Why are some people able to openly share their thoughts and ideas, without worrying about what others think? Why do others hide their opinions and views, to be shared only with those most closest to them?While civility and social contract theory may explain this phenomenon in part (no one wants to be a jerk, right?), an interesting construct may explain this more fully: The Willingness to Self-Censor.According to psychologist Andrew Hayes, some people are more willing to withhold their opinion from those they believe might disagree with that opinion. Rather than sharing their opinions freely, they wait until they are in a comfortable place to speak, where they are free from being critiqued. Or they simply do not reveal their true thoughts at all.
This theory, I believe, has important implications for writers. Some of us (and I put myself in this category), might score high on the Willingness to Self-Censor Scale. While we may feel we are protecting ourselves, we should consider: 1. Not surprisingly, as Hayes explains, self-censors are more likely to be "more apprehensive about communication." Are we writing as well as we could be, if we are constantly censoring ourselves? Maybe we are limiting our voices by not digging deep enough, by not bringing every emotion and opinion to the page, by not freeing ourselves. Maybe the fear that people won't agree with us, or that they won't like what our characters do or say, keeps us from writing at all.
2. Self-censors also "fear negative evaluation to a greater extent" as compared to those less willing to self-censor. So not only does self-censorship negatively impact the ability to write honestly and deeply, but it also impairs the self-censor's ability to withstand critique. So perhaps, writing more honestly will help free us from our fear of other people's criticism.
But what do you think? As a writer--are you writing as openly (less willing to self-censor) as you could be? As a reader--do you appreciate openness and rawness on the part of the writer?
Wing / 2705:15
A recent post by author Eric Beetner on Holly West's blog has made me deeply reflect on the way I think about writing. Eric, a musician as well as a writer, was discussing the important role that music plays in his crime fiction. Eric uses music to add dimension to his characters, explaining "Music can be an effective way to get to know a character since music is very personal." We see this all the time in film, especially to set a mood, but I'm not sure how common this is in novels.
But as I thought about it, I have used music to emphasize key themes in my writing, but in a very different kind of way from what Eric describes.The murders in my first novel, A Murder at Rosamund's Gate, are largely described through ballads, broadsides and other penny pieces... which is how 17th century Londoners would have learned about crimes within their community. Murder was literally described in verse, sung by booksellers on street corners, in a sort of a half fictional, half truthful way.
Take, for example, this 1660s ballad which I chose at random from the Early English Books--a large collection of penny press from the 16th to the 19th centuries. As always, the title provides a synopsis to the reader (or listener, as neighbors and friends would read these ballads out loud): The downfall of William Grismond: or, A lamentable murder by him committed at Lainterdine in the county of Hereford, the 22 of March, 1650, with his woful [sic] lamentation.
If you just look at the first part, you'll see the author specifies that the murder ballad should be sung to the tune of "Where is my love."
(Ironic, of course, given that his love is lying on the ground, having been murdered at his hands. The audience would have gotten the joke).
But the point is that the story wasn't meant to be just read, but sung according to a well known popular tune.
Somewhere along the way we may have lost this connection between music and fiction-writing. Obviously, a lot of musicians are story-tellers, but I'm not sure how many novelists frame their stories musically.
So I'm curious...If you write, do you deliberately use music as a way to develop themes, characters, mood etc? If you are a reader, do you hear a soundtrack play as you read? Do you want to?
Two hands good, one typewriter bad
In college, I took a really great class on George Orwell. While I enjoyed exploring his better known works (such as Animal Farm and 1984), I was fascinated by the essays that Orwell penned about different aspects of his life.
In particular, Orwell's essay "Why I Write" resonated with me at a deep level. I read the piece again recently, and I'm still struck by his explanation of what motivated him as writer and--arguably--perhaps all writers. He says there are four main motives for writing:
- Sheer egoism. Desire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after death, to get your own back on the grown-ups who snubbed you in childhood, etc., etc. It is humbug to pretend this is not a motive, and a strong one. (hmmm...no comment).
