Thursday, September 28, 2006

How far is too far?

I'll be guess blogging on Murder She Writes today... the question is "How Far is Too Far?" (See post below: could really use some help on that one...)

I'll check in with reports from Bouchercon. Maybe!

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How Far Is Too Far?

I had the fun of seeing and hanging and paneling with Deb Le Blanc (and even singing to her, in her absence!) at Heather Graham’s WRITERS FOR NEW ORLEANS conference two weeks ago (Photos HERE.).

And an interesting thing happened that weekend (well, a whole lifetime of interesting things, really, but…) that I’ve been thinking about ever since, and thought I’d talk about it for my guest blog, here.

It was the last day of the conference, and we’d just done a great group booksigning with BENT PAGES BOOKSTORE, and most of us had drifted out to the hall, and the generally supremely elegant and self-possessed Cherry Adair comes stumbling out of the signing room all dazed and flushed and glowing - almost like - well, you know… and she stops and says, not really to anyone in particular, more to herself and anyone who would listen and maybe understand:

“I just met my main character. That little bookseller”… (waving vaguely back toward the signing room)… “She’s my main character in the book I started this week.”

Man oh man, do I know what she means. I met a couple of my own characters that weekend, myself.

Partly that’s New Orleans, a city which, at least for me, seems to magnify intention and desire, all kinds of desire - sometimes for good, sometimes - not. And partly that’s travel in general. But partly, mostly, it’s being a writer, right? You start a new project and when it’s really going right, the story starts to manifest, literally manifest, around you.

(Doesn’t it? You do know what I mean, don’t you? Or have I finally made it over the deep end? No, I have proof. Cherry Adair is my proof. It’s not just me.)

A stranger really will walk up to you and you’re hit with some cosmic thunderbolt, because they are the living image of a character you’re trying to define, and suddenly you understand so much more about your story than you ever realized you were writing. You will find yourself in the exact situation that your main character is struggling with. You will walk around a corner and come face to face with the precise house your villain lives in.

It’s scary and mindblowing and ecstatically wonderful… and very, very disorienting. Reality starts seeming not so real.

Okay, so my question is… how far are we required to go along with this, for the sake of a story? Do the best writers completely abandon themselves to this ride, let the story take them over, start acting out the parts themselves? Do YOU?

Now, obviously, it would be a bad thing if we mystery writers started acting out - our villains, to state the obvious example! And let’s just assume for the sake of all that is holy that I am not looking for permission to behave badly with jailbait bookstore clerks simply because my new main character is a little - voracious, that way.

But we all do research - and when the research starts coming alive, where’s the line? Does everything you do take place behind your desk, or does a little real-life roleplaying help? In fact, does too much stability hinder the writing process, perhaps? (I’m thinking of some of my favorite authors who - while I’m happy that they’re alive - were simply much better writers when they were full-tilt batshit crazy.).

Or am I just trying to rationalize a desire to go farther than I should?

What’s your process? When your story starts coming alive, how far do YOU go?

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