Thursday, March 28, 2013

It's my story and you'll cry if I want to

Dandy Gilver is a unenthusiastic wife, a half-hearted mother, upper-class, a city-lover, relies on sevants to do everything from cooking her meals to choosing her clothes.  I'm married to my best friend, don't have kids, working-class, country-bumpkin, grow some of my own food but cook all of it from scratch and am usually wearing something from at least a thrift store if not a dumpster.

And here's the kicker.  She loves dogs and I love cats.

Oh and she hasn't had the action-packed hair-colour past that I've been through either. 

Safe to say Dandy's not me.  But does my stand-alone character, Opal Jones, share my interests?

The whole of As She Left It takes place in a few pretty fraught weeks in Opal's life, with not much time for macrame and yoga.  And it's just occurred to me that I don't think she switches on a radio or telly or plays a single track of music in the entire book.  She does give up on Ikea as a source of furniture and goes to a charity shop instead, so with a bit of a stretch I suppose you could say we're both bargain-hunters.  Or mean anyway.

I was just talking to Laura Disilverio (click) about this at Left Coast Crime at the weekend; apparetly ballroom dancing is like dog vs cat as far as characters and authors go.  Laura has the hardest time persuading readers of her dancing mystery series (most recent Homicide Hustle) that she's - whisper - making it all up, and not fitting the writing in around travel to professional tournaments in the ballroom world or at least the daily grind of foxtrot lessons in her studio.

But then I have my troubles in separating writer and characters too.  My friend Jess Lourey (click)  writes the gripping yet hilarious murder-by-the-month series (most recently December Dread) and in my head the heroine, Mira, is Jessie, so much so that when Jessie talks about her dog, I feel bad that she's showing such favouritism and hardly mentioning her cat.  Her fictional cat.  Dammit, her protagonist's fictional cat!

The funniest example of a writer herself not being able to separate her interests from her characters is another friend of mine Cathy Cassidy, (click) a UK children's writer and a vegetarian of many years' standing.  Cathy just can't stand to write a meat-eating protagonist.  Her books are full of kids and adults from all walks of life in all sorts of extreme situations, all ordering mushrooms and chips in British chippies, or eating quorn sausages and quiche.  It's so much a moral issue for Cathy that she couldn't have a sympathetic character chomping into a chicken leg for the Pullitzer prize.

It makes me love her (and miss her) but it's a good thing she doesn't write mysteries; we'd all know in the first chapter whodunnit.  Him over there with the bacon cheeseburger.  Call the cops.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Superstition is the way.

I was going to say I don't have any writing rituals that would count as superstitions; all I have are sensible working practices.  But, while looking around my office for examples, I noticed my pens.

I use blue Bics.  Bic Cristals.  But that's not a ritual, right?  That's a preference.  They're a design classic, for a start - evidence: they're in MOMA.  Also, they don't leak like Hi-techpoints and other fancy-schmancy pens when you take them on a plane.  Finally, they smell like pens should.  Not that I sniff my pens. 

But the reason they caught my eye is this:

When I say I use blue Bics, I really mean I like to have a full pen-holder of them, as well as the one I'm using, one in my bag and a packet of new ones in my desk drawer.  And it gets worse.  The three back slots in the pen-holder - a sea-washed brick picked up on Prestwick beach in the late eighties - contain a red Bic for corrections (under the Dandy Gilver fingerpuppet), a black Bic for occasional scanned government forms (under the Bury Her Deep gravestone) and a pencil (under the Bunty Dalmatian).

Now, the black-pen-under-blackish-gravestone and red-pen-under-red-Dandy look either neatly orgnanised or slightly anal, depending on your point of view, but at this point you probably think the pencil-under-Dalmatian is completely random.  A devil-may-care detail that balances out the rest of it.  Not so:

It's really quite a Dalmatiany pencil under there. 

So.  Writing superstitions.  Hello, my name is Catriona and although I can write in my office, by the fireside, on the porch, in bed, in coffee-shops, in the Ethel Merman quiet room of the Davis Public Library, in departure lounges, hotel rooms and on planes, I can only do it if I know that on my desk there are five blue Bic Cristals in their slots against a backdrop of red, black and pencil finger puppets.  Don't judge me.