- Aesthetic enthusiasm. Perception of beauty in the external world, or, on the other hand, in words and their right arrangement. Pleasure in the impact of one sound on another, in the firmness of good prose or the rhythm of a good story. Desire to share an experience which one feels is valuable and ought not to be missed. (I do like to read out loud--to myself, not to others!--to hear how the words flow. I'm not much of a poet, but I like to read and write a phrase that soars. And I really enjoy when a writer seems to revel in sharing a great experience with me).
- Historical impulse. Desire to see things as they are, to find out true facts and store them up for the use of posterity.
- Political purpose. — Using the word ‘political’ in the widest possible sense. Desire to push the world in a certain direction, to alter other peoples’ idea of the kind of society that they should strive after. Once again, no book is genuinely free from political bias. The opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude.
These last two points do much to drive and inform my own historical novels. I don't believe in absolute truth, or in one set historical narrative. I do hope, however, to get readers to question their perceptions of society, culture, gender, power and privilege--to rethink what they think they know. While my agenda is wrapped up in what I hope is a compelling mystery, its certainly there.
I'm curious though. Do you agree with Orwell? Are books by nature political, in the widest sense of the term? Harry Potter? Twilight? The Lord of the Rings?
I'm taking a quick break from my blog hiatus to do an interview with up-and-coming crime fiction writer, Greg Bardsley, author of Cash Out (just released by Harper Perennial). Greg and I not only share an agent, the indomitable David Hale Smith, but also the bond of seeing our novels released more or less around the same time. (My book won't be out 'til April 2013, but who's counting?).
From the official publicity blurb: Cash Out "is nonstop, mercilessly hilarious, no-holds-barred fiction for fans of The Hangover and Office Space—an outrageous tall tale that follows one desperate, disgruntled Silicon Valley exec through a surreal three-day scramble to cash out his stock options and leave behind his hated high-tech job before outrageous villains (and even crazier friends) completely destroy him." – Harper Perennial
**********************************************************************************What inspired "Cash Out?"
You know, as cuckoo as some elements of the book are, Cash Out was inspired by some heavier themes.
It started when I began to think back on what it was like to live here on the San Francisco peninsula in the late 1990s. It was such a remarkable time. The Internet was exploding, billions of dollars were amassing, and irrational exuberance reigned. The Peninsula was ground zero for this explosion. The word, after all, was out: This was where one came to quickly acquire unimaginable wealth, extreme luxury, insane property fortunes and a bit of business immortality. This was where 25-year-olds retired. This is where Elton John performed at your corporate Christmas party, and where marching bands arrived at your doorstep to deliver job offers, where college grads with no experience started off at $100,000. Where power and money, always aphrodisiacs, now were supercharged by a prevailing sense of entitlement, forming a powerful new cocktail of narcissistic indulgence.
What kind of people did this world this attract? Read Cash Out for my take. Regardless, the end result was that these folks pushed out longtime Bay Area residents, drove home prices into the stratosphere and forever affected the region, its pre-existing culture, its pristine landscape and even its inherent values of inclusion and tolerance. Artists' lofts were transformed into business-incubation offices, hippies were replaced by 6-foot-4 money guys with cell phones pressed against their cheeks, coastal townies are were laughed at and dismissed, longtime residents were pushed into the boonies and the remaining native Californians on the peninsula struggled to maintain not only their sense of self and place, but also their values.
This place had changed.
So I was thinking about of all of this when I met a former WD-40 public relations guy who had become one of the first one hundred employees at Google. And I found myself wondering, What would I do if I were in his shoes and could cash out?
From there, I came up with an idea for a guy who’d be just three days away from cashing out when, suddenly, all hell breaks loose and everything he values in life is at risk.
"Cash Out" is set in 2008--is that when you started to write it? How long did it take you to complete the novel?I actually set it in 1999, but we changed the date after Cal Morgan at Harper Perennial bought the book and came up with some good reasons to advance the date to 2008. He felt the story could be more accessible for readers, considering the economic crisis that ensued that year. And he was dead-on.
I began to write Cash Out in late 2008, but really started to accelerate my work a year later. It’s hard to know how long it took to write, but my guess is it took about two years. I wrote late at night, after my wife and kids had fallen asleep. Some days I wrote at lunch, or when the family was out for an hour. Some nights I couldn’t stop, and I’d write into the very early morning. I guess you could say the first draft of Cash Out was written during a thousand stolen moments over the course of a few years.
