I remember once having a lengthy and somewhat gruesome chat about how you would dispose of a body in these recycling focused days. Would you drop it by the medical school? Dissect it and put the hip joints and such in either the plastic or metal recycling containers? Take the head and the mercury fillings to the harmful waste dump day?
It’s a conundrum.
Likewise, how do you learn to write about murder most foul? Merely calling up your local cop shop and asking for tips might lead to awkward questions and notes home from school asking you to please not offer to chaperone the next field trip. Calling a local psychiatrist and pretending to be a psychopath isn’t recommended, either – unfortunately, so much psychiatry is based on first impressions you might end up with way too much time to write and too many drugs to be coherent.
The obvious choice is to read read read read mysteries, following the excellent (if somewhat dry) Francine Prose’s guidelines to Reading like a writer. Well, I’ve done that, and I have a problem with that approach.
If the mystery is good, I get all wrapped up in the story and race through, barely noticing the plot techniques while I get pulled along. If it’s bad, I only notice the things that hold it up, ruin the credibility.
I remember once being so disenchanted with a book that I dropped everything to see if the plant the author had described actually grew in the place she’d put it. (It didn’t).
I know a book has missed the mark for me when I get that fussy.
So I take courses, rub up against “real” writers, shop my stuff to contests and unsuspecting friends, try to get critiqued. This last bit is harder than it looks. Even in writing groups, there’s the tendency to be nice.
One of my stories involved a pedophile that I apparently described so well that people didn’t want to read my stuff anymore. So I had to play nicey nicey and write nicey stuff for a bit.
So, instead, I send things to contests. The ones that give you feedback. I figure I’m paying someone my entry fee to have a close, uninvolved reader have a look.
Sometimes the feedback is useful, sometimes it’s just a line or two. Sometimes it is harsh, sometimes it’s helpful. Lately, I’ve had the opportunity to turn it around and offer my comments on other’s writing. I can only hope I’m the helpful type.
In the meantime, I’ve had help from:
and my favourite resource for ways to kill people and those awkward dinner table silences:
D.P. Lyle. Check out his books. Best way to find stuff out without getting asked questions you can’t answer…
Whew. In the first pages excerpt of this book (available online from NetGalley) so much is told, so much is started. I am awash in books to read and yet I’ve put this one on my “to grab soon” list. Friedman can write, powerfully, and I’m dying to see if the rest of the book pans out.
Though I have to say I am building up a resistance to the following: Thrillers involving Nazis; anything involving autism; anything involving children being put in harm’s way; more stories about the Great Wars that focus only on the American/British side of things. Or the French Resistance. Or anything with the words “50 shades of …” in the title. Or female porn loosely written up as if it was a good, mind-nourishing tale of female submission and torture.
This book looks like it might have two of my resistance items. But it also has one of my favourite things – a crusty old main character, who isn’t any better than he should be, who is a bit selfish and crabby and still holds grudges. I love characters with grudges.
I’d have a lot of them, myself, except for the memory loss I’ve suffered with MS.
But grumpy I can do. So I want to hear what this fellah Buck Schatz (even love the name) gets up to. Must go round up the whole book.
I am such a fortunate bunny.
In my life, I’ve had the chance to meet several of what I would call “Kindred Spirits” – the old Anne of Green Gables kind, those folks who get you and support you without question but also with wisdom, who dare to tell you they think you are on a wrong path but are willing to support your choice to follow it anyway.
It’s highly splendiferous.
I’ve chatted with a few of them over the past days and I am endlessly grateful for them.
And then there are those friends you meet through writing and reading.
I’ve spent the last few days immersed in Louise Penny‘s wonderful “A Trick of the Light”. I adore her mysteries, set in Three Pines. The characters are all so human, the stories gripping, yes, but it’s the development of the characters in them that makes for the type of book that you sigh at when you reach the end.
Louise Penny has a blog, too, where she talks about her challenges and triumphs as a writer, and in there, her humanity and humility shines as well. I haven’t ever had a chance to chat with Louise, but it remains one of my fondest hopes to do so one day. Poor lass. There are probably hundreds more like me. (Oh my gosh, she’s the very same age as me! Now I feel like I had better get busy!)
What was interesting was that this book was about infighting in the art world, about dirty tricks played by artist and critic and gallery owner.
