Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Wizardry of Writing

Gabriella Herkert

Catnapped and Doggone

What is it that Jack Nicolson said as the Joker when he saw Batman’s rappelling gizmo? How does he get such wonderful toys? Mapquest, Google, GPS, online libraries, a password to the Oxford English Dictionary online – I love them all. What’s more is I need them. Like the cell phone that initially seemed like such a personal indulgence, expensive beyond its practicalities and possibly a fad, those tools have become my writing arms and legs and without them I’d only be creative if I were as driven as Christie Brown in My Left Foot.

I was born without a sense of direction. I blame my mother. It’s not, I hope, an indication of limited intellectual ability. I just didn’t get any of that in the same way that my eyes aren’t brown and I can’t dunk a basketball. If I were going to limit storytelling to the setting of North Freedom, Wisconsin, my home town, I might be able to fake it. There are only two streets and so what if I put the Methodist Church where the restaurant should be or vice versa? There are only five hundred ninety-six people likely to know I’d done it wrong. Without Hotmail, they could only call me on it via actual written letter, or yell at my Mom who nobody actually messes with. I’d be fine. Probably. But since I haven’t limited my novels to the three square miles I can pull a rough map for from memory, I need Google Earth. I need the weather channel or its going to be snowing in San Diego. I must have the digital camera or I’m not going to be able to describe the gang tag in the neighborhood I’ve selected for my first dead body. Do I really want to get that wrong? Yikes.

Without the technology, I’d have plenty of readers telling me I didn’t know I didn’t have a clue. They wouldn’t take that. Nor should they. The tools put the actual street names within ready access. I can describe neighborhoods I have never been to and get it right. Does James Bond pick up his new car from Q and not test drive the license plate rockets? Of course not. If he didn’t use the weapons at hand, Goldfinger would kill him and James would have it coming because he foolishly neglected to be the most he could be. Readers are like Bond villains. If I didn’t get the street names correct when I can, with relative ease, double check, they’ll come after me with the modern day blow dart –the penetrating email.

Google, the online Encyclopedia Britannica, even Wikipedia (although it pays to verify) all make it possible for me to write beyond my personal experiences. Let’s be honest here, I need to get out more. Knowing that, what would I entertain readers with if I couldn’t venture out using cyberspace? Michelle Gagnon was eloquent during her grand master week in stating that she wasn’t qualified to write her FBI series. She writes a great book anyway. Why? The world is at her fingertips and she’s tactile. Yes, a lot of her sources are actual living beings. Mine are, too. How did I know where to find someone to answer my questions about the LAPD? Their website. How did I “meet” the SEAL who explained to me about Hell Week? Through the United States Naval Academy’s alumni newsletter. All starting with on online query in google or yahoo or somewhere. Where did I take that road? To my publisher then to a book store near you.

Without all the wonderful ways that information is made easily accessible, most of us couldn’t afford to write books that were the least bit accurate. We’d have to take bomb-building class at the local University, get advanced degrees in abherrent psychology and accidentally run into a naturalist to ask about the local fauna that has lethal effects. Then, we’d have to spend a lot of time and money explaining ourselves to the cynical local police acting on fifteen tips from eleven different incidents of suspicious behavior on our part. With the anonymity of the computer, we can be up to no good, get it right and get away with it. How wonderful is that?

It’s not just about what ends up on the page, either. Without Mapquest I can’t find Seattle Mystery Bookshop for my next signing. And it’s my local independent that I’ve been to a zillion times. A book store I’ve never been to before, well, forget about it. If I didn’t have GPS in my rental car, I’d never make it to the next conference hotel. There would be no panels. And how do all of you reading this blog talk to me? Using the comment section below or my Facebook link. Even my technophobe, directionless mother can Tweet. Given the fact I blamed her for not being able to find the house from the driveway in this medium that never dies, I expect she will.

Thanks for reading, texting, emailing, tweeting, commenting and all the other high tech ways you reach me.


1 comment:

Shane Gericke said...

David Morrell did all that back in the bad old days before technology--took courses in shooting, spycraft, knife work, judo, evasive driving, etc. etc. He says it really livened up his stories, and I can see why. I've done a limited amount of that for fun, and it really puts you in touch with the words you need to express, say, a shooting scene to a reader. But like you, I wouldn't want to write without all my digital skills via MapQuest, Google Earth and all. They're way too handy to voluntarily give up.

North Freedom. What a great name for a town. It could be in a Stephen King book ...