Tuesday, September 2, 2014
Monday, September 1, 2014
by Meredith Cole
Most writers I know tell a story about being that child who obsessively fills up notebooks with writing and sneaks away to read while other kids are playing sports. I am definitely no different. I have a row of journals going back to when I was seven, and many memories of spending hours alone with a book. I felt like I always wanted to be a writer and I always have been. So for me it was a calling. But it took years for it to become my career.
My career has been interesting and erratic. Time spent working in film and television stretched out to years and years. If someone asked me what I did in my twenties, I would say "director" or "writer/producer." I started novels but did not finish them. I finished screenplays but did not make them into movies. I felt strangely dissatisfied. I gave myself deadlines so I would finish projects. And then finally I joined a mystery writing critique group that helped me keep going and finish my book. But I didn't see it as a career. It was something I did between all my other obligations and it certainly didn't pay very well.
It really wasn't until I had a printed book that I gave myself permission to call myself a novelist. And say it was my career. I still do other things to pay the mortgage. I work in marketing. I teach. But because I continue to sneak my writing into the cracks of my day, because the pages pile up and I continue to reach readers, because I am occasionally paid for my labors -- and because on this Labor Day I am writing and revising a novel -- I am a writer.
So is writing a career choice or a calling? I say both.
Happy Labor Day everyone!
Friday, August 29, 2014
Thursday, August 28, 2014
But this is by way of an introduction. Throughout the month of September, the 3000-strong gang of Sisters and Misters known as Sisters in Crime are having a blog-hop.
I know this is Criminal Minds!
But I'm hijacking it.
Here's how the great SinC Up September bloghop works. Anyone who blogs is invited to answer any or all of the following questions and then tag another blogger to chip in with their tuppenceworth. (We Sisters don't go crazy with the rules.)
All the details and lots of information about Sisters in Crime is available at the SinC website: click here.
The questions are:
- Which authors have inspired you?
- Which male authors write great women characters? Which female authors write great male characters?
- If someone said "Nothing against women writers, but all of my favorite crime fiction authors happen to be men," how would you respond?
- What's the best part of the writing process for you? What's the most challenging?
- Do you listen to music while writing? What's on your playlist?
- What books are on your nightstand right now?
- If you were to mentor a new writer, what would you tell her about the writing business?
The only bit of this that raises my hackles is "nothing against women authors". Doesn't that sound a wee bit too much like "with all due respect", which, as we all know, means "You are a moron."?
Apart from that, my answer is: "Good for you. Isn't it lovely to live in a free country?" (NB, take out "my favourite" and replace it with "the best" and I will spit on my hands and pound you to a splat. Verbally, of course.)
However, I happened to read this question out loud in my husband's hearing and his response was different. His response was "Yeah, right!"
This from one who, when we met, owned a single book written by a woman - Maxine Hong Kingston's THE WOMAN WARRIOR - adrift in a sea of Tolkien, Vonnegut, Heller, Shute and Malamud. And it had been a present from an ex-girlfriend.
Hah! She was an amateur. Within months, I had him on Jane Austen, George Eliot, Joyce Carol Oates and the writers he called "the green stripy lesbians". (Others know them as the authors published by Virago and The Women's Press.)
So anyway, I also asked him this morning who his favourite authors were now. The answer came back - in this order - Jane Austen, Tim Binding, Stephen King, Joyce Carol Oates and a tough choice between Nevil Shute and "Old Line and Length" aka Anne Tyler, so called because Nick Hornby gave her a blurb that said she was "the best line and length novelist writing today". Her publicist must have wept. Can you imagine less helpful praise for an American literary author than a cricketing metaphor?
(N.B. I was interested to note that no Scottish crime novelists were mentioned . . .)
And now I tag RJ Harlick to pick one or more of these questions for her next Criminal Minds blog.
Wednesday, August 27, 2014
Ready, Set, Write....by Clare O'Donohue
Q: Do you need something to get you in the mood to write?
Deadlines help. But if none is looming, then.... well, actually no. If I, or anyone, waited until we wanted to write, I'd have about 30 pages of m first novel and little else.
I think of writing like exercise. The hardest part is getting started. But once you do, it (hopefully) gets easier and maybe even fun.
However, if I'm looking to make a ritual out of it. I go for these three things:
1) A quiet place where I'm alone. It isn't necessary for me to be alone to write, but I prefer it. I make faces and talk the dialog out sometimes. I don't listen to music or have the TV on. I prefer just the sounds of the characters in my head.
2) Tea and a snack, preferably chocolate. Rewards are good.
3) A pad of paper and pen. I write on my laptop but sometimes I want to scribble a note to remind myself that I've just written something I'll need to explain later. I could open another document on my computer for that but I prefer writing it down. Opening more documents would interrupt my flow.
