I must say, I have fun when I write a mystery, whether it’s a whodunit like Turning Idolater or a horror-ghost story like Bobby’s Trace. Authors have an obligation to their readers — to provide them with compelling material presented through well conceived, living characters who are wrapped in vivid and engaging language. However, when dealing out mystery, logic is a crucial element. Unlike a slice of life work, a mystery promises the reader surprises and clues, not that non-mysteries exclude surprise. However, logic can fly the coop in a mystery, leaving the reader scratching their heads wondering where the work fell off the cliff . . . or did they? I have more fun authoring mysteries because I get to meet logic’s challenge and stretch it to the fullest taffy pull. I succeed only when the reader trips over the ending, hits themselves in the head and wonders why they couldn’t unwrap the enigma. Hiding clues in the reader’s path and knowing that they won’t see them is highly rewarding to me — I’m that tricky.
In Bobby’s Trace, a passionate haunting that blends gay themes, religion, Gilbert & Sullivan and computer programming into an unlikely frolic through the ghost world, I attempt to delight the reader to the extreme. The action belays the clues, which are processed, but dismissed as common elements — much like sleight of hand employed in a magician’s act. This misdirection can be attributed to Bobby’s Trace’s origins. It began life as a one-act farce in three scenes. It had nothing ghostly about it except the tenuous hold of the protagonist’s dead lover. In fact, the play had the unlikely title An Outing in the Wilderness, the main action laid across the humorous conflict of the programmer and the priest (not unlike the Princess and the Pea). I found the premise, amusing as a play, not as humorous in prose. Enter (stage right) Bobby — first as a mild Blithe Spirit presence, and then as a fully developed ghost stuck between the worlds. Then as I developed Bobby’s character, the work changed. The pathos of poor Bobby and his magnetic eyes — the beauty of his youth and the tragedy of his early death was impetus to something far greater than the romp between programmer and priest. The illogic of a fantasy world — a spirit universe married by the very act of mourning — so powerful that both the mourned and the mournful could dwell in it to the point where it becomes unclear whether the living mourn the dead or the dead mourn life, emerged. Now this were a-boilin’, transforming a light gay coming-out comedy into a griping, terrifying ghost mystery complete with a signature gut-wrenching ending.
Creating a satisfying mystery — one that delivers on its promise, is to enter a partnership with the reader — to help the reader search for the clues, and then, push them off in another direction. Agatha Christie loved to employ these red herrings in her books. The trick is to not let the fish smell too much like fish. Many readers of Bobby’s Trace have told me that they loved re-reading it just to find out where they went wrong — sort of sniffing for the fish in the corners. When I hear that, my day is always made, because it means that I have fulfilled my author’s motto — From my mind to your imagination . . .
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Edward C. Patterson