Friday, October 31, 2014
Have I ever had a change of heart about a character I intended to dispatch, and found I had become attached to him or her?
The short answer is yes to the attachment, no to the change of heart.
The longer answer is more complicated, of course.
"50 Visually Stunning Horror Movies for Twisted Aesthetes," a great list, with beautiful imagery to boot). After it was over, we watched a short documentary interviewing the screenwriters, Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac, who wrote novels both individually and together (under the name Boileu-Narcejac) but whose work is probably best known through film; their novel Celle qui n'était plus (She Who Was No More) became Les Diaboliques in the hands of director Henri-George Clouzot, and Alfred Hitchcock turned their story D'entre les morts (Among the Dead or, better to my mind, "Between Deaths") into his masterpiece, Vertigo.
Needless to say, they've got a good resume.
The interview with Boileau and Narcejac, part of the Criterion Collection DVD, is also available online here, and it offers insights into their long history and collaborative process. But what struck me as most interesting was how they distinguished their own work from the vast array of approaches to writing mysteries and thrillers.
"It's the novel of the victim," explained Narcejac. "To simplify, one could say Agatha Christie typifies the detective novel, inspiring curiosity about the investigation. And crime novels are about the killer, aren't they? But we write novels about the victim."
I'd be hesitant to compare any of my own work with the mastery in Boileau-Narcejac's writings, but I felt an immediate affinity with that explanation. As I wrote in a recent post here at Criminal Minds, the lines between hero and villain and victim in my tales frequently blur or twist over the course of the story. When I've slated a character for death in the plotting stages of a tale, then his or her fate is sealed; I've never changed that, not to my knowledge. But those victims (or seeming victims) are almost always part of the primary focus, and as I'm crafting those characters within the story (their scenes, their backgrounds, their actions and reflections, the small, revealing details about them), I'm trying not just to develop their depth but also, explicitly, to build the attachments that this week's question asks about—attachments both for myself and for the reader, since without the one there's probably no chance of the other.
In the end, I'm always hopeful that even as sympathies shift from one character to another, readers won't just be surprised at some plot twist but might also find their other reactions becoming more nuanced: an enriched sense of loss, an unexpected change of perspective, some broader range of mental and emotional engagement with it all.
I don't kill characters because I have no feeling for them anymore than I just kill the characters I don't like or don't care about. Just the opposite, the best deaths on the page mean something to us. They carry some weight.
Thursday, October 30, 2014
Have you ever had a change of heart about a character you intended to dispatch, and found you had become attached to him or her?
Nah, I’m too heartless to become attached to any of the characters I create. They are merely pawns I manipulate in my fever-induced written fantasies. Mwa ha ha!!
Well, maybe that’s not entirely true, but I do try not to become attached to any of my characters—protagonists, villains, victims—albeit for different reasons.
Because I try to heap a lot of trouble onto my protagonists, it’s better if I’m not too “close” to them. If I became attached, it would be like seeing dear friends suffer through one tragedy after another, with the outlook only looking bleaker and bleaker. (When it comes to fiction, I suppose I’m a fair-weather friend.)
Most of my villains are nasty people, or do nasty things, or have different values than I do. Becoming attached to that type of person doesn’t seem very appealing, even if I know that they’ll get what’s coming to them in the end.
As for getting close to my victims, well, why bother? They’re not going to be around very long.
Many writers say that sometimes their characters will take on a life of their own and do things that the writers never imagined, never planned for. If a character in one of my books started freewheeling and doing things I didn’t plan (and didn’t want), I guess that would make one aspect of my plotting go a little easier.
I’d have identified my next victim.
And now, for some BSP:
My book, RUNNING FROM THE PAST, is part of the Kindle Scout program. Here’s how it works: You read an excerpt from a book; if you like it, you nominate it. Then Amazon’s Scout Team evaluates those books with the most nominations and rewards publishing contracts to those it deems worthy.
It’s like American Idol for books.
If you can spare a couple of minutes, I’d love for you to read an excerpt. Here’s the link: http://bit.ly/12QP79x
A bonus: If a book you nominate goes on to get published, you get a free advance copy of the entire novel.
(And feel free to share this with all your suspense-loving friends!)
Wednesday, October 29, 2014
by Tracy Kiely
DEAD CHARACTER WALKINGby Clare O'Donohue
Q: Have you ever had a change of heart about a character you intended to dispatch, and found you had become attached to him or her?
