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Making a Killing as a Writer

“There are two kinds of folks who sit around thinking about how to kill people—psychopaths and mystery writers. I’m the kind that pays better.”

Those are the opening words of the introduction to each episode of the television series Castle used in season 2 and season 3. They are words with many layers of meaning and even a little irony.

The show stars Nathan Fillion as Richard Castle, a mystery writer, who helps Detective Kate Beckett solve real murders. In a double twist, the producers have released a series of novels purportedly written by the fictional character Castle. (Unfortunately, in my opinion, these doubly fictitious novels are not as well written as the television series.)

Also appearing in the series sporadically are Castle’s poker buddies, who are real-life writers Stephen J. Cannell, James Patterson, Dennis Lehane, and Michael Connelly. (Cannell died in 2010.) These men are very successful and wealthy. They have had their writings made into movies and TV shows; Cannell actually started writing for TV and movies and then moved into novel writing.

The fictional character Castle is also very successful and wealthy. He admits to Beckett that he is rich – “not James Patterson rich, but rich.”

Which brings us back to that opening line.

“There are two kinds of folks who sit around thinking about how to kill people—psychopaths and mystery writers. I’m the kind that pays better,” Castle says.

Every time I hear that line, I keep thinking that next he’s going to say, “I’m a psychopath.” With a few notable exceptions—such as Cannell, Patterson, Lehane, Connelly, and, presumably, Castle—most mystery writers don’t make much money.

Of course, writers tend to write about what they know, and readers like to read about places they know. Castle lives and writes in New York, a city of 8.5 million, or 20 million if you include the populous urban areas that surround it. I write about places such as Winnipeg (665,000), Abbotsford (135,000), and Prince Rupert (12,000). Not all psychopaths are smart—and apparently neither are all writers.

The motto of Crime Writers of Canada used to be “Crime doesn’t pay…enough.” Its website says it is a non-profit organization.

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