Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Getting to the heart of the matter

Barbara here. This week, fellow Type M authors Rick and Aline both blogged about inspiration. About finding that spark of an idea that sets the crime writer’s imagination on fire, be it a poignant article in the news or an evocative setting.

I am at the very beginning of this inspirational process. I have one book due out in the fall from Orca’s Rapid Reads imprint; that manuscript has already been edited and is somewhere in the publisher’s print queue. My next Inspector Green book is fully written and being read by my various critiquers and experts before its final polishing, to ensure it is the best it can be before I send it in to the publisher later this month.

With two books nearing completion and publication, you may well be wondering why I say I am at the very beginning of the inspirational process. I’m talking about the next book. Most crime writers produce a book every year or two, and since a book takes at least a year to write and then often even longer to wend its way to print, we are always thinking ahead. Planning that new book before the current one is even put to bed.

There is another reason why I’m thinking ahead. It’s been seventeen years since I published my first story, and twelve since the first Inspector Green novel came out. In all that time, I have always had a writing project on the go. The next novel, the next short story... Writing is in my soul. To be without it stirs up an ephemeral, existential angst. How would I fill my days if I did not have characters to talk to and plot complexities to untangle? What would I think about while I walked the dogs, emptied the dishwasher, and inched along the Queensway in rush hour?

To be sure, when I’m overwhelmed by deadline pressures or uncooperative storylines, I think how liberating it would be to have no writing demands at all. But I also know that out of that void, a story would be born. I can’t not create. I know once I hand in the latest manuscript at the end of the month, I will be looking for a new idea.

Not just any idea will do. As Aline says, a new novel starts with a puny, frail notion that hasn’t much meat on its bones. Great writing will flesh it out. But not all ideas are created equal, and my next challenge will be to ensure my idea has the makings of a truly great story. What makes a great story idea? An international drug war? A sex slave ring? Luckily for us writers, readers tastes vary widely, and a theme that is repellant to one will be enthralling to another. This diversity is the beauty of crime writing.

But I believe one ingredient is crucial to all great stories. Caring. We writers fret about the core question -- whodunnt, whydunnit, or will-he-do-it? The worst response a reader can give is “I don’t care.” Caring happens when we feel connected to another human being, when we identify with a unique person in the story, whether it’s the hero, the victim or even the villain. The Joyce Carol Vincent story is a powerful illustration of that human impulse to care, to know what happened to her and why no one noticed she was gone for three years. It is often said that six million dead is just a statistic, but Anne Frank makes us cry.

Right now I’m searching for that next human connection. It may come to me in a coffee shop, or a newspaper snippet, or in line at the grocery store. That fragment of caring that will make me ask “what has happened here?” At its heart, I suspect that’s not only why we read, but why we write as well.


Aaron said...

There is a quote that I love (and have pinned up) that all creative people will understand: there are flowers everywhere for those who care to look-Henri Matisse. I absolutely love the idea that in front of our faces, constantly, there is inspiration. Maybe it will amount to nothing and maybe it will result in a masterwork...but its always there for us. Thanks for your post!

Charlotte Hinger said...

Aaron and Barbara--the real stories of human beings fascinate me. I met a homeless woman who hung around the library. She was found dead one morning, lying under a trailer in the railroad yard. When I read this in paper, my first thought was--I hope its not Sharon. But it was. Many persons had tried to get her off the streets. She was even on a homeless task force. They finally tracked down her family. She had attended private schools, and was loved. Her life was a mystery to over 100 persons who attend her service.

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Hannah Dennison said...

A wonderful post! I know I would be lost without my inner world. Loved the quote from Henri Matisse.

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