The Walther-Burberry Syndrome

E E Kennedy, author of the soon-to-be re-published Irregardless of Murder and its sequel, Death Dangles a Participle, grew up in far northern New York State where the mysteries are set. She has lived with her family across the South and West which has given her a sharp ear for regional accents. Through high school and college, she performed in the chorale of summer stock theatre. (She retired from the theatre after playing a strange, soprano Yenta in a local production of “Fiddler on the Roof”.)

As an advertising copywriter, she wrote interview articles for art magazines and produced print ads and radio/TV commercials. She has substitute taught in junior high school (without hazardous duty pay!), read newspapers on closed-circuit radio for the blind, and lectured around the South on the subject of writing.

She is a graduate of Huntingdon College and studied counseling and guidance at the University of Alabama. She and her husband live in North Carolina, and are the happy, blessed grandparents of five little answers to prayer.

While traveling by car, my husband and I like to play audio books to make the time go faster. Thrillers work the best, because they tend to keep us alert. For a while there, while crossing the broad plains of Texas on a regular basis, we were on a Jack Higgins kick. His novels in audio version were plentiful, and were definitely thrillers: brisk, exciting and capable of keeping us awake. After hearing a number of Higgins thrillers, however, we began picking up on something.

“Have you ever noticed,” my husband commented as we passed Weatherford, heading for Dallas on I-20, “that in almost every Higgins novel, somewhere along the line, a man in a Burberry raincoat ‘blows out somebody’s spine’ with a shot from a Walther PPK pistol?” It was true. After that, we eagerly waited for the grisly Walther-Burberry moment and laughed aloud when it arrived.

Everybody develops habits, good and bad, so why should authors be the exception? No matter how skilled a writer might be, almost every one of us exhibits this syndrome.

Take John Grisham. Have you noticed that he has a habit getting many of his characters such into terrible, terrible trouble that the only solution to the situation is either death or banishment at the end of the book? But nobody does it better than he does.

Or consider a particular favorite of mine, Jan Karon. I read her Mitford series straight through at least once every year or so and find something new to love every time. Her books quite literally renew my spirit. Still, she has this tiny habit, a tic, if you will, in her dialogue. Someone will declare something, and Karon will add the tag line, “…‘he said, meaning it.” She doesn’t do this just once, but many times. It’s her own little habit, but I adore her books, anyway.

It’s pretty arrogant of me to nitpick such fine and famous authors without admitting to foibles of my own, so here goes:

1) Apparently, I have a thing about copy machines. In Irregardless of Murder, my first mystery, a young girl dies while using a copy machine, and later, the heroine also goes to make copies in the same room and trips over the corpse. In the sequel, Death Dangles a Participle, a good deal of revelatory dialogue takes place among characters standing before a copy machine in a teachers’ work room. In another life, as a commercial copywriter, I spent way too much time before a copy machine. It must have seeped into my fiction.

2) “What is it with you and fitting rooms?” a friend asked me after having read both my first mystery and my stand-alone Texas book, Another Think Coming. I hadn’t realized it, but in Irregardless, a frightened woman takes refuge in one at a discount clothing store, and in ATC, two characters hide in one at Wal-Mart and their conversation is overheard by my main character. Chalk it up to my passion for clothes shopping.

3) In thinking about this article, I also realized that I have had several of my characters in various books press their foreheads against the cool interior window of a traveling vehicle. In real life, probably everybody has done this at one time or another. Certainly an inordinate number of my characters have.

In the course of editing a book, I like to take the advice of an old writing teacher, and perform an “adverb-ectomy.” That is, I use the search function to find all the ly’s and get tough with myself about whether the adverb should stay or go. More often than not, it goes. Would that my computer came equipped with a Foible Search function.

Come on, now. Your favorite author has a foible. How about sharing it with us?