You've got some pretty zany characters and circumstances in this novel. How much, if any, of your book is autobiographical? In writing the book, I decided to stick with what I knew best. So in some ways, I gave my protagonist, Dan Jordan, some of my own traits and circumstances. Like me, Dan would be a speechwriter in Silicon Valley working with an array of really smart and interesting people. Like me, he’d feel tired and overworked and worried about losing himself in frothy white waters of the Valley. Like me, he’d have a wife and two boys he’d love with all his heart. And like me, he’d reexamine some of the big decisions he’d made over the years. Unlike me, he’d be days away from cashing out a fortune.
People always ask me, who inspired these other characters in the book? So let me clear up a few things and come clean about some others. ... Yes, the book does include a scene where an obnoxious fatty “upper decks” into the water basin of a toilet. But, no, I have never been on the receiving (or giving) end of one of those. ... Yes, the book does feature a man who slathers himself in cocoa butter and throws buck knives at his garage door. But no, he was not inspired by anyone in the peninsula. ... No, I have never been three days from being able to cash out. And no, I have never seen a man eat a rat on a stick in the break room. (Greg, your life is so sheltered --SC)
So once again, I need to take an extended coffee break to get started on a new novel. In the meantime, I'll leave you with a description of several miracles attributed to coffee, taken from a 1663 dialogue between "Mr. Blackburnt" and "Democritus."
I've discussed the virtues of coffee before, but this time I'll focus on the miracles. In this tract, the two men share "several strange, wonderful and miraculous cures (the like never heard of since the creation!)" brought about by drinking coffee.
So after drinking coffee:Helsen, a leather-maker in Dalatia, with a consumption in his eye, became so cured that his "pocket was as bare as a bird's arse." (hmmm...a penny to anyone who can explain what that means!)
Calego in Spantego, having been troubled with dimness of sight, "broke his fast with a mess of milk-pottage, and the white of his eyes dropped into the dish" (um, gross?)
Anna Marina of Rotterdam saw the corn on her lip, which had long been bothering her, drop from her face like a "clean acorn." (Who needs dermatologists when you have coffee!!!)
This just goes to show, when I return from my hiatus and much coffee, I'll be seeing better than ever, with no unsightly blemishes! In the meantime, enjoy your coffee!!!
Maybe the trick is to think like a monkey?
So I'm thinking about starting a new novel, since I'm still in the revision phase of From the Charred Remains. Even though I'm super excited to start book 3 in my Lucy Campion series, it could be problematic to do so. Especially if my beta readers or my editors tell me I need to rewrite the ending of book 2. That hasn't happened, but who knows?
So here are the questions I'm pondering as I procrastinate, er, reflect on this new novel. Most are questions I wished I had asked myself--but of course, didn't--when I began my other novels. There's a bit of choose-your-own adventure quality to this novel-writing business, I find.
1. Do I have an idea that can be developed over 85,000 words? Do I want to spend years with this idea, draft after draft? If yes, I'll continue. If I don't, then I'll stop now. If its not compelling enough to me, than why bother?
2. Where am I going to set this story? Since I like to set my stories in the past, I've been spending some time mulling over backdrop and scenery. While I expect to research details, I find it easier to frame my novel during a time period for which I already have a basic understanding of larger political, social, economic and gender developments and trends. Paging through history texts help me envision specific aspects of the setting. However, I do of course need to find ways to make the "real" world my own.3. Do I have a point-of-view character? Is this a character I enjoy writing about? Have I thought about what motivates, scares, excites, infuriates this character? Where does this character fit--or not fit--into society? Do I have a sense of her voice? Do I have the image of this character in my mind? Only after I get a semblance of the main character do I feel I can move on. (Here's where I cheat. I usually find a celebrity who looks something like the character I have in my mind; this helps me remember what I think this person is supposed to look like). 4. Do I have a main problem at the heart of my story? If it's a mystery, that's easy. Whodunnit? But I'm writing a different kind of story this time, so I need to think through the central problem. Until I've worked out why this is even a problem, I find I can't proceed effectively.