Tuesday, August 26, 2014
- Coffee—strong and black
- A good breakfast
- A view of the outside world—be it nature or boats or cars or people
- A computer
- A good enough sleep to not feel like a zombie
- No one who needs anything from me
- More coffee
Monday, August 25, 2014
1. Have written the day before.
2. Have read what I wrote the day before.
3. Resist the urge to trash what I wrote. Light edits only.
4. Clear enough junk away from the computer desk so I don’t get distracted or depressed by expired coupon for free pizza, a postcard from Hawaii, the “To Do” list of household chores, and that rave review of someone else’s book.
5. Place mug of cold coffee or glass of lukewarm fizzy water next to computer and promise myself not to spill it on the keyboard.
6. Turn off Internet connection and email notification or forget about getting anything done.
7. Read Richard Diebenkorn’s note to himself about beginning a new painting (which I keep on a board in front of me):
“Attempt what is not certain. Certainty may or may not come later. It may then be a valuable delusion.”
Friday, August 22, 2014
I can't say that I disagree with any of the responses already given by my colleagues here to this week's question: "Why do you think the crime writing community is so mutually supportive?" Those are fine and fitting observations overall.
But I might take slight issue with that second part of the prompt: "Other groups of writers aren't always like this."
The mystery community surely is welcoming, supportive, and full of a lot of fun folks, as I tried to express (and may not have expressed very well) when I accepted the Agatha Award back in May at Malice Domestic. I'm not quite sure how my words came out that night, but I intended to say that despite my being a very slow writer, the mystery community—and particularly those folks at Malice—had certainly been swift to welcome me and even embrace me, as I'd seen that same community do time and again with so many others over the years. It's a positive, affirming, and unforgettable feeling, to be sure, and the core of the reason I enjoy so much going to MWA meetings, to Malice, and to Bouchercon—and why I look forward both to seeing a lot of friendly faces and to making some new friends too in Long Beach this year!
But that said, I'm not sure that the mystery community is entirely alone in some of this enthusiasm. I remember Lee Smith years ago making the same assertion about Southern writers (compared to writers from other regions)—using the metaphor of a Sunday dinner table, as I recall, with the established writers welcoming the new ones to come pull up a seat, there's plenty of pie to go around. Or was it barbecue? Either way, the point was that those authors from... well, wherever else surely weren't as supportive as we were, right?
A few years later, one of my first years working with the Fall for the Book festival, I helped to set up a panel of science fiction writers—and when they were gathered together, I found that they all knew and admired and had read one another's work. And even outside of the genre, that's not unusual at Fall for the Book, where writers cross paths, compare notes, compliment books they've read by other authors or jot down titles to look up next.
And as I've said before, I learned a tremendous amount from the feedback, support and generous criticism of my peers in the MFA program at Mason—a very literary-minded crowd, not often given over to genre writing—and I continue to rely on that feedback even now for almost every story I write.
That's not to say that all authors are this way. I've run across my fair share who snipe, compare, and complain (I won't name names—at least not in print here!), writers whose egos ultimately stand in the way of easy conversation much less long-term camaraderie. But that's surely the minority.
And certainly, as Meredith pointed out in the first post this week, there can be a snobbery toward other genres—not just from the so-called literary types toward us genre folks but (you know it's true) from the genre folks toward the literary types as well. And it's not just snobbery at work but just the byproduct of those interests that certain people, certain groups share. Much as I enjoyed sitting with those science fiction writers while they chatted and laughed and talked, I wasn't able to add much—not excluded by them, not hardly, but certainly not feeling that I could follow and contribute to the conversation, to that small community, in the same way that I can easily sit down and talk murder, mayhem, and more with my friends in our circles.
Writing this quickly while on deadline for some other things (and with both Fall for the Book and the new semester looming). Sorry if it seems rushed or rambling!
Thursday, August 21, 2014
Why do you think the crime writing community is so mutually supportive?
First, let me address the assertion that the crime writing community is supportive.
Yes, yes, yes it is! The vast (vast!) majority of crime writers I’ve met have been generous with their time and advice, friendly, approachable, helpful, and supportive. They seem to operate under the credo, “If one succeeds, we all succeed.” Or “A rising tide raises all boats.” Or maybe “Mystery loves company.”
It’s a wonderful group, and I’m lucky to be a part of it.
Of course, there are many practical reasons why we (crime writers) need to be nice to each other:
- We know dozens of ways to kill people without leaving any clues.
- You might have to rely on a fellow writer as a character witness during your murder trial.
- You never know when you’ll need someone to back you up with a rock-solid alibi.
- You never know who you might need to drive the getaway car. Or who you’ll have to persuade to come out on a dark and stormy night, with a shovel, and help bury the bodies.
To be fair (at least in my experience), I have to say that most writers I’ve met, regardless of genre, have been very supportive. I guess it’s because we all struggle with that blinking cursor and the never-ending self-doubts about our work.