Actors love to brag about the tremendous amounts of empathy required for their profession. In my experience, it is a characteristic reserved strictly for the stage.
Is that too harsh?
During my time in film school and my two years acting with a theater company, I met quite a number of thespians. No humans are more self-absorbed. It’s not their fault. Acting is an examination of your own responses to various emotionally charged conflicts. As one of my characters says, “You find out what you’re really capable of.” A lot of the most popular theater games are included in the early stages of Scientology. Prospective members feel as if they have discovered their true selves. When the acting bug bites, the actor turns inward with a vengeance.
The process of acting is easy. That’s not bragging. The line in The Opening Night Murders about only needing ears to be an actor is 100% true. If you can listen onstage, you can act. The onstage part is usually the problem. As for my mean-spirited opening to this post, I call ’em like I see ’em.
I have met every character in this book. Yes, I knew a guy who timed his lines for predicted laughter. (That was a fun scene to watch with a silent audience!) Indeed, I thought my experience would add a bit of much-needed verisimilitude to the story. They say to write what you know and, unfortunately, I have never murdered anyone.
Murder mysteries often have suspects acting a part. Whether their secret is nefarious or simply embarrassing, the characters must put on a show for the detective. In this sense, the stage is not physical but rather a state of mind the characters carry to any location. If every character has a secret, they’ll continue acting until the final revelation. Originally, I had planned to include more of the theater, but the story took its own shape. The people and places of Chicago are a big part of who I am so I wanted to explore the city a bit. I’m always on the lookout for good settings.
And the party in chapter 8. I was there. I saw most of that. The only differences – no one had a spear, and the shotgun was never fired. Sometimes I miss college.
The Opening Night Murders is available for preorder. It goes on sale June 3rd. I’ll be writing small musings about it from time to time, and eventually a spoiler post that will go into some detail about the process. In fact, I’ll try to write a spoiler post about Goodnight Irene in the coming weeks.