Sharing the thrill of mystery.
By R. Franklin James
Eventually every writer must come to face to face with a vacant screen or blank sheet of paper, and the words that are stored in our head start to pour out—or they don’t. The compelling story we thought we had to articulate, evades us and we fall back on the mechanical: word counts, details, research—words on a page.
And that’s okay.
Writing fiction is learned. It requires craft and discipline and more than anything it requires inspiration—the inspiration that comes from listening to the voices in our head. Voices which convert to words, which lead to characters, to scenes, to the interaction of character and scenes, and how they all build upon each other to tell a story that transports the reader.
Writers must have the courage of convictions that words, and the joining of words into sentences and the melding of sentences into paragraphs and the linking of paragraphs onto pages, will produce a book that we hope will entertain, educate and perhaps make a difference.
Because at the core of it, at the very base of our being, writers are idealists with an incessant urge to get our thoughts and stories out of our heads, onto paper, and into the hands of people we want to reach.
But what about that muse?
Our muse is always with us, except for the times we ignore her presence. We may struggle with conjuring up the right word or the next scene, and beg that she appear. She looks at us in amazement because she has never left our side.
Our muse is our imagination.
She is the free flowing ideas that pour out of our fingers and onto our keyboards. If we hit a wall or become blocked it is likely because we are trying too hard. The quickest way to turn our back on our imagination is to “think” about it. Stuck? Then take a few minutes to get up and walk around, or step outside or watch some inane show on the TV. Still stuck? Then talk to your protagonist. Ask him or her what’s going to happen next? Who’s going to walk through that door, or cause the phone to ring, or send a letter in the mail? Try to imagine the unexpected, and let your imagination kick-in.
Maybe read a book. The author, Annie Proulx is quoted: You should write because you love the shape of stories and sentences and the creation of different words on a page. Writing comes from reading, and reading is the finest teacher of how to write.
But be careful, reading can be captivating but it’s not writing, read to prime the pump.
Still stuck? Then write a few words about why you feel stuck and what could be the cause. The idea is to prime the imagination pump. That is how our muse talks to us.
It is not enough to say: I’m blocked; I don’t know where my story is going.
Don’t write your story, write your protagonist’s story. Or, maybe write the villain’s story. Or, maybe write the end of a story.
The important thing is: don’t stop writing.
Even if it’s just a paragraph, write every day, and you’ll discover that the muse you’re desperately seeking has been seeking you. One of my favorite quotes is from legendary western author Louis L’Amour: Start writing, no matter what. The water can’t flow until the faucet is turned on.
While writers such as Dashiell Hammet and Raymond Chandler churned out hard-boiled mysteries, and Agatha Christie became the queen of cozies, a slew of women were giving birth to a new and hard to define mystery sub-genre. Today, we'd call it the psychological crime novel. So popular was this genre in the 40s and 50s, many of their novels were adapted to film or television. Laura by Vera Caspary is now a classic starring Gene Tierney and Clifton Webb. Humphery Bogart and Gloria Grahame starred in the adaptation of the Dorothy B. Hughes novel In a Lonely Place. These forgotten, but highly successful, women mystery and crime fiction writers are seeing a resurgence in popularity with the publication of an anthology collection assembled by the Library of America. Feeling nostalgic? Check out these underrepresented writers for a dose of mystery, suspense, thrills and fear.
Whether an author is published independently or traditionally, she is always looking for the best way to get her books into the hands of interested readers. Good thing for us The Hot Sheet, a publishing industry email newsletter for authors, has published its report on Digital Book World 2017, held January 17th -19th in New York City.
Inside the report are marketing tools and tips they gathered from authors and publishers alike. Click here to read what The Hot Sheet learned about:
We are the Sacramento, California chapter of Sisters in Crime. We promote the ongoing advancement, recognition and professional development of women crime writers.