I have a policy about writing smack about my fellow authors—I don’t do it. If asked about a book I dislike, I think about my genteel, east Tennessee mother-in-law, who was raised in a home where it was considered impolite for children to say, “I don’t like_____.” If my MIL was a dinner guest, she was taught to tell her hostess, “No, thank you. Carrots are too pretty to eat!”
Sadly, I haven’t found a line as punchy as that one for books. Besides, criticism is a necessary part of the whole artist gig. I don’t dispute that. I just like to leave it to the pros.
Which brings me to Roger Ebert.
I have had a celebrity crush on Roger Ebert since he and Gene Siskel sat across the aisles and did their thumbs thing. I love his writing, his reviews, his blog. I Like his page on Facebook. I think his public battle with cancer elevates him to the rank of courageous human being.
I especially love when Roger hates a movie. It takes genuine talent to skewer a film without coming off as petty, and to do it with humor. Roger is a master at this.
But I most admire Roger for the screenplays he wrote.
Yes, Roger Ebert crossed the line from critic to artist. And here’s where it gets interesting, because Roger’s work as a screenwriter was…uh…ahem…well, let’s just say that if Beyond the Valley of the Dolls was served to me at dinner, I’d have to say it was too pretty to eat.
Because of my aforementioned crush, I feel safe in lobbing this gentle zapper. What’s important is that he put himself out there to be judged by those he’d made a career of critiquing. He walked the walk. For that he gets major kudos.
Which brings me to me.
My editing career began with a colleague who knew I loved the mystery genre. I read her mystery-in-progress and discovered I had a knack for seeing the bones as a body, as it were. Eventually, I decided I wanted to edit professionally. I took some courses on craft, sharpened my editing skills through study and practice, and set myself up in business.
After editing x number of mystery manuscripts, I grew my own idea for one. I suppose this was a natural development, but it also put me in a touchy situation. I was confident about brainstorming and mending flaws in other writers’ mystery manuscripts, but could I write one from scratch? And if I did, what if it was awful? Would it hurt my credibility? Would I become a figurative bowl of carrots?
In the middle of my internal debate, Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens played on TV. It felt like a message: Cross the line. Walk the walk. Write your own mystery novel.
So, I am. It’s a traditional mystery; I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel. I have learned something from every one of my clients, and I praise new—and experienced—writers when they try to grow as an artist. That is what I am attempting to do. The view is different from this side of mystery-writing pages, I admit, but I’m walking the walk.
And there is my announcement. I’d also like to say, once, that if my mystery turns out to be too pretty to eat, it is Roger Ebert’s fault.
That, friends, is the story of my mystery novel’s raison d’être. What’s yours? What drove you to write what you are writing?