Put a bunch of mystery writers together in the same room, typically in a hotel barroom at Left Coast Crime or some other crime-writers conference, and the topic of conversation will undoubtedly wander from the state of the publishing industry to murder. Stories about how a certain characters met a gruesome demise typically become more embellished as drinks are poured and the evening wears on.
“I remember the first time I ever killed someone,” a story might begin, the words often falling on the ears of drinkers and diners at adjacent tables who may be wondering if they’ve just checked into the Hotel California.
The first time I noted a reaction like this, I was telling some friends about an assignment given during a writers’ workshop I had attended in Denver. The exercise was designed to push us out of our comfort zone by forcing us pen a short paragraph about something we had never done or would never do. Never is a long time, but so far, I have never killed anyone with an ice pick, so that’s what I chose to write about. The exercise eventually evolved into a short-short, The Christmas Present.
As I expounded on the icepick’s journey through the victim’s nape, my lunch companions squirmed quietly, keenly aware of the impression the tale was making on the restaurant’s other patrons. I ended my story with the victim stuffed into the trunk of a car.
Strangely, we have not had lunch as a group since.
So far, neither my writer friends nor I have been arrested for the grisly confessions we’ve tossed around in the bar at writers’ conferences, but I always take a quick glance around to see who’s in the bar before I launch into the story about the first time I ever killed someone.
Rick Gustafson teaches Fast Track to Great Writing, Rick has an MLS from University of Denver and has won several writing awards for fiction including the E.M Koeppel Shorty Fiction prize in 2014. He is a weekly contributor to Colorado Community Media and makes his living writing.