I have to say, in my sojourns in the writing world, I haven’t found this sort of enmity. Writers that I meet are surprisingly supportive and charming and willing to help and gosh darn it, just nice people. I feel like I’ve joined some cozy fraternity where we all wish for one another’s success.
Well, mostly. I do hear mumblings against Dan Brown and 50 Shades, and there is envy and Schadenfreude and all that stuff, but it seems far less than I’ve experienced almost anywhere else and mostly in me when I can’t get my muse to get off her lounging bottom and help.
Given that we spend so much time alone, maybe it’s simply that we crave company when we get it? Or maybe we truly wish for success for everyone, in the hopes that more books and good books raises the level for all of us.
In any case, this week I’ve had cause to feel grateful for friends near and far, close and more distant, new and old.
I humbly thank you all.
I am thrilled to have been made the chair of the 2015 Bloody Words Mystery Conference to be held here in gorgeous Halifax, NS. I think EVERYONE should come. Halifax is a glorious city, the conference is full of surprisingly nice people who have vented their anger at red lights and cell phones and traffic through fictional murdering, and the information and meetings with agents and writers and all is beyond compare.
And did I say how lovely the Halifax area is?
Check out Nova Scotia Webcams and have a look. In the next few weeks the tall ships are coming, so you can see them sailing around. You can see Peggy’s Cove Lighthouse on the cam, the shores all over, resorts and gold courses and ski hills and a lobster cam and a parrot cam.
If you come to the conference, you can even cadge a ride on one of the tall ships. But that’s in the future…
One of the big responsibilities of the chair and his/her bloody gang is lining up the guest speakers - especially the Canadian and International guests of honour. So I’m planning to read mysteries by the zillion, looking for those wonderful souls who write thrilling and day-stealing mysteries and who might be good conference speakers. I need suggestions! We all have favourites and tend to read them most, and I’m working on broadening my reading, but I can use help, guideposts to good places to hunt. Would love your help, dear reader…
Last weekend I was fortunate to attend the Canadian Mystery Writing Conference, Bloody Words. It’s the baby of Caro Soles, who started the merry mystery get together in 1999. Together with her Bloody Gang, she’s been putting together a prime conference ever since.
This year’s was no exception, despite heavy construction in the hotel and a shooting two blocks over that many of us didn’t know about until later, distracted as we were by the events of the conference itself. We had the chance to listen to Gayle Lynds, whose talk about the components of thrillers was worth the price of the conference, and Linwood Barclay, one of our Canadian shining and murderous stars. Other authors, agents, experts all took the mike so we could learn about all aspects of mystery writing from the cheeriest cozy to the most murderous terrorist acts.
Strangely, everyone was very nice. It’s a wonderfully supportive group of authors, encouraging and cheery, while behind the scenes they are seeing vampires and little old ladies, gritty detectives and sweet ingénues, all seeking clues to gruesome murders. It certainly is a place where everyone’s minds seem to operate on two levels…
Wildly fun, though, meeting up with old friends, meeting new authors I have yet to read. Our goodie bags were filled to the brim with books and treats, our conversations were filled with tips and support and suggestions.
I went to the conference feeling like a fraud. I left freshly motivated and
raring to go. And really, isn’t that what a good conference is all about?
I’d better figure it out. I’m the gal-on-the-ground for Bloody Words 2015 in Halifax. But I’m lucky – I have the Bloody Gang along with me.
I can’t wait! Sailing on….
Writers know about time passages. There’s the percolation time as stories germinate in the mind, root around for a bit, finally reach their little tendrils into the light. Then there’s the expanding/contracting time of writing the story – magical as it whisks by when the writing goes well, dragging on when the ideas don’t flow or your characters misbehave or your dog develops stomach problems just as you need to write something down and you lose it as you hustle the dog out and scoop the remains…
And then there’s the editing time, which can expand infinitely into space unless you grab your writing hand firmly in your non-dominant hand and say “It’s good enough!”, only to find several misspellings as you do a last read through…
But finally all of these times are expended and you send your little marvel (or big marvel) in to a contest or a journal or something, and move on to something new, while in the back of your head, you wait.
And then there’s that waiting bit.
I’ve a bundle of stories languishing in contests all over the place and I’m not hearing from the places I sent them to. Now this could be because they haven’t decided as yet, but I fear it is because they didn’t make the grade and so the length of time in waiting is actually busy time for the winners while they are reached and congratulated and edited and published before the losers are notified that they’ve lost.