In my first Kate Conway mystery, Missing Persons, I killed Kate's husband Frank. (This is not really a spoiler, it says so on the book jacket.) I didn't intend to like Frank. He was an adulterer who had left her, a wanna-be artist who mostly wasted his time and talents, and a bit of a spoiled brat. So when I killed him, I was fine with it. Good riddance.
But the end of a relationships aren't as neat as that, are they? She hated him. And she loved him. She missed him, and she felt guilty, stupid, sad, angry, hurt... pretty much everything you feel under the circumstances.
As I wrote the story, and let Kate explore her feelings as she looked for answers in her husband's death, I realized there was a lot of good in Frank. And maybe people don't fit neatly into categories of good or bad.
By the end, I was sad about having lost Frank before I ever really knew him. I've even had emails from people asking if Frank will appear in some future book, but no. Frank (in the words of the Wizard of Oz) is not merely dead, he is most sincerely dead.
In the 2nd Kate book, Life Without Parole, I introduced a character named Brick, a 3-time killer in prison for life. On the surface he was an ex gang member with little respect for Kate or for anyone. But as she got to know him, I did too. I became very attached to him. I won't tell you what happened to him, or whether he lives or dies, but I can tell you that when I finished writing that book, I realized that Brick is not an easy character to leave behind.
I suppose that's the nice and terrible thing about creating characters. If I make them real enough, then they take up space, not just in my imagination, but in my heart.
Tuesday, October 28, 2014
Monday, October 27, 2014
by Meredith Cole
Yes, I have murdered people in my books. Nice people. But I don't regret a single death. In fact, I'd do it again to those same characters without question.
Maybe at the time I waffled a little bit. The character was nice. They had such potential. They could have been the murderer or even been a character in the next book in my series. Was it really necessary to knock them off? I'm sure I asked myself that question at least once.
But one of the secrets to making progress on your manuscript is to go ahead and make decisions about character and plot. Even if you don't want to, you need to go ahead and do it anyway. If you wait too long to try to decide between door number A and number B, hating to give up any options, your manuscript will come to a screeching halt. You make absolutely zero progress. And for what? To keep someone alive who never really existed? If their death is an absolute disaster for your book, you can bring them back to life in the next draft.
But I have never had to resuscitate anyone and I've never been haunted by the spirits of any of my fictional characters. So it all came out okay.
Happy Halloween week everyone!
Friday, October 24, 2014
Thursday, October 23, 2014
Once, when I moved to a different village and got a new doctor, he asked me, "What did you eat yesterday?" at the initial appointment. I said, "Uhhhh, yesterday's not a great example." He said, "Yeah, exactly. That's why I don't say 'describe your diet'. What did you eat yesterday, Catriona?"
I liked him a lot.
In the same way, "Who are your favourite writers?" gets a lot of Balzac, while "What are you reading now?" gets more Billingham. (Because some people are pseuds, not because Mark's not fab, by the way.)
I'd also add "And how long have you been reading it, and how many times have you abandoned it to inhale a thriller, and if you had to bet your own money if you'd ever finish it, how high would you go?"
So. What am I reading now? Actually, I'm reading magic realism, counterfactual history and a volume of short stories. Pretty high Balzac rating, eh?
1. A pdf of an ARC of Jessica Lourey's delicious upcoming magic realism* novel THE CATALAIN BOOK OF SECRETS. It's being published under Jessie's own steam via Kickstarter and she's almost there.
*Was it Terry Pratchett who said magic realism could be defined as "fantasy by people who speak Spanish"? I like to think so. Part of the joy of reading this book - as well as the characters, secrets, wordsmithing and Minnesota, which is my favourite place I've never been - is trying to work out what magic realism is. I'm still not sure, except that I think Harry Potter must have been it. And Sookie Stackhouse. In fact, if I was pressed, I'd say magic realism is fantasy where people are called Jasmine instead of Qwon'droth.
2. JACK 1939 by Francine Mathews, for moderating at Bouchercon. (I love my job.) It's a historical thriller that sees a young JFK spying for Roosevelt in Europe just before WWII. I'm googling a lot because my knowledge of the period from a US perspective isn't quite strong enough to see what's counterfactual and what isn't, but I'm loving it. It's like Nancy Mitford crossed with Harlan Coben crossed with John LeCarre. And that's not something that comes along every day.
