inquire about the time it takes a body to decompose.
3) Wear a Be Nice to Me or You’ll End Up in My Novel sweatshirt.
I’d love to hear about your awkward moments when talking shop in public!
Catherine Dilts is the author of the Rock Shop Mystery series, set in the Colorado mountains, while her short stories appear in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. Catherine’s day job deals with environmental regulatory issues, and for fun she fishes, hikes, and runs. You can learn more about Catherine at http://www.catherinedilts.com/