Monday, January 8, 2018

Why? Or, Rather, Why Not?

Q: Why did you decide to become a writer and in particular a writer of crime fiction?

- from Susan

I’m curious to know how other Minds will respond to this challenge. For me, it was never a question. I was a writer, even as a young child. It didn’t occur to me, ever, that I would not write, or that whatever I did would not include writing. The only competition for my time was making art and I did entertain the idea of becoming a professional artist through my first two years of college. Even then, I had as many English courses as art classes. At some point in my sophomore year, I came to the regretful conclusion that I was not as original or as prodigiously talented as the 20th century masters I admired. I graduated with a double major in art and literature.

During those college years, I learned something else: I’m not good at so many things, for example, waiting on tables at an old-fashioned resort on the Jersey shore, standing behind a counter at a gift shop on Cape Cod, babysitting 10-year old twins on the beach…

What started me down the path to crime fiction? I always read, copiously and widely. I loved mysteries, especially series, and indulged in them happily for years – Agatha Christie, Rex Stout, John D MacDonald, Dick Francis – while working as a reporter, a freelance writer, a newspaper editor, and then a PR person. I got the itch to try it myself after reading just about all of the Nero Wolfe novels one summer. Stout made it look easy, fun – a way to tease the world about silly social conventions and paint portraits of imaginary people he’d probably love to hang out with. The structure of mystery novels was appealing. It was appealing that they had a structure, without which my ambition to write fiction would crash and burn.

I went to a couple of mystery writing conferences (where I first met the late and deeply admired Sue Grafton and had my first experience of her kindness and humor). I started a cop story but couldn’t get inside the head of a policewoman. Started a private eye story, but was too far ahead of myself to pull the biotech plotline together.

My job, which wasn’t merely a day job but an interesting career with lots of writing and speaking work, was taking me more and more into the world of the very rich, not always a great place to be when you aren’t one of them. I remembered Archie Goodwin’s pleasure in thumbing his nose at snobs and thought, “Yes, I can get into that head space!” And when an artist my S.O. had to work with behaved like a jerk, I thought, “I can kill the arrogant bastard in a book!” Writing crime fiction became a personal goal, a priority, and a way of creating a landscape more to my liking. Maybe not as easy as Rex Stout made it look, but definitely fun and mentally rewarding. Five books later, I still think crime fiction writing is a great profession.


Dietrich Kalteis said...

It's always interesting hearing about other authors' journeys. I particularly liked “I can kill the arrogant bastard in a book!” You had me laughing.

Terry said...

Interesting how art and writing intersect for you.

Also, having killed an arrogant bastard in my latest book, I know the satisfaction.

Unknown said...

Fun mixed with some revenge is your motive, then :) Interesting what you said about structure too, that got me thinking. Happy New Year, Susan!

Susan C Shea said...

Dietrich, It was more rewarding than funny at first, although, of course, the charater morphed a great deal from the first impulse to the published version!