Monday, April 11, 2016

Good Questions, Good Answers: Guest Post by Lisa Preston

Today I welcome Lisa Preston to Mystery Fanfare. Lisa Preston turned to writing after careers as a fire department paramedic and a city police officer. Experience in her earlier professions enhance the medical and legal passages of her fiction and non-fiction. Her debut novel, Orchids and Stone, is scheduled for release by Thomas & Mercer this month, and has been described both as a thriller and as domestic noir. Her published work includes non-fiction books and articles on animals, particularly the care and training of dogs and horses. Away from her desk, she spends hours on backcountry trails as a runner and rider, sometimes combining her two outdoor pursuits via the obscure sport of Ride and Tie. Lisa Preston and I share a love of mystery and chocolate. Check out her post and recipe for Easy Peasy Toffee on

Lisa Preston: 
Good Questions, Good Answers

We like things to make sense and we like to know whodunit. We like answers. Finding the answer depends on asking the right question. People often do not say what they mean, nor do they mean what they say. This is evident in questions as well as statements. Mystery-loving readers learn not to assume that something reported or presumed by one character is true, which leaves an open question. We file the good question away and read on, recognizing possibilities and red herrings.

Asking the right person is another part of asking well. In my thriller Orchids and Stone, when Daphne asks the detective why her sister was murdered, she isn’t asking the right question or the right person— she’s expressing grief and frustration.

As some readers and writers of crime fiction know, I was a police sergeant. Asking the right question of the right person was my job. It left a lot to explore. Some of the questions that interested me in crafting this novel were the complexities of bystander syndrome, who intervenes for a stranger and who waits, watches and thinks someone else should do something? The impact of a suspended case on the survivors raises good questions about coping, and I wanted to delve into that aspect with my characters. But here’s something to consider: Does life pose some questions that will never be answered?

Murder mysteries are wonderfully plot-dependent, and great characterization makes the read all the more absorbing. By learning characters’ past pains and motivations, we can anticipate how they will respond in a given situation. A character’s unique response moves the plot forward and makes one story different from the last mystery. So, we love character-driven stories, too.

The whole mystery/suspense/thriller gamut is a wonderful mix. Whether we’re trying to solve who planted the metaphorical (or actual) bomb, biting our nails because the bomb has been planted, or racing to stop the detonation, we face questions. Savvy readers create great questions as they eat up the chapters.

For some readers, everything must be tied up in a neat package at the end of the story. Others can tolerate the mystery of an unanswered question, acknowledging the hope and promise of future exploration, and enjoying the space for thoughtful reflection and discussion. It’s never right or wrong to prefer one kind of story over another. Here’s to recognizing good questions and good answers.


ckubala said...

Your last paragraph brings up a topic I have been discussing recently with some GoodReads friends. Through my own fault I did not realize a recent book I read was a trilogy. When I got to the end the author left the audience hanging. I applauded that decision. I didn't need everything to be explained and wrapped up neatly. But then I got thinking about it and doubted the author truly meant to leave us this way. I browsed around and then found that two more books were forthcoming.

As you stated, there is no right or wrong in this topic. I am curious however in how others feel if they are left to reflect, think and discuss a ending where all loose ends are not tied up?

Lisa Preston said...

And might readers feel differently about different aspects being left open?

ckubala said...

In answer to Lisa - Good point! Yes they might.