The Big Idea: Mur Lafferty
Master storyteller Mur Lafferty is back, and in her new novel Station Eternity, she confronts the question of what would really happen if the one thing that always happened around you, was the one thing you wish would never happen…
I am of Generation X, and grew up with Murder She Wrote, watching Jessica Fletcher solving mysteries in her Angela-Lansburiest way. And even though we loved watching those mysteries, one joke became common: Jessica Fletcher was clearly the most successful serial killer in history. Why else would she conveniently “be around” to solve murders that frequently happen around her?
As I got into more and more murder series, every story had the same thing: an amateur sleuth would happen across a murder and then solve it. Sometimes in a “sexy, exciting” way, like Miss Fisher, or sometimes in a “gentle, wholesome, eat your strawberry-scones” way, like Father Brown or Miss Marple. Midsomer Murders was the exception as those folks were homicide detectives, but their cozy English county had a per capita murder rate 248 times higher than England and Wales.
The amateur sleuth is a trope, but it’s accompanied by another trope: no one ever mentions how it’s weird that murders always happen around our sleuths? They don’t even have to wander far from home before encountering a body–but if they do go on vacation, people die then too. I hadn’t found anyone that addressed this obvious thing.
It also bugged me how the protagonists in these stories are well liked among friends, if not local law enforcement. I always thought if Jessica Fletcher came visiting, people should run screaming.
But if that happened, it would suck. Life would be really lonely. And so Mallory Viridian was born.
In classic amateur sleuth style, Mallory is conveniently around for murders, and almost always solves them. Unfortunately, because of this, she is not a popular person. She can’t keep a job, so she makes a living novelizing her cases. She has no friends. Most of her family is dead. She stays away from her neighbors. Forget about a love life. And she’s terribly lonely.
But hey, I’m a science fiction writer, so I like to solve problems with outrageous spacey stuff. I was inspired by these mystery stories but also Babylon 5*, and I wanted a space station with a lot of aliens who don’t think much of humans and weren’t too keen on them visiting en masse.
But they’ll take an ambassador. And someone who asked for sanctuary. And someone with a really weird, murdery problem. So Station Eternity, a sentient space station, allows three humans aboard to live among species like alien hive minds and rock folks with surprising abilities. Among her new community, Mallory hopes whatever makes murders happen around her applies only to humans.
When writing, the hardest thing I had to puzzle out was the actual murder magnet curse/ability. If I directly addressed the “murders happen around this person” effect, I needed to address why it happens. It took a lot of editing, and of course I’m not going to spoil it here, but I hope I stuck the landing.
What I loved about this project was exploring the fish out of water story. Having only three humans on a station presents problems; even small issues like finding a hairdresser or dentist, or realizing that even with auditory tech to translate language, our humans can’t read alien script or body language. It’s challenging to create aliens that both are alien and also characters that readers can relate to, but a fun challenge.
Station Eternity is my nerdy love letter to these classic cozies, using aliens and space to understand their most persistent, unspoken, trope. I hope folks find it fun and appropriately murder-filled.
* J Michael Strazynski wrote for Murder She Wrote and created Babylon 5. If anyone can get a copy of Station Eternity into his hands, I’d be much obliged.