5. Do I have a general sense of what the other characters want in life? What kinds of quests, problems, motivations do they possess? Are the goals of my minor characters aligned with--or at odds with--those of my point-of-view character? I do figure this out along the way but I find it helpful to have some starting ideas.
6. Do I have a sense of the ending, and perhaps more importantly, a sense of the middle? I think most writers--and perhaps most readers--would agree sagging middles can really ruin a novel. So I like to think through the middle a bit before I start floundering. I've been in that morass before, and I don't like it. Jump in with a line to the other end, is how I like to think about it! (Yet, I've messed this up twice. Note to self: IN MYSTERIES, FIGURE OUT WHO THE KILLER IS BEFORE STARTING WRITING!). 7. And one last question...How will I ever string together another 85,000 words in a meaningful way? (There's a related question here: Why am I doing this crazy thing?) While I've thought about hiring 1000 monkeys to type for a 1000 years, I'm going to try the best approach I know: After figuring out the shape of my story, I will just take one scene at a time. If necessary, one paragraph at a time. And if really necessary, I will just-peck-one-word-at-a-time-until-the-first-draft-is-done. And that's it!
What about you? What questions would you (do you) ask, when you sit down to create a new novel from scratch? And how many bananas will you need to feed the monkeys?
At last! Bouchercon 2012!!!Tomorrow I'm heading off to the world mystery convention, where readers, authors, librarians, agents, and publishers get together and talk mysteries and crime fiction. A year ago, I hadn't even heard of this amazing convention. More over, when I had arrived as a wide-eyed new author, I quickly discovered I wasn't even pronouncing the name properly. Named for famed mystery critic Anthony Boucher, apparently the conference is pronounced Bough- cher-con, not Bowchercon, and certainly not Boochercon like I thought. Or maybe it's the other way around. Oh well. I'll find out tomorrow.Since A Murder at Rosamund's Gate is not out yet (Don't forget, April 23, 2013!), I won't be doing any book signings or anything like that. Given that I haven't worked out a fun way to sign my books yet (6 1/2 months to figure that out!), that's probably a good thing. However, this year, I do have a teeny space in the program. I will be part of a "New Authors Coffee" on Friday morning-- I get to stand up for two minutes, with a slew of other new mystery authors, and share something about my book. What exactly I'm going to say, I have no clue (which, you know, seems to be a bad thing to admit to other mystery writers. :-) )
Two minutes. A commercial break. An amusement park ride. A descent in an elevator. A walk down an aisle. Not a lot of time, some might think. Certainly, that's true. I've asked myself, how can I capture ten years of work, three hundred some pages, an entire cast of characters, plot and subplots etc in just 2 minutes? It's daunting, overwhelming...and wonderful. A huge, strange moment. My first public moment as an "author." (Here's hoping I don't blurt out nonsense! Or babble on about the concept of two minutes! Or muse about my pronunciation issues. Most importantly, let's hope I focus on my book!)
Two minutes. Everything changes!
I've been joined here today (virtually!) by a long-time reader of mysteries, Danna, who blogs at the wonderful Cozy Mystery List Blog.
I've been following Danna's blog for a while. As a reader it's an invaluable place to discover new-to-me mysteries. As a writer, I've gleaned some great insights from her readers about what they think works well and what doesn't in a mystery. So Danna has been gracious enough to share some of her thoughts here.
Tell us a little about yourself--have you always been a big reader?
I grew up in a military family. The longest time I lived in one location (four years) was when my father was stationed in Spain. Looking back, I guess I could say that the one "constant" (besides my family, of course!) were my books. They could travel with me and keep me company during the time it took to make new friends. I have my master's degree in education and have taught school in both middle and high schools. I thought for sure I would continue teaching school in Colorado, but I married a military man which meant going back to the nomadic life of my childhood.
When did you start reading mysteries?
I began reading mysteries when I started reading my sister's "hand-me-down" Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys mystery books. From there, I graduated to Edgar Allan Poe, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and "Victoria Holt-type" mystery books. (My grandmother's house was full of books, and her local library was a place she and I visited many times.)
Is this your favorite genre?
