Saturday, October 03, 2009

The Art of the Literary and the Intellect of Mystery

I’ve had a bad year.  I’ve been so terrified, exhausted, bored, overwhelmed, depressed, relieved, and emotionally bruised over the past months that the old brain pan has been left full of mush.  I tell you this, Dear Reader, not because anybody is interested, especially me.  I tell you this because in its odd way, it relates to the conversation about mystery vs. literary novels we have been having on this blog of late.

All this emotional buffeting has had a deleterious effect on my ability to concentrate for any length of time, or even, on occasion, to think clearly.  Since my family is out of the rapids and back into calmer water again, I’m hoping that I’ll notice a marked improvement in my thinking ability in short order.

This intellectual impairment has given me an interesting epiphany.  Even during the worst of times, I am still able to write, and write well.  I can still create compelling prose, engage in wordplay, paint a beautiful verbal scene.  When I look back over the writing I did during that period, I’m surprised and gratified by how lovely some of it is.

However, it was extraordinarily difficult for me to effectively plot out a mystery. 

Here is what I learned.  The creation of beautiful prose is an art which takes practice, skill, and intuition.  The creation of a good mystery novel takes intellect.   You combine those two things, the art and the intellect, and you’ve got something extraordinary, my friend, no matter what ‘genre’ it is.

It’s annoying when the of novel you write is judged out of hand as unworthy of serious consideration simply because some publisher or bookstore has decided to classify it as a mystery.  But you know what?  Screw ‘em to the wall with a Phillips, pal.  Don’t worry about critics.  Read what you love, write what you love.  Life is short.  Trust me on this.

Apropos of nothing, as I read back over this I realize that I still never use a two-syllable word when a multi-syllabic mouthful is available.  I come by this honestly.  In my youth, I spent countless hours with my siblings, making a game of trying to come up with the most pretentious possible way to say things.  We’d crack each other up.  We all thought it was hilarious to ”propel the pulverized tubers” or “perambulate the circumference of the estate.”  We were easily amused. 


Hannah Dennison said...

Donis- I love the idea of the multi-syllabic game. That's impressive -we just played 'I Spy.' I'm writing an article on Agatha Christie at the moment and she said that it was during WW2 that she wrote the most. It's been such a tough year for so many (especially you) so seeking refuge in our imaginary worlds is a blessing ... and you're right, life is short.

Donis Casey said...

I wonder if a combination of a love of words and the desire to make sense of one's life isn't common to all fiction writers, Hannah.

MTCoalhopper said...

I'm glad to see I'm not the only one who likes to use big words. It is a foible which marks one's work with a personal style. However, I have always been criticized by my most vicious critics (parents always come to mind) that I am being pretentious. Yes, and maybe that is my style...get off my back, already.

I think what those critics are saying is that they wish I were writing literary fiction (something they can brag about at the country club) instead of mysteries, which always seem to involve people like themselves being defenestrated.

Charlotte Hinger said...

Donis, I loved this. Some of the best writers I know can't write a good book. Books require structure.