Friday, November 20, 2015

A Day in the Life of....

By Art Taylor

This week's question—"If you could inhabit a famous writer’s body/brain for a day, who would it be?"—was such a puzzler that I briefly considered dodging it completely, as our fellow panelist R.J. Harlick did earlier in the week. But ever dutiful to my responsibilities here, I was determined to forge ahead and pick someone—though who?

As with two of our other bloggers, Meredith Cole and Alan Orloff, I was intrigued by the idea of visiting some dark places—and if you haven't read Alan's visit into the mind of Stephen King, you definitely should! But like Meredith, I think I'd ultimately have too many hesitations. A glimpse into Patricia Highsmith's brilliance would be fascinating, but I imagine that would be a pretty bleak mindscape—territory maybe better visited through the stories and novels themselves. The same would be true of someone like Jim Thompson or James Ellroy, and even less noir-ish authors might prove dispiriting, I'm afraid: Raymond Chandler and Ross Macdonald, for example, suffering from layers of melancholy, depression, even dementia ultimately in the latter case.

While writers of the Golden Age—Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, etc.—might offer less tortured visits, I'll admit I didn't find my curiosity drawn as fully in that direction as this week's final blogmate, Tracy Kiely, did. Maybe I am ultimately led toward the dark side, even if reservations would hold me back from going too deeply into it.

I considered opening up the question beyond the confines of crime fiction—where I might jump inside Tolstoy's or Chekhov's perspectives, for example—but suddenly the wider history of literature overwhelmed even more. Too much to choose from, too much to consider, so I reoriented myself to my mystery shelves.

Dorothy B. Hughes
Finally, two writers beckoned out to me: Dorothy B. Hughes and Daphne du Maurier—writers with hints of darkness in their works and worldviews surely but also what strikes me as some distance from it, brilliant stylists each of them, and not terribly unhappy lives (though du Maurier was supposedly a bit chilly at times and temperamental, yes?). Having taught works by both women—Hughes In A Lonely Place is now a perennial favorite—I'd love to get glimpses at how their creativity worked, at how stories evolved, at those layers of crafting, and maybe in that respect with a leaning toward Hughes given her work as a poet, how that background informed her prose.

This is side-stepping part of the question, I know—since this was about a famous writer's "body/brain," suggesting a full day in the life and maybe specifically the author's own life: waking up in a different body, different time, different place, going about regular routines, interacting with family members, friends, etc. of the chosen author. In these cases, that would obviously involve not only a different gender but also an era of different gender expectations, a different social and political climate (Hughes' work touched on racial tensions as well as gender), and a whole range of other experiences. But perhaps that would be even more of an education—full glimpses of their lives and times.

An informative exercise, no matter what!


Alan Orloff said...

A thought-provoking post and a reminder to me that I need to read more "classic" authors!

Susan C Shea said...

I need to read Dorothy Hughes. For whatever reason, I never have. The mind that seems to me to be the most wicked is Shirley Jackson's. Have you ever seen photos of her, or read about her surface life as a suburban mother, then tried to guess why she wrote what she did? Creepy - I couldn't live in her mind for 10 minutes, but I admire her for not letting it take over. She did not kill her husband or children, or the family pets, mind you, although I can't help wondering if everyone around her was in some danger!

Paula Gail Benson said...

This is a great topic. Thanks to Art, Alan, and all the Criminal Minds for your insights into some great authors.