Obviously, with a site that has "Cozy Mystery" in its name, cozy mysteries are my favorite genre. However, I read police procedurals, true crime, and when I have time, non mystery themed books. (Non mystery author E. F. Benson is my all-time favorite author.) My husband's taste in books is much wider than mine, so he occasionally finds something he thinks I absolutely have got to read. ("The Hiding Place" by Corrie ten Boom is one of his recent "finds" - and I can't say enough good things about that book.)
Why did you begin to blog about mysteries?
Years ago I belonged to several online mystery reading groups. I made two very good mystery-reading friends in two of those groups. When I found that I needed a system for cataloging the books I read (buying the same books twice), I started making a list of all the mystery authors I read and liked and included authors who I didn't like - so I wouldn't end up buying their books ever again.
When my friends found out about my systemized lists of authors and books, one of them asked if I would share it. I then began adding their favorite (and least favorite) authors to my list. From there, I started my site - with a lot of computer/technical help from my husband. I had been frustrated trying to expand my list of cozy mystery authors. At the time (2006) there weren't any internet sites that were devoted to cozy mysteries (at least not that I knew of).
And then an unexpected thing happened: I started getting e-mail from people all over the world, asking for help in identifying authors, or for suggestions about what to read, etc. My husband saw that I spent quite a bit of time answering these letters, and suggested that I start a blog. He finally convinced me, and the response to my blog was an even bigger surprise to me!
After Newgate burned down, then what?
When I wrote the first draft of From the Charred Remains, I focused mainly on getting the story worked out--finding the heart and shape of my tale.
I didn't stress too much over language, description, and dialogue on the first go-round--I figured I could elevate my prose later. As for historical details, I frequently had to make my best educated guess about what might have been true in those first weeks after the Great Fire of London (September 1666)...and move on.
Now as I work through draft two, I'm doing the hard--I mean fun--part: Fixing and double-checking all the historical details.
I've already mentioned two of my recent questions (How plausible was the stated death toll of the Great Fire of London?) and (How far could a horse travel in the seventeenth-century anyway?), but here are a few other things that I've pondered:
Since my heroine is now a printer's apprentice (yes, unusually so!) I had to figure out a lot of specifics about the early booksellers and their trade. So I wondered, for example, how did a seventeenth-century printing press operate? As it turns out, the press operated in a remarkably gendered way--parts of the machine were referred to as "female blocks," which had to connect with "male blocks." The interconnected parts were supposed to work together harmoniously, but on occasion--usually when the female "leaked"--the whole press might stop working. (Naturally, the female part was to blame!)
And another question: Since three of the largest prisons--Newgate, Fleet, and Bridewell--were all destroyed in the Great Fire, where were criminals held? I had to make my best guess on this one. There were other prisons of course: Gatehouse prison in Westminster, the White Lion prison, the Tower, and my favorite, the Clink in Southwark. But I decided to invent my own makeshift jail--after all, in those chaotic days after the Great Fire, order had to be regained quickly, and it stands to reason that royal and civil authorities might have wanted lawless behavior contained as quickly as possible. I couldn't find evidence to the contrary, so an old chandler's shop became a temporary jail.
And were criminals still being hanged at the Tyburn tree immediately after the Fire? Executions resumed quickly after the Fire, conducted as they had been since the twelfth century, in the village of Tyburn (now Marble Arch in London). Prisoners were progressed by cart, from jail to the "hanging" tree, parading through the streets--often praying, preaching, repenting or depending on their personality, even swapping jokes with the spectators. Usually they stopped at a tavern for one last drink along the way, before being forced to do the "Tyburn jig," as Londoners cheerfully called execution by hanging.
Of course, I also looked up countless other details...Who used acrostics and anagrams to convey messages? What secrets might be conveyed in a family emblem? And most significantly of all: What happened when the first pineapple arrived in London?
Ah-h-h, but I can't tell you about these answers....I'd be giving too much away about Book 2!!! I don't really have a question for you to answer, so I'll just end with a maniacal laugh...
MWAH HA HA HA HA....!!!
As I work on From the Charred Remains, the second book in my Lucy Campion series, I keep getting plagued by this question: How long would it take a horse and carriage to travel from London to Oxford in the mid-seventeenth century?
Check out my post at the Bloody Good Read on this topic! Let me know what you think!