So the time seems long only in that I can feel someone else’s excitement somewhere else and it makes me frustrated and it makes me lose confidence in my writing. I can see the others jumping up and down and smiling ear to ear (I’ve had just enough experience with success to know how it goes) while dozens or more writers sit silent, turning grayer by the day, gradually letting the ink dry in their fountain pens.
It’s like having to sit through a spelling bee that you’ve already lost, watching others spell things happily on while you sip water and try to be enthusiastic for them. While mentally wishing you were anywhere else including the dentist, where at least you’d have something to do with your mouth besides smile inanely.
And then I get angry, and I say to myself, Heck, they are publishing all SORTS of excrement out there these days – surely I can’t be THAT bad, and so the germination process starts over again. Creeping along the ground slowly, little green wisp like feelers.
Then the waiting ends.
“Join us,” the contest people say, “In congratulating the latest winner of the XYZ contest, who have won not only publication but a country-wide promotional tour and a three book contract!”
I am finding it hard to join in. Not that I grudge their success, nope, not at all. I hardly ever walk into a big bookstore and weep about all the hundreds of books out there that are no doubt better than mine. Or at least published, bringing in full dollars of self-esteem to their authors.
Wonderful, vehement article. Wanted to keep track of it. Check it out.
What is it about solitude that is so enhanced by a glass of red wine, a slice of melted cheese, some really good bread, dipped lightly in olive oil and vinegar? Something about the savouriness of the repast, simple though it is, moves aloneness from loneliness to solitude. The slight shock of the wine on the tongue, the creaminess of the cheese, the slight, undeniable back of your mouth shimmer of fermentation…it all seems appropriate to a late spring afternoon in my eyrie above the busy street.
I am reading a fabulous book while I savour my solitude and my wine. It is “Are you Somebody?” by the brilliant Irish writer, Nuala O’Faolain. It is her autobiography and it rings with truth, poverty, and total lack of self-pity. How I aspire to her graciousness! I aspire to her grasp of the world and her place within it, I envy her her unencumbered life (though I would never return my children, troublesome as they sometimes are), I long for her casual acquaintance with stellar writers through the 60′s and beyond. I most of all aspire to her acceptance of life as it was, gritty and often sad, lonely and yet fascinating, observed through the minute exacting eye of a true artist.
I’m envious. As I read, I think about my own memoir, how very different it would be – my tales of being raised Catholic in the US, of going to nursing school and trying against all odds to fit within that caring mold, my dry and destructive life as a military wife in a military that treated women in a 1950′s way in the 1990′s, my years of pretending to be a caregiver when all I truly want to do is flee to somewhere where I could have flowing white curtains on my boudoir windows and a fluffy featherbed on my mattress, fresh bread just down the street, savoury cheeses and wines within a block, men with impossible names and sultry accents and urgent sexual needs and mouths that kiss with flavours of olives and nicotine and champagne and dark chocolate and deep deep coffee. I long to grow herbs on my wire fire escape and use them to flavour hedonistically wonderful stews made with shabby ingredients that I somehow wrest into deliciousness with the addition of lashings of butter and garlic and wine. I long for red red lipstick and plunging necklines and a body that could bear it instead of my rounded matronly and totally inadequate form. I wish for overhearing the bells and songs of a nearby convent or retreat like the one in Quebec City, where holiness reaches into you through the air without even having to consider the inhalation.
I long to escape the banality of life in Ontario to the special banality of life in Europe, or Halifax, or someplace entirely new. I long for the company of compadres, people who understand without being told. In a writer’s life, I am hopelessly outclassed and hopelessly inexperienced when speaking to real writers – I don’t want to write silly pieces, but rather plumb the depths of human thought and emotion in my writing – yet, I am totally unprepared for such an exploration, having suffered through American High School and then focused on learning nursing, not literature. I’ve taken writing courses, but the inspiration provided by this one book is more than most have ever given me. I feel ignorant, small among my betters, inadequate to even begin the task I have set for myself. Were it not for one writer who taught me once, years ago, I’d never have dared try again – for that, Ms. Christina Decarie, I am truly grateful.
And yet, I have so much to learn!
I’m off to wallow again in the glorious writing of someone who was a master of the art. Please God, let a wee bit of it rub off on me.
Oh – Nuala O’Faolain died in 2008, of cancer. there is a lovely short article about her here.
I am grateful to the reading group at Collected Works (of which I am not yet a member) for steering me to someone I might otherwise never have found.