Moderator Lily Herman investigated the appeal of crime stories to creators and readers during a Saturday morning panel at New York Comic Con 2022: “Criminal Compulsions: The Appeal of Crime Fiction.” The panelists were novelists Sweeney Boo (On my corpse), Jake Burt (Windydown Vale Ghoul), Fabian Nicieza (The self-taught widow), Alex Segura (Secret identity), Claudia Gray (The murder of Mr. Wickham) and Dana Schwartz (Anatomy: a love story).
All of the panelists were driven by a compulsion to create their stories, but the direction of those stories was entirely up to what fascinated each.
The panel began with a question about their “origin” stories. Each started with the seed of an idea that sometimes took years to develop into a story.
Schwartz said the idea of Anatomy: a love story started when she was 22 and backpacking through Europe. “I became obsessed with Edinburgh,” she said. That interest eventually grew into this story, set in 1832. It features a woman who aspires to become a surgeon but is stopped by two things. One, her gender, and two, the fact that she finds no way to practice or hone her skills. This eventually leads her to the Resurrection Men, who existed in real life, and, naturally, to a murder to solve.
Gray, whom many know of her star wars related books, said was an avid reader of PD James and Jane Austen, and looked forward to James’ Death comes to Pemberley but was disappointed with the mystery’s conclusion. “I’ve learned that when you can’t overcome a creative choice in a story, it’s your self-creation that hits. That means you have to tell that story that the author didn’t make. That’s became a series with The murder of Mr. Wickham as the first book.
Nicieza said he sat on his story for nearly two decades. It started in 1995 when he and his neighbors lost a fight to a local gun club that sometimes sent stray bullets into their homes. “I wrote the book to get revenge on the white townspeople.” It became Suburban dicksthe first in its series.
Burt was fascinated by a minor character in Jaws, the boy who appears in the ocean wearing a fin to pretend to be a shark. “I thought to myself, what could have made a child pull a prank like that? I finally felt that he had decided that there was something so dangerous out there that he had to teach them to avoid it. And this boy with this idea became the main character of The Ghoul of Windytown Vale.
Segura, who like Nicieza has long been involved in many facets of superhero comics, said he studied comic book history and was also fascinated by how mysteries can take you to another world. All of this has become Secret identityin which the protagonist works for a struggling comic book superhero company in 1970s New York.
Sweeney Boo’s background has been telling, as she grew up in a nursing home where her mother worked. This meant that she was much more familiar with death than the average child. She became intrigued by what would make someone do something wrong? But then she added a magic frame to On my corpse.
The main commonality is that each author had a deep interest in an idea, place, or concept that worked its way through their brains until they finally came out in book form. However, for most of them, the idea was only the beginning. Bringing it to life required intense research into the setting of their stories.
Nicieza joked that his research for Suburban dicks was “I walked down my driveway, picked up my newspaper, and went back inside.” He specifically didn’t want anything of the superhero genre in his story. The characters were drawn from a very specific and familiar time in his life.
For others, it took a bit more effort.
Boo searched for something appropriately spooky and ultimately settled on an old school one that holds all sorts of secrets. Burt said that ever since he decided to set his story in a swamp, he got immersed in mud. “There were hours of videos of things sinking in the mud.”
Schwartz already hosts a history podcast, so the ending of the search felt familiar, but what she also wanted to convey in the story was the mood, the vibe, the aesthetic. She spent several weeks in Edinburgh and eventually read a full shelf of books by 19th century surgeons. Segura said he thought researching the 1970s would be “easy”, but said it was the most journalistic thing he had ever done. He even interviewed comic book veterans of the day, including Paul Levitz.
Gray said she had a head start, working with characters that already existed and already being an Austen nerd. But the details of the period had to be sought and they did not always agree. “Would a woman do that then?” The answers were both yes and no. “Ultimately, you pick something plausible and go for it.”
All said their world-building absolutely informed their characters, giving them a fuller form. Gray said one of her detectives, Jonathan Darcy, son of Elizabeth and Lord Darcy, was intensely interested in the details of her life, which led her to explore why, and she realized that he was not neuro-typical, and that the strict routines of domestic life at the time are what helped him cope. It’s why he gets so frustrated when the rules aren’t followed, but it’s also why he notices when something is even wrong.
Segura wrote a protagonist who, like him, is Cuban-American (as is the protagonist of his The mysteries of Pete Fernandez) to tell the story from a perspective often absent from black stories. He also wanted to explore the idea of fandom.
Schwartz said she had to work hard to ensure her protagonist was simply a modern-styled woman set in a historic setting. “My pet peeve with historical fiction is when the characters feel modern and not part of their time.” Hazel is a woman with an incredible amount of privilege but, at the same time, a great amount of free time. “She has the wealth and the power to think she can do it and the freedom to do it.”
Burt said he’s been lucky to write mid-level books because it means his hero, Copper, is the perfect age to investigate. No group is more interested in who holds the power than teenagers, he said. “There’s no one better prepared to ask questions than tweens.”
For boo, it was the first time that she had written rather than drawn a book. She explored the idea of random crime that happens around a normal person, not a chosen one, not someone destined to be a hero. She based the pet in the book on her cat, which she says is a most anxious little cat.
The panel ended with the writers giving advice to those who want to follow in their footsteps. Gray said to learn who you are as a writer, though she advised anyone who opposes the outlines to maybe reconsider when crafting a mystery. Burt said to start with the basic conflict of a character wanting something and a character opposing it. Schwartz wasn’t kidding when she suggested giving a close friend the task of changing all the social media passwords on your accounts and making sure he doesn’t give them back until the book is out. ended.
Boo pointed out that it will never be perfect. That even the fifth draft might not be good. “Make the most of it and you will always learn.”
Segura summed up the theme of the panel when he told the audience to write the story you want to exist, advice that all of the panelists clearly followed.
You can find all of these books available at bookstores, depending on your preferred method of purchase. I reviewed Secret identity and can highly recommend it. I look forward to the rest.