This week: Price TagsEdited by: Jeff
More Newsletters By This Editor
1. About this Newsletter
2. A Word from our Sponsor
3. Letter from the Editor
4. Editor's Picks
5. A Word from Writing.Com
6. Ask & Answer
7. Removal instructions
"Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known."
-- Carl Sagan
Mystery Trivia of the Week: Novelist and feminist Rita May Brown doesn't just write about same-sex female relationships; she's also been romantically linked in her personal life to tennis player Martina Navratilova, actress and author Fannie Flagg, socialite Judy Nelson, and politician Elaine Noble. Since 1990, Brown has "coauthored" a series of cozy mysteries with her cat, which feature a feline character. And she's an avid fox hunter!
EDITOR'S NOTE: Special thanks to DB Cooper for this week's editorial. He wrote in and requested the topic, so here it is.
Way back in 1997 (was it really that long ago?), a little movie called Austin Powers brought us the following comedic dialogue between Dr. Evil and his henchman Number Two after Dr. Evil returns from being cryogenically frozen since the 1960s and has to adjust to a new world:
DR. EVIL: ... let's just do what we always do. Hijack some nuclear weapons and hold the world hostage. Yeah? Good! Gentlemen, it has come to my attention that a breakaway Russian republic called Kreplachistan will be transferring a nuclear warhead to the United Nations in a few days. Here's the plan. We get the warhead and we hold the world ransom for... ONE MILLION DOLLARS!
NUMBER TWO: Don't you think we should ask for more than a million dollars? A million dollars isn't exactly a lot of money these days. Virtucon [their evil front company] alone makes over nine billion dollars a year.
DR. EVIL: Really? That's a lot of money. [pause] Okay then. We hold the world ransom for ... one ... hundred ... BILLION DOLLARS!
That's a rather humorous example of inflation, but the point is well taken; the world's economy has drastically changed multiple times over the past several years and decades. Prices for even the simplest things have gone up significantly. Around the time I first started driving, I remember being shocked when gasoline hit $1.00 a gallon. Now I regularly pay nearly $4.00. My brother and his wife bought a house in the same town my parents live in... and paid nearly double for a house half the size as the one my parents bought in the 1970s. When I started my first year at community college, I paid $11 per unit, or roughly $165 for a full semester's classes. That same community college now charges $46 per unit, or $690 for a full semester's classes, just over a decade later.
And the cost of things hasn't just gone up either. When my parents bought our very first family computer, they spent almost $2,600 on a middle-of-the-line machine. Today, you can get a middle-of-the-line desktop computer for less than $500. Most electronics, in fact, have decreased in price from comparable items even five years ago. Household supplies, hotel and motel accommodations, and some food items such as chicken and peanut butter have also dropped in recent years.
Hey, this is starting to sound suspiciously like an economics lesson and not a mystery newsletter!
That may be true, but it's important to understand the economics of how the world works if you're going to write a good mystery. Chances are, one or more of your characters will eventually have an economic motive for something: committing a crime, solving a crime, recovering an item, etc., and you certainly don't want a serious character to make a mistake like the one made by Dr. Evil!
As writers, research is one of the most important tools at our disposal. We research information and situations we aren't already familiar with so that we may write as if we are. Our job is to be an "expert" in the world of our characters (and indeed the characters themselves), and we jeopardize that expertise every time we have a glaring error in our work. One of the most frequent errors is over-valuing or under-valuing the services and objects in your story. One of the most common mistakes I've seen in both prose writing and screenwriting is a writer not understanding the amount of space that money takes up, and characters will, as a result, carry the whole $50 million ransom in a regular-sized briefcase (TIP: The average briefcase can hold up to approximately $2.4 million in $100 bills. It would also weigh just under fifty pounds, so make sure you do some bicep curls before you try to abscond with that ransom! ).
What's particularly frustrating about the price tags on certain items is that they regularly fluctuate and, as seen in this newsletter, many of them may go up and down dramatically over the course of a few years or decades. If your writing has been published, that's as far as you can take it... but if it hasn't, it's up to you to make sure your current stories are current. You don't want to have a story you're submitting for publication or showing off as an example of how you write modern mysteries if the characters are carrying around a pager, or a Nokia flip phone. It's not a good reflection of your expertise if your protagonist breaks into a bank vault and walks out with $100 million in a duffel bag. And it's certainly not a good idea (except for laughs) to have your villain demand a million dollar ransom for holding the world hostage!
