Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Rhys flies by the seat of her pants.

RHYS BOWEN: There are two types of writers: the outliners and the pantsers. The former plot out entire books. They do character studies and know what they are going to write about before they start.
The latter (which include me) fly by the seat of their pants.  We start knowing almost nothing. We begin writing and hope a story will materialize. And strangely enough it always seems to.

I always know the environment in which I want to set the mystery. I s.ay to myself 'wouldn't it be fun to set a story within the art world of the Paris post-Impressionists and send Molly there? Then I find a way to do it. don't always know who is going to be murdered or whodunit. 

I have now written thirty one mysteries and I am still in a complete state of panic for the first fifty pages. I am plagued with doubts--will this really turn into a good story? What if I say everything I want to in less that one hundred pages? What if I can't finish it? So I stumble along and then my characters start taking over and I find myself tiptoeing after Molly or Georgie, anxious to see what scrapes they are going to get themselves into this time.

I realize that writing an outline first would make life more comfortable for me. But I'm afraid that once I got the storyline down on paper I'd lose interest. And I'd know what was going to happen. I'd be the puppet master, forcing my characters to obey my will. The way I write I'm as surprised and excited as Molly or Georgie when strange things happen and we go off on tangents, when there is a knock on the door and an unexpected person is standing there.

I've just reached that blissful hundred page mark on my new Molly book and I'm heaving a sigh of relief. Yes we have a good story and it's going somewhere and it's just up to me to keep up with Molly's pace. The driving idea behind this story is Freud's book on the interpretation of dreams. One of Molly's friends has returned from studying with Freud with Vienna and is called upon to help a young girl who has survived a fire that killed her parents, but remembers nothing of the event. Since then she is plagued by nightmares and it is hoped that they might reveal exactly what happened that night.

I decided to tackle this story as I studied dream psychology at the University of Freiburg in Germany and have been fascinated ever since. It's going to be a very complicated puzzle, tying in with a case that Daniel is working on. I hope that Molly is in top form and able to solve it!

Here's an excerpt I've written this week:

My first impression of her was that I was looking at a French bisque doll with enormous blue eyes and corn-colored hair. She was so pale that she almost merged into the whiteness of the pillows behind her head. She sat up and looked at us with apprehension as we crowded into her small bedroom.

                “Hello Polly.” Gus took the initiative. “I’m Augusta, and these are my friends Molly and Elena.  Your aunt asked us to come because we heard you’d been having nightmares since the awful tragedy.  Your aunt wondered if I could help you, because I’ve been learning about how to interpret dreams.”

                “My aunt told me,” Polly said.

                “May I sit down?” Gus said, pulling up a chair beside the bed. “And my friends can sit on the window seat in the sun, unless you’d prefer that they wait in another room while we have our talk?”

                “It’s all right. They can stay,” Polly said in a resigned voice.

                We sat.  Shafts of sunlight painted stripes on the flowered wallpaper, highlighting the only color in the otherwise white room.

                I could tell that Gus didn’t know how to begin.

                “Polly,” I said. “We were so sorry to learn about your parents.  What an awful thing to have lived through. It’s no wonder you are having bad dreams."

She sat in silence for a while then she said,  “I can’t believe they are gone. I just didn’t believe it when Aunt Minnie told me. I mean, not my Papa. How could it be? He was so big and strong. I keep expecting to hear the front door slam and his big voice yelling, “Where’s my Pollywog?”

She looked down at her sheet, smoothing it with a tiny white hand.  “I keep asking myself ‘how could I get out and he didn’t?”

“You don’t remember getting out?” Gus said. “Maybe there was a fire escape outside your window and not outside theirs?”

She shook her head. “It was the other way around. The fire escape was outside their window, not mine.  And I don’t remember anything at all. Not the fire. Not getting out. Nothing until I woke up and these faces were over me and someone said ‘she’s alive. God be praised.’”

“So how do you think you got out?” Gus asked.

“I’ve no idea. Unless I walked in my sleep. “

“Do you walk in your sleep sometimes?” Gus asked.

“Sometimes. I used to more when I was little. But how could I not have woken up if there was a fire and flames all around me?”

“Polly, is it possible that you walked in your sleep and….” I started to say, then shut up again. “No, never mind. It’s not important.”  I had been going to ask whether she might have knocked over their lamp by accident or even lit a match, tried to light a fire, and all without knowing it. But I realized as I said it that this was a burden I couldn’t lay on her. She was already carrying enough guilt that she had lived and they had not.

There was another awkward silence that seemed to go on forever.

“Tell me about your mother, Polly,” Sid said. “You must miss her dreadfully.”

Polly pressed her lips together and I could tell she was willing herself not to cry. “ Mama was so soft and gentle. She always used to braid my hair for me. Aunt Mnnie never does it right and she jerks my head with the hairbrush. Mama never did. And she let me climb into bed with them when I had bad dreams.”

“Have you always had bad dreams?” Gus asked.

“I’ve had them sometimes, you know, the way one does. But not like this. These are so vivid and horrible and when I wake up I don’t know whether I’m awake or asleep and what is real and what is not.”

