Murder By 4 – Guest Post – April 2009

Posted in Guest Blog Postings on April 21st, 2009 by bonniekozekblog


When I meet someone who has read my hardboiled noir crime thriller, THRESHOLD, I usually get a funny look. Not funny-ha-ha. It’s more like funny in a knowing-wink-and-nod-concurrent-with-an-uncomfortable-nervous-giggle kind of way. When this occurs, I’m tempted to explain what I think is obvious: It’s fiction. But when temptation becomes manifest and I dost protest too much – well, you can guess the outcome. My protestation only serves to substantiate what the reader has already concluded. The sacrilegious, unhinged, haunted, and severely damaged protagonist – for whom no depth is too low to sink, and for whom no line is too sacred to cross – the enema-loving, most unlikely heroine of my book – she and I are one and the same.

Of course, it’s chimera. THRESHOLD is not autobiographical – nor is the second book in the Honey McGuinness series – JUST BEFORE THE DAWN. But knowing that the reader may be inclined to interpret my work in this manner, does, on occasion, give me pause. And when I’m given to pause, I begin to wonder. Does this style of writing shift some of the focus off the story and onto me? Or, put another way, are the cosmic concepts that spawn these books getting lost in the unconventional – the heretical – style of the noir genre?

Take THRESHOLD. The book was born of my desire to explore and answer a single question: How does the life of someone who believes – unwaveringly – in G-d alter the life of someone who, with equal determination, does not believe in God, and vice versa, if and when their lives become inextricably entangled? Now, it’s perfectly reasonable that a concept of such gravitas would be worked, exercised, and manipulated in a most particular way. Call it High Literature – literature written seriously, by serious writers, meant to be taken seriously. This type of writing would be inclined towards long sentences, composed of big multi-syllabic words – particularly those of the adjectival sort – wrapped in a reflective and problematic story rooted in the compound complexities of the human condition. However, as I contemplated this, I began to brood. Did I really have to write about this formidable notion in such an orthodox manner? Would it be unseemly to do otherwise? Did I even have a choice?

To answer these questions I battled two conflicting voices in my head, both passionate and hungry for dominance. One voice – allied with literary giants the likes of Tolstoy, Proust, Dostoevsky – argued eloquently and persuasively that indeed I did not have a choice. To properly plumb the depths and intricacies of such a lofty subject, I had to call upon my literary reserve of recognized seriousness and convention. The opposing voice – an heir to literary outlaws the likes of Artaud, Burroughs, Miller – argued raucously, and no less convincingly – employing a profusion of expletives for emphasis – that I could write about any concept I pleased in any (expletive deleted) style I pleased. Authentic truth, the voice argued, is often unearthed in the most unexpected places, and to reveal these truths in this manner requires an author to be willing to get her hands dirty.

And so, I began to weigh the opposing opinions. I was desperate to start writing, but no matter how hard I tried, I simply couldn’t make up my mind about which course to take. Both positions were compelling and appealing. Not surprisingly, it wasn’t long before two opposing streams started to run in my mind – each with its own characters, plotlines, scenes and dialogue. Then, one night as I lay in bed stewing over the schizophrenic pandemonium inside my brain, waiting futilely for the now elusive good night’s sleep, the answer came to me.

A few years back I saw Sorcerer, a 1977 film directed by William Friedkin – a remake of the 1953 French film Le Salaire de la Peur (Wages of Fear). Briefly, the film is about four desperate criminals on the run from the law who are forced by misfortune to work in a remote oil drilling operation in a hellhole on the edge of a South American jungle. To get enough money to escape their circumstances, they transport a volatile cargo of nitro over miles of treacherous terrain in broken-down trucks. (One of the trucks – driven by the film’s star Roy Scheider – is called Sorcerer. Hence, the movie’s title.) What I remember about the film is this: From the first frame till the last I found the characters irredeemably unsympathetic. Friedkin hadn’t used any of the conventional manipulations of the medium to make me, the moviegoer, care one way or another about what happened to the characters. This was interesting. If I’m not invested in the characters, why watch the film? By the end of the film I had my answer. Unburdened by the traditional pulling of heartstrings, I was able to focus on the core concept of the story: Fate is mysterious: it strikes anyone, anytime, anyplace. Ergo, do we really have control over our own fates, either in birth or in death? Indeed, the film had wrestled with this far-reaching philosophical question without relying on the traditional treatment. And I had grasped this big idea in a way which may have eluded me if I had been emotionally bogged down in the usual manner. This realization was a breakthrough. Thus, I made my decision: I would get my hands dirty.

By the time the sun rose in the morning, I was already hard at work writing THRESHOLD. It’s monosyllabic and short of adjectives. Its protagonist hasn’t weathered the storm of life; she’s been chewed up and spit out by it. There is sex and drugs and murder. Yet obscured in this mixture of classic noir fiction and modern American pulp are characters and a narrative spawned from my desire to engage in and contend with the profound and fundamental idea of divinity in relationship to the individual human being.

Ultimately, if these big ideas succeed in penetrating through the tough-guy vernacular, I’m happy. And, if the cost of writing in this genre leads readers to believe I’ve personally been there and done that, well, that’s something I can live with. Writing, I believe, takes courage – the courage to buck convention and to uncensor the self. And even though honesty may not always be the best policy, I’ve got to admit something: There may be a grain of truth in the reader’s assumption. I mean, I wouldn’t say THRESHOLD is auto-biographical. What I would say is that it’s …. well, let’s call it …. auto-biological.