Monday, December 2, 2013

Writing, reading, murder, and mayhem

“Criminal minds – writing, reading, murder, and mayhem.” Great holiday subjects, yes?

We’ve been given free rein this month, which means a totally blank canvas and, for me, a totally empty brain. I thought I’d look at our happy blog catch phrase for inspiration.

“Writing” – I’m struggling with revisions for my third Dani O’Rourke, in part because my delightful publishers informed me cutting the brakes in a car is so cliché. I’ve now asked four guys what they’d do if they had to disable a car they didn’t know well, a modern car with electronics and disc brakes and power locks. “Cut the brakes” was the answer times four, even though with independent braking systems, not all braking power would be cut. It would still be an accident waiting to happen on a hill. This is the kind of not-fun work that writers do, the situations that make us run screaming from the computer. It means pushing back with the editors or reimagining an entire plot in the story. Is it too early in the day for spiked eggnog?

“Reading” – I made the mistake of starting the Illiad (Fagles’ translation) and The Judgment of Paris (Ross King on the birth of Impressionism) in late October, thinking such a steady diet of crime fiction needed to be broken up. Now, my pride won’t let me quit either of those, but Sara Paretsky’s personally signed latest V.I. story, Critical Mass, demands my attention, as do the latest by Dennis Lehane, Michael Stanley, Hallie Ephron, and Sara Henry (among way too many others). But until I get said revisions off my desk, reading from my TBR pile is out of the question. Is it too early in the day for more spiked eggnog?

“Murder” – I would never, never think about murdering anyone except in my books, but I’ll bet I’m not the first writer who has wondered just a teensy bit about the way recalcitrant editors might suffer and perish. (Just kidding, editors…) I live in the San Francisco area and our local paper leads with local murders, of which there are far too many. Real ones, where families suffer and the police flounder, and witnesses are silent, and it’s all far too dreary and tragic to read about every day. It definitely isn’t too early for bourbon laced with a little eggnog.

“Mayhem” – “actions that hurt people and destroy things : a scene or situation that involves a lot of violence” (Merriam-Webster) . Creating mayhem in a story is surprisingly enjoyable, and I wonder why that is? Maybe because I would never allow myself to throw china, deliberately hit the car in front of me, smash down a door. Imagining it concretely enough to write a believable scene is both a challenge and a release, and I was deeply gratified when the violent climax of my first book for a thumbs up from the editors and readers. That’s something for me to remember as I go back to my current problem and try to figure out what mayhem I can create that will satisfy me, and my editors, today. No more eggnog until I’m done.

 - Susan


Terry Shames said...

No spiked eggnog for me, thanks--not after the wild Thanksgiving holidays. But I do commiserate with your everlasting edits for #3. Keep at it!

As for reading, I'm currently reading Pride and Prejudice for the umpteenth time so I can pair it with Longbourne, the delightful account of the "downstairs" part of P&P, by Jo Baker. Last night I couldn't sleep because I wanted so much to keep reading. I would have been better off just getting up and reading!

Meredith Cole said...

I just finished Critical Mass last week--and it was a terrific read (oops--perhaps it's not a good idea to offer you more distractions right now...). Good luck with disabling your car (and finishing your edits)!

Robin Spano said...

I enjoyed this post. Nice way to riff off our freedom this month and make this all feel like a friendly informal chat. Especially love the recurring appearance of spiked eggnog.

Now trying to write tomorrow's post before I drink too much wine...

Personal Injury Attorney Tempa said...

In order to write about criminals the writer must think just from a criminal's point of view. Only then the novel will have the real touch of a crime.


Paul D. Marks said...


Here's a new high tech way they can disable the brakes, I'm quoting from the link below:

"Or they could disable the brakes with a few simple commands sent wirelessly."

Not sure if this would work for you, but you might check out that link and also search "car hacking" to see modern high tech methods of disabling cars.

Paul D. Marks