Friday, December 2, 2011

Risky Business

Gabriella Herkert

Catnapped and Doggone

What is the biggest risk I’ve taken to be a writer? I should clarify. What is the biggest risk I’ve taken to be a mystery writer? They are completely different questions. To be a writer, the risks tend to be financial (I am committed to eating a couple or dare I say three times every darn day) or personal (sorry, honey, I’d really like to clean the kitchen so that there are at least some clean spoons but I’m on deadline). On the other hand, the risks a mystery writer takes are more of the curious by nature, don’t seem to have learned much in the way of common sense variety. Whatever way you cut it, this writing thing isn’t a gimme.

Let’s start with the financial. I am currently writing full-time. I needed a little time off from my day job to reset my creative brain and, unsurprisingly in this era of no patronage for the arts, I’m paying my own way. It’s not as big a risk as some people have taken. I’m way too anal retentive to just metaphorically pack a guitar and hit the road. I planned. Endlessly. Budgets and timing and projects I wanted to focus on all made it to a master calendar. For me, the financial risk is inherent in choosing to pursue writing instead of just squeeze it in. It turns out pursuing corporate compliance pays better and more consistently. So I’m taking a chance in the short term. I recognize that I’ll probably have to return to my former guise at some point, in some manner, to keep a roof over my head and food on the table. In the meantime, I’m investing in me. In terms of objective standards, it’s not nearly the flyer that the stock or real estate markets have been in the last decade. Okay, then, a financial risk but not like jumping over the Grand Canyon.

Personal risks. Let’s be honest. I’ve thought about killing nearly everyone I know and sometimes my internal thought processes turn into my verbal diarrhea. Will an acquaintance hang around long enough to be a friend if you start the relationship by asking them to ride in your trunk and scream loudly? I suppose the fun ones will. What about the significant other you ask to “be the victim” in a pantomime of being tossed down a steep nasty set of concrete stairs in Echo Park? Yeah, upon reflection, the specificity of that is a little creepy and any romantic interest exuding enthusiasm out to be let out at the next stop. The biggest personal risk of being a writer is the internalization of the story. We live in our heads. There’s not room for many more voices in there so we tend to avoid the babble. When we do “come out” into the light, our demons, our conflicts, our grammatical fanaticism tend to follow us. I’m not sure the personal risks our consciously accepted on our part but they are there. Unlike the financial ones, though, I’m not sure we can avoid them without some sort of electroshock treatment. A risk that comes built into the suit isn’t really a risk so I’m not giving myself any points for having met that particular challenge. Then again, the only one listening to me right now is the dog so maybe I haven’t exactly put myself out there to be a writer and have a life.

I have many “risky business” moments in my mystery writer memory. Have you ever had a homeless person defend you to a tourist for lying down in the middle of a street? I have. Ever cut and pasted an envelope and waited for the postal police to arrive? Me, again. Or stayed in a no-tell, motel and scared the bejeesus out of two guys who outweigh you by at least a hundred pounds each. That’s my hand that’s raised. Someday, I suppose, one of these little research trips will go horribly wrong and I’ll end up in the pokey trying to explain the unexplainable. On the upside, I’ve no doubt I’ll be sitting next to one of my fellow travelers on this less than smooth path. I only hope we’re not in a foreign country. Unless the weather’s good…

Thanks for reading.



  1. Great research stories, Gabi. We do have to poke into some dark places as mystery writers--I guess you know you made the right choice when you realize you're having so much darn fun doing it...

  2. Yeah, when I think of some of the things I've done to get an up close and personal insight into a story, (and some could have gotten me arrested or at least questioned) it makes me shiver. Maybe that's why I tend to write cozier books.

    Gabi, I LOVE the story about you in the street and a homeless man defending you. Great stuff and very visual!

  3. Great post, Gabi! And I bet you're not even mentioning the scariest stories, just in case law enforcement reads the blog.

    Can't wait to see the results of your latest investment!

  4. Absolutely: the financial risks are the most serious. Of course, lying down in the middle of the street is up there too.

    Great post, Gabi.

  5. You're right, Meredith. If I didn't love killing people off I wouldn't have met all these great people to help me get away with it. Will you alibi me?

  6. Sue Ann --
    You do cozy so well I'm convinced you're actually a nice person playing at psychosis. We'll keep you anyway.

  7. Becky,
    Both of us should keep the law enforcment internet postings live forever thing seriously. Admit it -- you've been naughty a time or two.

  8. The scariest thing for me, Michael, is that it is harder and harder to scare myself with these things. I'm starting to think lying down in the middle of the street is perfectly normal.


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