                “Can you tell me about any of them?” Gus asked.

                “It’s hard.” Polly looked flustered now. “They are so real at the time but when I try to remember, it’s all so unclear.”

                “Tell me about the first one,” Gus said gently. “What is the one thing you remember—the one thing that made you afraid.”

                “The snake,” Polly said firmly. “There is always the snake.”
BEAUTIFUL DREAMER will be published March 2015. And if you need a Molly fix before then, CITY OF DARKNESS AND LIGHT comes out in four weeks time, on March 4th. (and yes, it's the one where Molly goes to Paris)


  1. Oh, how horrible for Polly . . . and how wonderful that Gus has come to help her. I can hardly wait to read what comes next . . . and 2015 is a l-o-n-g way away :(
    Thanks, Rhys, for the glimpse into your new story . . . .

  2. I haven't even read City of Darkness and Light, and I already can't wait for the next book!

  3. So interesting that you sigh with relief after 100 pages, Rhys. I am still in full panic mode at least until 150:).

    Love the idea of using Freud! And I'm reading City of Darkness and Light right now--you guys are going to love it!

  4. I'm so impressed that you can find your way through the darkness to such a wonderful novel every time. I'm a combo writer - sketch outline and then fly by the seat of my pants. But never let the outline dictate, because I love how stories go where they want to go. Congratulations on hitting your 100 page mark and on City of Darkness and Light - can't wait to read it!

  5. Dream analysis! That is one fascinating subject. What the subconscious "knows" and is able to tell us, through dreams and intuition.

    Looks wonderful.

  6. Terrific(!) excerpt Rhys!

    So interesting because I usually sail blissfully along for about 100 pages and then hit a wall. I know the ending, usually, sort of, but I have no idea what happens in the next 200 pages. I'd rather do it your way.

  7. Oh, wow, Rhys, that gave me goosebumps! What a great scene. Can't wait to read the book, and what an interesting subject to weave into the novel.

    And isn't it fascinating how different everyone's creative methods are? I can't imagine setting out to write a novel without having some idea of a story goal/ending. But I don't always end up where I think I will, and unexpected things happen along the way...

  8. I do have a goal in mind, Debs. With this book my goal is : have the dreams lead us to the real killer.
    And I know why he/she was involved in the fire at that house and what he wants to accomplish.
    But I have no more clue than Molly how we will discover him and trap him.... perhaps we won't?

  9. Oh, this sounds great, Rhys. I love dream interpretation and psychology in general.

    I'm a messy-middle writer. Flounders-ville. I don't no much of an outline either, though I do character development crib sheets that I've created for myself.

  10. Oh wonderful I so love the Molly books. And these two look so good. Love all the writers here and look forward to reading their work. I love Molly because she is so smart and feisty and won't become the 'little woman" and Daniel has to learn to accept her as she is. Thanks so much for all these wonderful books.

  11. Love, Love, Love, Molly and her friends. Wonderful characters and the mysteries are always fun and interesting and show the changing times from the " Gay" 90's to the new century.
    Looking forward to the book set in France..I so love the impressionists. Thanks for all the wonderful books.

  12. There is always the snake! AH HA! Freud! And this is terrifically good. Wonderful.

    Love this, Rhys!

    And so we all will see tomorrow, I am on page, um, 14. And I need your help!

    But Rhys, you give me hope. I will persevere.

  13. Oh, Rhys, I love it when Molly has one of her dreams, her Irish sixth sense ones, and it proves to be important. From this scintillating excerpt, I can tell that we are in for a thrilling dip into dream analysis and the psychology of repressed memories. I was immediately drawn into the story, and I said a little "oh" when I came to its end and realized that was all.

    I was so lucky to have received and read (and reviewed at goodreads, amazon won't let me yet) City of Darkness and Light. As Lucy stated, "you guys are going to love it!". Rhys brings Paris at the turn of the century with all its innovative artists alive. The idea of Gus studying with Freud was introduced in this book, and I wondered if she would actually do so. Oh, 2015 is way too far away.

    And, Rhys, flying by the seat of your pants is so Molly, and that is what makes you and her so amazingly interesting.

  14. I wanted to keep reading!!! :)

    Pen M

  15. Kathy Reel, did you see you won NORTH OF BOSTON?
    (How are you doing, anyway?...)

    Send me your address via h ryan at whdh dot com

    xo and Hurray!

  16. Miss Edna and I are fighting (nicely) over the autographed copy of your latest, Rhys! Thanks so much for sending!

  17. Rhys, I am sorry I am so late. I want to say I'm going to love this book you are working on. I studied dream psychology too but not in Germany! I am so impressed. I studied German, so I could do psych research. My plans reworked themselves, but I did get an opportunity years later when I decided to go back to graduate school for a human development and psychology degree. I have always been fascinated by what's going on in there while we sleep. This will be terrific to read, and I'm looking forward to it.

    I have tried so hard to to outline and work out everything ahead of time when I write. The best passages I've written have been just like you described. The characters take off, and I tag along. Your post gives me heart. Thank you. xo