3. WORKING STIFFS by Simon Wood, for interviewing him at Bouchercon. I don't normally read a lot of short stories; they make me feel as if I've set off on a long walk and immediately stepped off a cliff. It might be because I tend to read for long stretches at one sitting and short stories are best read one at a time. I must say, though - these are great. I'm not surprised Simon's been such an award-botherer for his shorts. It's kind of sickening to read a plot you just know you'd have made a novel out of it and yet there he is just tossing it over his shoulder on a ten-page story. Plenty more where that came from, I can hear him say. Big show-off.
Tuesday, October 21, 2014
Monday, October 20, 2014
Friday, October 17, 2014
By Art Taylor
This week's question—"Is there a type of crime you won't write about?"—prompted two immediate answers: sexual violence and the abduction/abuse of children. Along the same lines as Meredith earlier in the week, the issue of child abuse in fiction became particularly troubling after my wife, Tara, and I had a son of our own. Soon after he was born, I read a couple of stories that centered around the abduction and/or abuse of a child, and it was simply too much for me to take in, emotionally overloading and exhausting. And both with that topic and with sexual violence, there's such a risk of handling the material poorly: the potential for it to appear exploitative, missteps into insensitivity, the challenge to offer deeper insight emotionally or otherwise.
All that said, I think I'd generally shy away from making either of those topics the central focus of any of my works, at least now.
However, even as I write that, I realize that I've incorporated each of those issues in smaller ways into recent stories. Earlier this year, I finished a story in which two young boys are caught in the center of trouble as the father of one of the boys threatens the mother of the other, with at least the possibility of sexual violence churning in the mix. My wife reviewed "Parallel Play" in draft form, and while she said it was one of my best stories, she asked me to please not ever ask her to read it again. I would encourage you to see for yourself, but it won't be published for a year and a half, in the next Chesapeake Crimes anthology, Storm Warning.
A rape in the distant past was also an important—but again, not central— aspect of another story that I wrote a while back, "The White Rose of Memphis," which was published in Needle: A Magazine of Noir. My editor at Ellery Queen, I should say, passed on that story as not right for their readers; and I could certainly understand. Just proof that such issues, even treated indirectly, can be tough to take.
I hope I don't seem to be contradicting myself here. In my mind, the distinction is a clear one. Burrowing deep into the physical details and psychological aftermath of either of these specific types of crime would, at this point, be more than I want to attempt writing about. But I also don't think it's necessary to pretend that such things don't happen—to purge completely from the page any reference to those crime or the possibility of those crimes.
It's a fine line there, of course—and a fine line to tread generally for anyone attempting to write about sensitive, troubling issues at all.
Wednesday, October 15, 2014
Going to the Dark Sideby Clare O'Donohue
Q- Is there a type of crime you won't write about?
Also, probably, serial killers. In part because (forgive me) it's been done to death. But also because the idea of killing for the thrill of it, to satisfy a craving, doesn't really interest me.
From what I can tell, either you have an urge to be a serial killer or you don't. It's kind of like the ability to roll your tongue. If you don't think that way (and I sincerely hope you don't, especially if you know where I live) then serial killers are the literary equivalent of circus freaks. You might be fascinated to take a peak, but you're not afraid of turning into a serial killer anymore than you are of becoming the bearded lady.
Maybe you might imagine yourself his victim, but fictional victims of serial killers tend to be less interesting than their fictional killers. They exist to up the body count.
I'm more interested in people who - but for a specific issue, like money or infidelity or a twisted kind of love - would never commit a serious crime. I want to know what makes them take a step like that, so far out of their nature. I want to know if it haunts them, or if they have found a way to justify it. I want to know how they got from never thinking about murder all the way to actually plunging the dagger into a friend or loved one. What was the tipping point? Did they think they'd get away with it?
I think we all have a dark side. And, under the right circumstances, we would all be willing to kill. Maybe it would take war, to save your own life, or the life of someone you loved. Or maybe your line in the sand is murkier. That's the character I want to write about.
Monday, October 13, 2014
by Meredith Cole
Some people probably think that mystery readers are a blood thirsty lot. We like nothing better than to curl up with a lurid tale and consume all the gory details. But the truth is that quite a few of our number is--how should I put it?--a bit prudish. Many readers I know have a long list of items that they do not like in a book and will "throw it across the room" if they run across these objectionable things in a book (hopefully missing any hapless passersby and/or the writer). And others will find a book decidedly flat if it doesn't contain any of those things. So what's a poor writer to do?
I think every writer should write about what they're interested in and what they like to read. When my child was small, I couldn't read books in which children were kidnapped or killed. I just couldn't. My overprotective mother imagination was already working overtime and didn't need any help. So I certainly didn't write any books where children were endangered either. But I don't rule out becoming fascinated by a story land writing a book with a child victim some day when my own child is safely into adulthood.
