Monday, July 11, 2011

I Am What I Write

RHYS: It's been around one hundred degrees all this week and I've been feeling cold all the time. No, I don't have a rare disease. I am not wasting away. I'm in the middle of writing a book that takes place at Christmastime on snowy Dartmoor in England. So most of my day is being spent tramping through snow, cheeks burning in the cold wind.

This has proved to me once again how very caught up in my stories I become. There have been times when my husband recoils in surprise when I snap at him for no reason. He can't even ask any longer "Is it your time of the month again?" I tried to analyse I could come up with no reason I was mad at him.... until I sat at the computer again and realized that my hero and heroine were locked in conflict and the hero was behaving very badly.

I go around feeling terrible when I have to kill someone I have come to like. I don't really see my heroine as my alter ego but I certainly have come to identify with her. I feel sick when she is sick and right now I'm bloody cold.

At a book club talk last night I confessed that I have never been able to murder a child in one of my books. I tried and couldn't do it. I have never been able to write too dark or violent. It's not in my nature.

So do tell, fellow Jungle Reds: how involved do you get in your stories? Is there a limit to the darkness to which you will go? If you are writing a particularly dark story, does it affect your life outside writing?

JAN: When I was writing Yesterday's Fatal, the second in the Hallie Ahern series, my writer's group wanted me to kill off Walter, a cab driver and friend who she linked up with at a 12-step program for Substance Abuse. It made a lot of sense for the plot, but I suffered real grief just thinking about his demise.I just couldn't do it. Walter?? He was her mentor, her rock. I agonized for this for days and then flat out refused. Walter lived.

DEBS: I've had to change the murderer in a book, because I found that although I'd plotted very carefully and all the pieces fit, when I got to the end of the books I just couldn't believe he did it. And I am sometimes blocked for ages when I have to kill a character I really like. Usually my inner dialogue goes like this. "---- has to die. Otherwise you have no book. It's a crime novel. People die in crime novels. If you don't kill ----, you will not have a BOOK! So get the hell on with it!" But I don't like it.

I cry when sad things happen. I'm moody and cranky when things are not going well for my characters. And at the moment, I'm having climatic split personality, as my back story is set in south London in August, while the present day story is set in London in freezing January. Dallas should be giving me lots of inspiration for the HOT part.

HALLIE: We all know that all books are so personal, even when they're not. We're always channel some experience, relationship that kicks up real sensations and emotions. I had a particularly wrenching time writing the scene where the main character Ivy in NEVER TELL A LIE gives birth to her baby. It brought back so many memories. And of course, my worst fear was that something would go wrong--same with my character. I once heard great advice: write your fears. I was certainly doing that.

ROBERTA: The most terrible time for me was when I got the news (after five mysteries featuring aspiring golfer Cassie Burdette) that the publisher did not intend to continue my first series. Cassie started out as a neurotic, hard-drinking young woman who made all kinds of poor choices that had bad effects on her life and her golf aspirations. I dragged her kicking and screaming into therapy and things were definitely beginning to look up, both personally and professionally. So leaving her behind was like a little death with all the accompanying mourning. We had come so far together! Now of course with much time passing, I can see that it was time to let her go--let her live her own life with me watching over it every minute. I understand she's engaged and is playing very well on the LPGA tour:).

HANK: Roberta, that's so nice to hear about Cassie! I wondered, of course.
As for me, if I don't make myself cry when I write the emotional parts, why would I think the readers will cry? I get so happy when I cry, or get goosebumps when my characters say just the right thing. It means--it's working.

JULIA: Oh, my, yes. I have a scene in OUT OF THE DEEP I CRY where a woman (in the 1920s) loses several of her children to diphtheria. I was sobbing so hard when I wrote that I couldn't see my computer screen.

Deb, I also have the odd imaginary climate control, where I feel cold during the many, many times I'm writing about the Adirondacks' harsh winters. The good thing is, I do lots of my work in the summer, and as neither my house nor the university library has air conditioning, a chill up my back is quite welcome!

ROSEMARY: Funny, I just watched Stranger Than Fiction tonight. I don't want to spoil the movie for anyone, but let's just say this post was eerily apropos!

It isn't usually the deaths in my books that trouble me (what does THAT say...) at least not in the first four books, it's the duplicity. I don't really think anyone I know would murder someone but there are some unlikeable characters - particularly in my WIP, which is not a Paula Holliday book. I've started to look at some of the people around me in a whole new light.

I haven't cried when reading or writing one of my own books - I save that for when I read my royalty statements (little joke)but I have scared myself a few times. Not with graphic details, which I can't see myself ever writing, just the unexpected - the good guy who's not all good, the bad guy who surprises you.

RHYS: So fellow writers--fess up about how involved you get with your own stories, and dear readers--do you love books that touch you emotionally, make you cry?


  1. Oh, I love to cry over a book! I also can endure a badly constructed plot as long as I get envolved emotionally. And I even can cry over the same scene for a trillion times ;-) (I'm a recidivist, I read my favourite books again and again).

  2. OH, me, too. If I'm gonna cry, I'll cry when I read it again.

    Re-reading books is interesting--come to thnk of it. I hardly EVER do. It's such a luxury..

  3. I have a book I still haven't finished (for like 15 years) because the antagonist is so evil I want to bath in bleach after I've been in his head. I save working on it for the really dark moments in my life. Lawyer Guy calls that one my therapy book.

    I tend to write dark and I love it when I'm writing while crying or I have to stop to go turn on the light. It doesn't always happen but when it does, I know I'm on the right track! (My CP is excellent about telling me when I haven't pushed hard enough because she didn't cry.)

    Great topic today, ladies! I'm diving into a scene at funeral home and I need to find that emotion.

  4. I was in a writing class writing to prompts. I forget what the prompt was, but I ended up writing about a woman going to pick up her son at Virginia Tech after the shootings. Her son was fine, hadn't even been involved, and the story was a short vignette between the time she picks him up on campus and then drops him off again to resume classes.

    When it came time to read it to the class, I sobbed through the whole reading. I thought--man, if writing about a woman whose son survived does this to me, how would I do writing about a parent who'd lost a child in an event like that?

  5. I always save books thinking I'll reread, but hard to find the time when there are so many good ones coming down the pipe!

    Barb, such an interesting story. I've had the reverse happen too--much worse for a writer--when I share something that I thought was gut-wrenching and get no reader reaction:(. Back to the drawing board!

  6. I write short stories but did a NaNoWriMo that will probably end up a novella. I used my hero's worse fear and created a serial killer of kids. It took me the whole month of October to psych myself up to kill off two kids.

    I guess the upside is because I write shorter I don't have to make my scenes as long as for a novel. But it did bother me a lot to write it.

    I'm just starting a winter short story so I it will be interesting to see if it make me cooler. Did I mention it is in the 90s and humid today?

    I usually cry when I read Nicholas Sparks’ books. Not all, but most of them. I think it takes a lot to make me cry both as a reader and a writer.

  7. I've just proved my own point. I was doing the laundry, bent to pick up a dime and said, "Who left sixpence in their pocket?"

  8. I must definitely like to cry when the book really grabs me. Sometimes if I read a passage aloud --to one of my classes--that I have been strongly moved by in the past, the waterworks start again. Amazing how the written word can have this effect.And wonderful!

  9. Roberta, I've had the same thing happen to me. When I reread the scene that had moved me to tears but left my critique group yawning, I realized that the pain had been so real to me I'd assumed everyone else would feel it too. I didn't have to communicate it--I thought--and hadn't!