I’ve read copious volumes of how-tos on writing, publishing, writing a proposal and diving into social marketing. Call me a rebel with a cause but I find most of it a bit dreary and a buzz kill. Still, I shuffle on to some ever-present voice suggesting subtle innuendos.
I once attended a fabulous workshop for Mystery Writers. At the time, I was more interested in the fluffy side of things….you know, fantasy, happy ever after stuff. But I threw myself into a milieu of fairly creepy individuals for three days and three nights. Yes, wine was involved after 5. It was a grand experience in climbing out of one’s zone and into another. Hey, there was even a class entitled, “How to commit murder and get away with it.”
I’m not at all implying that the class about getting away with murder was a how-to per se. But I have to tell you, the attendees jumped in with both feet. What I concluded is that we all have parts of us that meander into some pretty freaky realms. So I sat in the back and listened. That room was filled with “what if” specialists. A good mystery isn’t worth a damn without surprises and twists and turns. That is the business of a “what if” specialist. For the first time in all my writing years, I was in the room with people who definitely climbed out of their boxes on a daily basis.
One of the best workshops was a dialog with someone from the CIA sitting opposite another person from the FBI. Priceless! It caused a stirring, not in my loins, but in my what if? o meter. I started me thinking about writing a thoroughly creepy novel. It toys with me to this day. It will not write itself unless I am in a room full of creative writers and have a prompt.
The first page started in a precious group of women seeking joy and peace. As we proceeded around the room to read our treasures, I wondered if I would be thrown out for sheer shock of what I had on the paper in front of me. They had read about their search for self, climbing of the obstacles of being a woman and the general healing of female comradery. I, on the other hand had written something that was a cross between a spy novel and a potential murder mystery. When I read it aloud, I looked up. Their faces were shocked but a good shock. One of the writers asked, “How on earth did you write that cool thing?” I responded, “I haven’t a clue”. She then asked, “What happens next?” I answered: “I haven’t a clue”. And so my career as a mystery writer is still on the outer edge of possibility.
I try to surround myself with “what if” specialists but I guess it is up to me and my muses to keep going on this one. Recently, I met a woman in her fifties and I paused and stared. There she was! I couldn’t help myself and commented. “Wow, you look exactly like the main character I am writing about.” The woman is a very serious medical doctor with a minimum of creative humor. She said, “What on earth do you mean?” I bowed my head and said, “Forgive me, but I am writing a mystery novel and you fill the part of the protagonist.” True to form, she smiled dimly and walked on.
So here I am, wondering. Will my babe in question be an MD with a secret, one that will get her killed, or will she in her flowing cape save the world? I’ll answer again, “I haven’t a clue.”
Back in Scotland, when I was writing my Merlin novel, I had the habit of going to the pub of an evening. In defense, it had wi-fi. It also had the best fish n chips and draft brew in all of Scotland. I would stare out at the waves and write. The publican, also a writer, would ask me to read to her. I did so but softly so not to disturb the locals. One night, one of the locals asked: “Where is Merlin now?” I smiled. He had actually heard me reading. I responded: “He’s been riding his horse in the middle of the night for three nights. I can’t figure out how to get him off the horse.”
One day I had lunch at that auspicious pub. Again, I was reading to my helpmate who would suggest things to me. A fellow over to the side spoke. “I know where you can get that published.” I smiled. “Really?”. He gave me the name and I wrote it down. I then, the scientific side of me said, “Off hand, why this person?” The fellow went into somewhat of a lengthy story about the frugality of Scots. I finally stopped him and asked, “Sorry, I don’t get what you are trying to tell me.” He smiled. “The publisher lives very frugally and loves your kind of writing. I know him. He will love your book. And by the way, he is the one who took a chance on Harry Potter.”
Now you’d think I would have grabbed him and got his name et al. I didn’t. I just sat there and loved the moment. Call me naive. Call me a dreamer but I plan to hand deliver my manuscript to that very publisher this summer when it is done. Oh and it is a mystery fantasy so I’m still dealing with the what ifs.
Maybe what I have learned is writing is a journey. Like little Red Riding Hood (Writing Hood????), I follow the bread crumbs along the path. Maybe that was Hansel and Gretel. Hell, I don’t remember, but bread crumbs along the path are actually clues and I am wide open to clues.
This summer, I’ll jump back into that mystery gig of 4 days. THIS time, I’ll be one of them.