I'm not very interested in writing about professional criminals. Mobsters, for instance, who kill people as part of their daily routine are as fascinating to me as office workers who do data entry. But I enjoy reading books by others where the traditional mobster story is given a new twist--something that makes it different from every other book that came before.
I think our only choice as authors is to write books with as much skill and talent as we can muster and find out audience among the people who like to read what we're writing about. And every once in a while we can also become the "exception" to someone's rule. "I don't normally like books where the murderer is the narrator," they'll say, "but I just couldn't put this one down!" Indeed.
Friday, October 10, 2014
Thursday, October 9, 2014
So. I'm going to answer:"what's on your nightstand?" - a question pretending to be about literary taste that's really about how much of a hopeless book junkie and slattern you are.
Here's the unexpurgated list of books on the nightstand in my mum's spare room in Edinburgh, where I'm writing this blog post. That is, here are the books I have with me two long plane journeys from my house.
On the top:
John Gilstrap's END GAME (I'm on p. 91) This doesn't count because it's for moderating at Bouchercon.
AFTER THE ARMISTICE BALL (doesn't count)
ARC of THE SECRET PLACE, Tana French
A WEDDING IN DECEMBER, Anita Shreve (I read it last year and left it here to take home this year because this year I wasn't going to buy any books and I'd have room in my case)
DARK PLACES, Gillian Flynn (bought this year)
NOW YOU SEE ME, S.J. Bolton (read last year and left here to take home this year because . . .)
JOHN McPAKE AND THE SEA BEGGARS, Stuart Campbell (bought this year, but doesn't count because he's my English teacher)
MURDER PAST DUE, Miranda James (read last year and left here to take home . . .)
FATHER CONFESSOR, Russel McLean (read last year and left here . . .)
UNSEEN, Karin Slaughter (read last year and . . .)
JACK 1939, Francine Mathews (bought this year but doesn't count because it's for moderating at Bouchercon)
TIME OF ATTACK, Marc Cameron (this year, doesn't count, Bouchercon)
BLOWBACK, Valerie Plame (Ha! Sent by publisher - really doesn't count)
DID NOT FINISH, Simon Wood (borrowed from brother-in-law for Bouchercon Toastmaster interview prep - mega doesn't count)
NO SHOW, Simon Wood (ditto)
WORKING STIFFS, Simon Wood (brought over with me but . . . Bouchercon so still doesn't count)
THE SCRUBS, Simon Janus aka Simon Wood (Bcon, doesn't count)
ASKING FOR TROUBLE, Simon Wood (guess whether it counts)
DEAD MEN'S BONES, James Oswald (on a Bouchercon panel together, doesn't count)
THE LAST REFUGE, Craig Robertson (ditto)
THE NIGHT HUNTER, Caro Ramsay (on three panels together this year. Not having this book would be rude.)
So, basically, when you get right down to it, on my nightstand are one Gillian Flynn and an ARC of a Tana French. I'm travelling light. Who needs a Kindle?
Wednesday, October 8, 2014
THE "SLIGHTLY LONGER THAN ROBIN'S ANSWER" ANSWERby Clare O'Donohue
Q: What's your biggest dream / ambition as a writer?
Yesterday Robin answered this question perfectly and I am tempted to say, "What she said" and end there. But that would be cheating.
So I'm going to elaborate, in hopes that it counts as something new...
1. I want to make a living as a full time novelist. I say novelist rather than just writer, because technically my job is as a TV writer and in case the universe listens in on such things, I don't want them to get confused. I've seen the Twilight Zone. I know how you make a wish to have time to do nothing but read. And the world ends, so you finally do. But then you smash your glasses. I'm not getting screwed by fate because I wasn't specific enough.
I'm not greedy. I realize I'm very lucky in the writing department to have been published and to make money at it. So I'm not saying, "I want to beat James Patterson's annual salary." (Though, universe, I'm fine with that in case you're asking.) I want to replace my TV income with the earnings I make from just writing my books and stories. That would be an amazing accomplishment.
2. I want to be a really good writer. I have always said that I want my 50th book to be my masterpiece. I want to get better with each book, as I learn from my own work and from the work of other people. I want to write, not just a sentence or paragraph that makes me tingle with excitement, but a whole book. That would be even more amazing than beating Patterson.
So, yeah, "What she said" pretty much sums it up...