Or, What I Ought To Be Doing
By Laura Crum
Creating a novel is what I ought to be doing—not writing this post. I’ve decided that “books not blogs” needs to become my mantra. I have enjoyed this whole blog thing so much that I am procrastinating way too much on getting my 11th mystery written. Instead I put a few comments on someone’s blog, or go check out what mugwump has written lately. Blogging is fun. I like it that it’s a form of dialogue. Its addictive.
So, what about my next mystery? Aren’t mysteries fun to write, too, you ask. Or I am imagining that you ask. The answer is that I thought mysteries were wonderfully fun to write for many years. I delighted in painting word pictures, in telling stories, in giving my view of the world through my books. Being an author is in some ways very narcissistic (whether we’re talking blogs or books). This is how I see it, this is my take on it, this is my voice singing my song. It can be pretty; in a great writer (not me), it can be thrilling. But it is a certainly a form of ego.
Nothing wrong with that, really. We all have egos; we all like to sing our songs. But after writing ten books, I am finding it harder to get engaged by this form of self expression. I tend to like the blogging because people answer back, people argue, you bounce your thoughts off the wide cyberworld. Its interesting. So now I have to start reminding myself of all the things I’ve loved so much about creating novels over the years; I need to talk myself into telling one more story, singing another little song.
For me, the most interesting part of creating a novel is writing about things I truly love. Writing about the horses, the landscape, the seasons and weather, the plants and animals, Gail’s life changes, her family…this stuff engages me. The only problem? These are supposed to be mysteries. Somebody has to die.
Yep, I confess, I am bored with killing people. I begin each novel (including #11) knowing who gets killed and why and by whom, and then I let the plot evolve as I write. Frequently I find I need to kill someone else midway through the book or everything starts to drag (to paraphrase Dashiell Hammit, when the plot bogs down, I “bring in a man with a gun”). I find myself reluctant to describe all these murders; this is nothing that I feel drawn to, for heaven’s sake. I begin wondering how I ever got into the mystery business. It doesn’t help that I realize that many/most successful mystery authors do a very good job of keeping the reader gripped with their scary/horrible descriptions of the murder scene. Obviously, I am falling down at my job. I keep wanting to write about horses…and not about anything bad happening to them, either. Needles to say, this is a drawback in a mystery writer.
Then, as the book comes to a close, I have to invent a suitably exciting climactic scene, which in my case usually involves a “thrilling” horseback chase, something I’ve become known for. Hopefully these are thrilling to read. They used to be pretty fun to write. But at this point I almost feel like quoting large sections from previous books…how many ways can I describe galloping along being chased or chasing someone? I try every time to find freshness, to use some new approach. I bring to mind my most exciting horseback moments. Every wreck I ever had or saw is fodder for my poor protagonist’s adventures. By basing the horse scenes on things that have really happened, I try to keep them believable.
In each of my books I endeavor to use a different plot line than any I’ve used before. I try to bring some new changes into my protagonist’s life. I try to write about some aspect of the horse biz that I haven’t addressed. I try to create a different central crime. I really strive to stay engaged with what I’m writing. Sometimes this doesn’t work in my favor. Some readers would rather I wrote a “new version” of some of my past books that were favorites, rather than moving in a truly new direction (Slickrock is often mentioned in this context; “couldn’t I just do another one like that?”). But I keep changing what I’m doing (at least slightly) from book to book, so that I don’t become so bored with the character that I can’t write about her any more. The perennial struggle of a series author.
Anyway, I’m putting this out there in the hopes that you all, authors, readers, and bloggers, will give feedback on your own writing/reading issues. What do you like to read? What don’t you like? What are your writing/creating struggles? Maybe I can draw some inspiration from your thoughts and get motivated to finish this book. I hope so. The deadline will be here in a few months. I’ve never missed a deadline yet. If this becomes the first time, I’m gonna blame it on the blogs. (Do you think my editor will buy this excuse?)
Happy reading and writing!