Thursday, January 07, 2016

In the Details

Crime writing is supposed to be exciting, right? A pulse-pounding pace. Fast, fresh prose. Shootouts. Wisecracks. Devastating death scenes. Even Lauren Bacall starring opposite your Humphrey Bogart. That's what crime writing is all about, right?

Not so much.

This week, I rose at 4 a.m. to write the following:

Halifax is one hour ahead of Maine/Toronto. Flight from Istanbul - Toronto is 14 hrs; Toronto - Halifax is 2 hrs. Layover is 3.5 hrs. If you leave at 10 a.m., you arrive at 10 p.m. Turkey is 7 hours ahead of Maine.

I hope it really is all in the details because it took me 45 minutes to write these notes. I also hope you never notice any of this information while reading the 2017 Peyton Cote novel, Everlasting Darkness. The goal for a fiction writer to go unnoticed. These are notes from a "comment" I made in in my Google document: reminders for myself so I don't screw up the book's chronology. (Keeping notes like these is very important to a dyslexic who struggles with numbers: it took me two semesters and a summer to get through Algebra II, after all, but that's for another time.)

Atmosphere may be the most challenging element of fiction to convey, and atmosphere is all about the details. I'm reading Bangkok 8 right now. The novel is one of the richest, most atmospheric books I've read. It stars a devout Buddhist cop and opens with a wonderfully unique and intriguing murder scene. Those are things about the novel I do notice.

What I don't notice is the research author John Burdett must have done to capture Bangkok, Thailand, the things he noticed while living there. There are books writers read that make a fellow author say, I wish I'd have thought of that. The insinuation here is that the writer believes he or she could have created something akin to what she is reading. Then there are books we read that make us say, I wish I could do that. The insinuation here is obvious. Bangkok 8 makes me say the latter – for what I don't notice; not while I'm reading, anyway: I slide into Burdett's world, and am totally lost in it. I'm not turning pages, just following along, adrift in the details that create the rich atmosphere.

And atmosphere is all about the details, even the ones we rise at 4 a.m. to track down.

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