Teachers College professor says annual celebration provides ‘evil inspiration’ he seeks
For many, Halloween is the time to have fun with costumes and haunted houses. For creatives, it can also be an inspiring moment.
Just ask Craig A. Mertler, associate professor in the EdD Program in Leadership and Innovation at Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University.
When he’s not teaching, writing textbooks, or working on a research paper, Mertler writes detective stories about the murder. Its first, âTequesta Universityâ (2018), takes place on a university campus.
Is he trying to tell us something? Maybe or maybe not, but he’s certainly amused.
âWriting detective novels is so much fun for me because I can write about evil antagonists who are taken over by my heroic protagonists,â Mertler said. “It’s a huge creative escape for me.”
ASU News recently spoke to Mertler about his passion for writing, how Halloween inspires him and why detective stories are his favorite genre.
Question: Has Halloween ever influenced your work?
Reply: I would say absolutely yes. Halloween is a time to let loose and have fun. At the same time, Halloween is a creative celebration in many ways. People get creative with costumes and decorating their homes. For me personally, it gives me the opportunity to reflect on the evil or horrific side of Halloween. It inspired me a lot to create some of the characters I write about in my novels.
Q: How would you classify your fiction novels?
A: I would probably classify them as a combination of police and police drama. All of my novels have a murderous element. But the antagonists in the stories are also involved in many other types of crime. It gives the protagonist of my novels, who is the same character in all three novels, the opportunity to be really creative in their way of solving a crime or capturing the target of the investigation, so to speak.
Q: What is the profession of your protagonist? Tell us about some of its features.
A: He’s a retired police detective named Luis Tanner. What I like most about him is that since he’s retired, he doesn’t necessarily have to follow all the rules for him to do certain things that, if he was still active in the police force, he might not be able to get by these days.
Q: So after writing 10 textbooks, why and how did you get into fiction?
A: I think it’s a funny story because I’ve read a lot of fiction over the years. I am very intrigued by crime dramas, murder films and limited edition dramas. I love the way the characters are constructed and how they develop over the course of a novel or a series.
About four years ago I got the idea that I wanted to try writing a novel, but the only writing I had done in the past 25 years was academic. I was really reluctant to venture into fiction as I had no formal training in creative writing or writing fiction. I wanted to try it out to see if I could develop a plot line and get it through from start to finish.
So, I sat down to write my first novel in 2018. It’s a shorter novel, but I think I did a really good job of character development and then taking a story line of what. I saw it as the beginning of what I saw as the logical end of this story. It was so much fun having that kind of creative outlet and writing things that I had never done before. Once I wrote the first one I was bitten by the bug and couldn’t wait to continue.
Q: Where does the inspiration for your novels come from?
A: I think it comes from several places. I take basic ideas from other things I read and see, but I also try to take things from the news, TV, and newspapers. Sometimes I read about real people who feel like they could get away with a murder, and these make up great storylines.
Second, all of my novels are set in Florida. One of the reasons for this is that I lived there and I know the geography well. Plus, if you notice, a lot of weird news is coming out of Florida. The state is famous for people doing, say, creative and sometimes crazy things that you don’t see happening in other parts of the country. I could take something that I hear or see and build or embellish on it and bring it to a creative place.
Q: Can you describe your writing process to me?
A: I would say there is some overlap between my academic book writing and also my fiction writing. One of the overlaps is that I like to plan everything. So if I’m doing an academic book, I’m going to outline each chapter before I sit down and write. If I’m working on a novel, I’m going to lay out the whole plot and list all the things I want to happen. Some things change as I get deeper into the writing, but that’s the starting point for me because I need to be able to imagine where I’m planning to go. Maybe not necessarily where I end up, but where I hope to go from the start.
I feel like I’m doing my best to write when I can write a little bit each day because the whole plot and the characters, along with their idiosyncrasies, are all fresh in my head. If, you know, I try to write once every two weeks or once a month, I think I would lose a lot. I think I wouldn’t have the consistency in the characters that I want and strive to have. Also built into that, I do a lot of research when it comes to the locations or settings of my novels because I want them to be very specific. If people live in these places and read my novels, I want them to say, “Oh yeah, I know this street” or “I know this restaurant” or whatever. I tend to be very specific in my novels because I want them to look very realistic to people who read them.
Q: What’s your favorite part of the writing process?
A: Over the course of my first three novels, I have really come to love the value of the dialogue between the characters. In my first novel, I focused a lot on storytelling. But a lot can be revealed through the dialogue of the characters. For me, it’s fun because I try to imagine myself sitting in a room with these two or three characters and listening to their conversations, especially when one person knows something the other person doesn’t. Or how people can talk about things they don’t want others to know. It’s just human nature, it’s part of the conversation and the dialogue.
Q: What are your plans for future novels?
A: I’m currently working on my fourth right now, but I’m at a roadblock because I have about three or four different directions that I think the plot could go in. I try to introduce each of them before I make a decision on which route I want to take. So it’s in the early stages of planning. I actually have a lot of working titles, but the one I’m headed for is “Heaven Ain’t No Vacation”.
Craig Mertler’s books:
Top photo: The three novels by Craig A. Mertler, a professor at Arizona State University’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, who writes textbooks and detective novels. Photo courtesy of Craig A. Mertler