When you're putting together your next mystery, remember that research is incredibly important... and at least part of that research should be knowing the accurate price tag of the things in your story so that a story intended to be set in the present day doesn't end up feeling like it was written a decade ago.
Until next time,
I encourage you to check out the following mystery items:
An old man lived in the depths of a forgotten forest. His crude brick shelter ensnared by arboreal appendages of trees and vines, unknown varieties tangled together in chaotic harmony. Only a few blotches of sunlight reached through the canopy. The man's house was a vignette in the woods. He connected with the paced life of plants after spending a lifetime in the urban jungle, scurrying about in eternal anxiety.
“Don’t you dare back out on me.” The tattered old note read. It was the third note I had found on this pleasure cruise.
“What happened to good old SMSes?” I was getting really annoyed. Plus my cabins air condition broke down and the only window I had was a small, round ship window looking out to sea. But I couldn't see the sea cause it was so damn foggy.
I was awake, I realized, as the thoughts echoed about my head. I realized the brain which rested in my head. The pulse which thrummed through my veins. The thoughts which flitted through my being, my thoughts…
And with this biggest realization came the shrinking feeling of just how small I was, compared to this big world I was a part of. This world which was filled with color and wonder, vast and huge and amazing, I was now aware of it.
Headlights slammed into the side of the gravel pit when the truck cut the corner. It must have been going slow, with the lights off, before the hairpin turn into the pit. Lynyrd Skynyrd loudly professed "they couldn't stay here with me, girl", but I could hear the engine revving up, louder and louder. This interloper slammed on the brakes, and spun the truck almost 360 degrees before sliding to a stop. Lights blinded us. Scrambling out the high beams, I regained my bearings, Erik and his friends stood close. Jenny ran to his side, and Cat appeared at mine.
It was getting dark and starting to rain, as Sarah pulled her car up into the driveway. She had been at her friend’s book signing at the mall and had done some shopping while she was there. She was thankful that they had installed the security light over the garage. She pushed the remote and the garage door slowly opened, and she pulled in, shutting it behind her. She was supposed to have been out a lot longer, but she had gotten tired and come home early.
There had been a series of burglaries in the neighborhood of late, so her and her husband Bill had a home security system installed. Sarah grabbed her bags and briefcase out of the car and punched in her code for the garage door into the house, resetting it once she was inside.
It was a hot musty summer day. The air conditioner was broke and the fan was blowing warm air all around the small pink room. Everything was neat and in place. The light peach carpet was damp from the water that was spilled on it. Sitting on the side of the dark oak dresser was a tall slender glass of lemonade with three square cubes of ice.
Lying on the satin red quilted bed was a petite thin girl she was about the age of 13. She had short brown wavy hair and bright blue eyes. She was wearing light blue short with a white t-shirt. She was busy looking up at her pure white ceiling. Thinking about what the summer would lead too.
Submit an item for consideration in this newsletter!
Have an opinion on what you've read here today? Then send the Editor feedback! Find an item that you think would be perfect for showcasing here? Submit it for consideration in the newsletter!
Don't forget to support our sponsor!
Feedback from my last newsletter about not ruining the suspense:
blunderbuss writes, "Thank you Jeff for leading me towards that website. Not only can I use the technical information, but it also sparks off ideas about stories!"
Glad to hear it!
Sandy~HopeWhisperer writes, "Awesome info! Thanks for the tip. I will be visiting the website often."
You're very welcome!
BIG BAD WOLF writes, "As the Elderly Uncle on the Jackie Chan Adventures cartoon used to say, "We must do research!"" (Submitted Item: "Non-Humans R Us Newsletters" )
That's quite a catchphrase!
DB Cooper writes, "James Pruitt wrote the outstanding series "Checkered Flag" that combines car racing and mysteries."
I'll have to check it out. Thanks for the recommendation!
To stop receiving this newsletter, click here for your newsletter subscription list. Simply uncheck the box next to any newsletter(s) you wish to cancel and then click to "Submit Changes". You can edit your subscriptions at any time.