Easy question. It’s the only thing I do well, and I like to eat. Given the choice, I’d be a professional singer, with Justin Bieber opening for me in Vegas.
But I enjoy writing, even the noncreative side. I like the clip-clop of typewriter keys striking paper and the sweet cedar smell of a freshly sharpened pencil.
Explaining why I write mysteries takes longer.
In the beginning I was cocky and refused to accept constraints. I didn’t want my work hobbled by arbitrary rules of subject or procedure. To me, this meant writing mainstream, i.e., general fiction, that defied category.
But things were changing.
Popular fiction was expanding beyond the bare requirements of the various forms, embracing moral and social subjects once considered the property of mainstream. Plot took second chair to character development.
Commercially, mysteries, westerns, romances, and science fiction were already the rock stars of literature. Now they were booked into university lecture halls, where they were discussed in detail. Few condemned them for taking on larger issues than horsemanship and whodunit.
Mysteries let me grow while writing the kind of story I enjoyed reading. In the house where I was raised, there were always paperback thrillers and tabloids filled with bludgeonings and beheadings: censorship was a nonstarter under that roof. My parents’ experiences of Prohibition fascinated me also. Is it any wonder I put a tommy gun in a story I sent to Argosy at age 15? A man holding that weapon was my mother’s earliest childhood memory.
TV in the 1950s aired old movies on almost a continuous loop, broken up by Captain Kangaroo and 15 minutes of news. Most were crime dramas. The really good ones were better than a lot of films that won Academy Awards, but few of them were honored in their time. The pop culture revolution of the 1960s changed that.
So I write mysteries.
Conditioning? Free choice? My own limitations? I’ve tried to write the kind of contemplative story you see in literary journals, with bushels of introspection and suppressed rage, but no corpses; then a gun goes off and so do I.
Why not? When I’m helping Amos Walker solve a case, or murdering someone with Peter Macklin, or assembling film footage beside Valentino, I can say whatever I like about our world. Not long ago I would have had to choose between these themes. Depending upon the choice, someone else would have decided where the book would be shelved.
Mystery is mainstream. But then, mainstream is mystery. We start reading fiction to be entertained. We keep reading to find out who did what and why.
Loren D. Estleman is the author of more than 60 books, including the Amos Walker private detective series and The Confessions of Al Capone, to be published next fall. He lives in Michigan with his wife, author Deborah Morgan.