The Two Oldest Activities
I’m working every night on One Bullet Beyond Justice. The hardest things to write in new ways are the two oldest human activities — sex and violence.
On the Lonely Writer’s Life
Writer’s keep saying writing is a lonely profession. No. When I’m writing I’m in the midst of a whole world of people, dialogue, action and wondering, as in life, where we go next. When I’ve written a great scene, or found a new twist, or watched a character do something I never expected and I want to rush out and tell my friends and people who care and realize I can’t, knowing they’re waiting for the finished product, the whole story. . . . I can’t say a word. I have to keep it to myself until it’s done and I don’t know when that will be.
That’s when I feel lonely.
How Does She Proceed?
It’s late. I must get back to Nora’s life.
I keep asking, when all her killing is done, when she has exacted revenge on those who murdered her husband and raped her, can she know peace? If not, who is her enemy? Because a person not at peace must have an enemy. And then I ask, who of us is at peace with ourselves?
Why the Writing Stopped
After years — decades! — of writing nonstop, I stopped writing for three weeks.
My wife took my mother to the Cleveland Clinic for open heart surgery, in January. My mother is 84.
In addition to work, I had the responsibilities of taking care of the house, the animals (and their medicines), groceries, cooking and all the things that spouses do that husbands take for granted. But I had it easy.
Linda had the driving, the hospital, the tension.
And Mom had the surgery.
But being five hours from them and the worry . . . I simply couldn’t write. What seemed like a nightly necessity now, in the light of our small collective reality, seemed like a luxury.
They’re back now. Mom is recuperating well. Linda is nearly caught up from the exhaustion of worry, little sleep after three weeks in a motel room and driving in the relentless lake effect snow of Cleveland.
And I’m almost back. Nora is beckoning. I’ve written a couple higher education blogs as a way of easing myself back into the act of thinking and writing. I have a daily sense of relief and profound gratitude that we’re all back together and life is fairly normal.
Writing is important to me, but some things are more important. Things like family and life.
Tenuous gifts to be appreciated every day, every moment.
Writing on the Road
People ask when and how I write. It’s a continuous thing. Awhile back I was driving home from work and was in the middle of a scene in the Vengeance sequel. Nora was in a fight with two men and I always struggle with fight scenes and killing scenes to get them just right to avoid stereotypes and cliches. It has to be true to the character and the plot. And since killing has been a part of the human story since Cain and Abel, you have to work really hard to be original in your killing. A lazy, easy killing is death for a writer.
Anyway, I was in the middle of it, seeing it, feeling it, mentally describing it, and drove past the exit that I’ve taken at least a thousand times. I slammed on the brakes in the middle of the space between the four lane and the exit and backed up, now suddenly imagining a state cop pulling me over.
“What you did was illegal. It could have caused an accident.”
“I’m sorry officer. I was, uh, writing.”
“I think that’s illegal while you’re driving.”
“I was writing in my head.”
“It’s not illegal but it’s dangerous.”
He was right. I think writers are, at times, almost as dangerous as people talking on cell phones. We’re in a different world, so fully engaged that you drive right by your exit to home.
Your Audience of One
Writing is an act and your audience should have one member — you. Your goal should be to write so real and convincingly that your audience sits in rapt attention. It has to be so compelling that your audience wants to come back for more, and in fact has to come back for more. If you succeed with that member – you – when your work is published your audience will steadily grow with other like-minded people drawn to your art.
* * *
On Happy Endings
I recently gave a reading to a university audience of faculty, staff and students. After I talked about Nora’s character and all her trials, I said to end it with Nora and Peter living happily ever after would be disingenuous. I reworked the end maybe 20 times so that it was neither happy or unhappy. It was hopeful. Then I added a post script which introduced a sinister element.
And it worked.
In most cases, I don’t believe in happy endings. In fiction, as in life, endings are just pauses pointing to a new beginning.
* * *
Saved By the Black Panther and the Witch
Back when I was a reporter, I interviewed a former Black Panther and a former practicing witch. Both had been involved with violence and one had helped kill a man. They were saved by Jesus. I wanted a good story and they gave it to me. When the interview was done the Black Panther asked me if I knew Jesus. I said I wasn’t sure. “Do you want to know Jesus?”
When you are in the presence of a Black Panther and a witch, you don’t want to offend.
I said sure.
People appeared from different rooms in the farmhouse where the interview was conducted. They laid their hands on me and got a good group prayer going, telling me simply to confess my sins.
I didn’t think my sins were any of their business. There was some weird energy flowing and I wasn’t sure I liked it. I wasn’t sure being a reporter was worth it. I didn’t care if the witch had helped kill a person and now was showing people how to find Jesus.
So eyes closed, head bowed and with strangers hands all over me, I just said, “I confess. I confess. I confess. . . .”
Someday I’ll write about the whole affair. But every year at Christmas I remember the 1970s “Jesus Freaks”. I was after a story and they were after my soul.
I really don’t think Jesus cared much either way.
Fairy Dust and Three Wishes
I love writing, but when I’m finished, I’m impatient. I want all the techie stuff done. I want all the marketing to be in place and take care of itself.
So my dream is that when the novel is complete, Tinker Bell appears. I act in a calm, dignified, mature manner. (My fantasy about Tinker Bell is lifelong).
“Tinker Bell, cute, scantily clad fairy, spread your dust and let my novel be published.” She waves her wand to a harp soundtrack and One Woman’s Vengeance is a real book.
Then I side-scrub the musty lamp and Aladdin’s Genie morphs from mist, folds his muscular arms and does the three wishes thing.
“I wish for my book to have no typos.” He gives a silent nod and every wretched mistake miraculously heals itself.
“I wish for it to be a bestseller.” Another nod of the goatee face and I see Vengeance on the NY Times Bestseller list (and Amazon and Barnes & Noble and whatever the Chinese bestseller list is).
“My third wish is to be on Fresh Air, after which Clint Eastwood make a movie which earns two-story high Ebert thumbs up and –”
Tinker Bell floats in, sees the Genie and wiggles her hips: “Haven’t I seen you somewhere before?” She asks, dripping a little fairy dust from her wand to the sound of harp music. The Genie visibly melts, then grows.
To a child it’s charming. To an adult it’s clever porn.
“I think it was on the Disney set,” he says. ” You were –”
“Saving Peter!” She exclaims. (See?)
“An underfed busybody who will never know maturity,” the genie says, puffing up his chest and flexing his biceps. He glances at the short green skirt, then says suavely, “Wanna take a ride on my carpet? It’s magic,” he says softly. “It flies and undulates.”
Off they go into a land far, far away and I sit here with foreign HTML, broken links, and a withering dream of greatness.
I’ve never trusted entities that offer wishes because wishes always have some stupid demonic twist. But, Tinker Bell, you always seemed so innocent and straightforward and I loved you.
I feel a bit betrayed. I hope you fall off that wayward carpet right into my sea of typos.