Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone by Christine Duncan

This is the week where people are getting ready to travel (Over the river and to the woods, to grandmother’s house, we go ) or host the dinner, or just to shop. Whatever, reading blogs is probably not up there on your list   Whatever you’re doing, make it good. I’m going to.

What They Think My Life Will Be

When I told everyone at work I was quitting the day job to write full time, I got three reactions (apart from the usual ‘I’ve got an idea for a story’ which it seems all writers get all the time). The first was ‘you’re going to be rich!’

As Terry Pratchett noted in Snuff, there is a perception that all writers spend their time lounging around in their dressing gowns all day, drinking champagne. (This is, of course, true).

I won’t be rich. I’m probably going to earn a little less than I do now. But no matter how many times I said this, it did not sink in. The world looks at J. K. Rowling and James Patterson and thinks we all earn that much. Nothing I could say could make them believe I’ll be turning the heating off and living on what’s left on the special offers shelf for a while.

Another was ‘you’re going to move to a Welsh farmhouse and write books!’ What, why? I don’t like farms! The countryside is great to visit but I’m not living there. I live in London. I love London. My books are set in London. I need to walk the streets my books are set in. Why would I move to a Welsh farmhouse?

There’s a scene in Robert Harris’ Ghost, about a ghostwriter, where the writer turns up at a very desolated spot, just the sort of place writers are supposed to love, he says. There seems to be this perception that we need utter isolation from all distractions to write. Well, I need peace and quiet, but I need stimulus too. I need to go out and hear conversations. I need to see different things and go to different places. Most of all, I need to live in a place where I can get a pint of milk at midnight within a ten minute walk. That may not help my writing, but it’d help me.

It’s all kindly meant, but it’s all such a mis-perception of writers. Apparently we’re all rich, and live in isolated farmhouses. The idea of a writer just managing to get by in a little London flat doesn’t really seem to connect with the public idea of being a writer, and nothing we can say can sink in. That’s why it’s always fun to read about a writer written by a writer. They like to strip away all the illusions and present us as we really are – although sometimes, the picture isn’t that flattering. And I case you’re wondering, my favourite literary writer is Ariadne Oliver, created by Agatha Christie. She tends to say about writing pretty much what I’m thinking. (Zoe Wanamaker plays her perfectly in the Poirot series)

And the other thing what was said to me when I said when I said I was becoming a full time writer? ‘I think I’ll write a book and quit my job. How hard can it be?’ I didn’t say anything to that. I just nodded and smiled. What else could I say?

Paris by Christine Duncan

I thought of writing something off of Michele’s post, “Second Draft.”  It appears that she is a pantser, someone who does not work off an outline, but rather someone who writes it down as she thinks of it.  It is a classic writing debate:  outline, or seat of the pants.

But it is not one that I’m up to, right now.  As I write this, the events in Paris are only a few days old.  I think there are better things we all need to read right now.

We all need to learn more about ISIS.  We need to figure out who is the next leader in the U.S. who will be able to deal with them.  We need to understand what makes people walk into a stadium or a crowded concert hall, look at the happy, relaxed people around them and think about killing.

I loved the #Porteouverte response, the Nous Sommes Paris way that not only the French but the world responded.

We are not afraid.  But we need to be informed.   And we need to stop them.

The Second Draft

This week, I finished the first draft and moved onto the second. I always love this time.

The first draft is a frenetic setting down of the story before I forget it. It’s a time when I’m still not sure who the characters are, so they’re being created as I write. The plot is only in my head for a few pages ahead of me, and is liable to change. I don’t even know who the murderer is until a few pages before the end. It is a frenzy of discovery.

The second draft is calmer. I know who these people are now. I can hear their voices clearer. I can polish their conversations and actions to sound and act like them. I can clear up the plot, and make sure the right clues and connections are there. (I like my readers to be able to realise the culprit just as my detective does. I’m not a fan of the style of writing where the detective discovers the truth, but holds onto for 50 pages. 5 at best in my book. )

I can add descriptive details. I can add a sub-plot or two. I can relax now. I know where this is going, and instead of a headlong race to get there, I can take a gentle stroll, and notice the scenery on the way.

The first draft is an exciting, if exhausting journey of discovery. But the second draft is the fun part.

Mystery Writing Research Siess by Christine Duncan

A Facebook friend posted a link to this blood stain site and that made me think about some of the resources I’ve used for research.
I’ve long been a fan of D.P. Lyle’s blog for information related to forensics. It’s pretty well organized so you can find your topic fairly easily.
I’m pretty much clueless when it comes to weapons, so I’ve found blogs like Modern Service Weapons to be helpful. If your work is not set in the present, you might find Historical firearms a good resource.

And I ran across the Post Mortem Series on NPR, a while back and found it helpful.
Every once in a while, it helps me to go through my bookmarks and see what is still out there. Sometimes it helps with a hard part. Sometimes, it sparks an idea.

The Importance of the Second Line

Whilst I was ill, I read The Plague, by Albert Camus (probably not the best choice of book for someone who is unwell, I now realise). In this book is a character who is writing a book. He wants the book to be so good that when the publisher reads it, he stands up and says ‘Gentlemen, hats off!’ (It is pointed out to him that publishers don’t wear hats in the office). He has started to write – but has never got beyond the first line.

He is man who has never been able to find the right words, all his life. He is in a temporary, low paid job. A permanent, high paid job is his by right, but he has been overlooked by some accident. If he only wrote a letter pointing this out, he could get the better job, but he can never find exactly the right words to tell them.

It’s like this for his book. He has a first line, but he is never satisfied with it. He alters and primps at it, changing every word over and over. When he is dying, he hands his manuscript to his friend. It is fifty pages long, and every line is a re-working of the same line.

The silly thing is, it’s not even that impressive a line in the first place. It’s very ordinary. But he cannot work past it.

I think what Camus is saying is that we have to have the courage to move beyond the first line. We cannot polish and polish the words at the expense of the story. We can never move on and achieve if we don’t stop worrying about the first line and move onto the second, and the third and so on.

Obviously the right word in the right place is important, but worry too much about the words and we lose the story. We have to always be moving onto the next line. But anyway, I recommend the book. There’s something for every author in that man’s story, as well as several other good characters in the book. (But not when you’re ill)

NaNoWriMo starts today (Nov 1st) by Christine Duncan

I wanted to participate in this one. I really did. I’ve been thinking about it all through October. And yet, I can’t tell you why I didn’t. I cleaned, I cooked, I voted, (my husband dropped dropped the ballots off) I ran, I grocery shopped, I went to drop off my over due library books. And I thought about why I didn’t write.
Lately, many things, like writing , have begun to feel like chores. I didn’t want that, so I pulled myself back from my guilt trips. Maybe a little too far. The thing is, for me, it appears that if writing isn’t a “have to” I think I should only get to do it when all my chores are done. At least, I think that is what I think.
Now I am reading a lot of writers reporting word counts and I have…nothing. It’s ahead game.. All of life is a head game. I just need to work on it.