Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Building a Better Blog

For the last few evenings I've settled down in front of my computer to try to learn how to build a blog that will do what I've tried to get my website to do. A good friend and even better writer has managed my site, but this is something that nags at me. I should figure this out. So I have. But make no mistake, my site does look like I created it. It does not look like I paid anyone to do this.

Having an amateurish touch on a blog is fine. Having that same appearance in a book is not. We are becoming very used to being able to have everything we want when we want it--websites, books, blogs, vacations, new clothes. I'm still not used to ordering something on the Internet at eleven thirty at night, but I do it.

Writing and publishing a book will probably never be easy in my lifetime. Writers will still have to sit at a desk (or stand or slouch on a sofa) and compose words on a page or a computer or for a voice recorder (notice I didn't say tape recorder) and then review and edit those words. It will take time and physical effort. Shepherding a manuscript through the press will also take time because many of us will want to see our books printed and bound, and many readers will want books to hold in their hands. I'm one of them. I enjoy blogs and learn from them, but I want to hold that book, feel the paper between my fingers, smell the ink and glue and, yes, sometimes even cloth. Even an eBook takes time, for preparing the manuscript, developing a cover, composing the copy that sells the book to the person browsing around looking for something interesting to read.

We can learn to do lots of things. This blog is one example. But I learned to do this by looking at a lot of other blogs, trying out simple ideas, and revising and fixing. It is a very modest effort. And I'm fine with that. But I would not want my books to be on quite this level. For the books I write I want to rely on other professionals to do the job they know how to do, the job I don't know how to do.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Another Reason for Writing Crime Fiction

The writers I know write a wide variety of fiction and nonfiction but most of us have had some of the standard experiences of writers. We get the usual questions: Where do you get your ideas (a magazine, the daily newspaper, overheard conversations, random thoughts, or who knows)? Have you ever published anything? Are you famous? And, my all-time favorite: Would you like to write this great idea I have and split the royalties?

But what we don't tell our interlocutors is the tactile pleasure of writing crime fiction. For those who think this is one of those cerebral pastimes, akin to lounging with a box of Godiva chocolates, I offer the image of working a clay sculpture. I can't speak for other writers but I derive a deep satisfaction from working out the various physical aspects of a crime novel--the specific details of a landscape and how that will affect the protagonist (can she jump a fence, get through heavy underbrush without getting gored by thorns, walk the bank of a swollen river), the timing of activities she only learns about afterwards.

I write crime fiction without an outline, but I write it as though I were living the experience of it. For me writing crime fiction is one step from the real physical experience, and working out some of the details on paper is like working a gigantic jigsaw puzzle, with little slips of paper holding clues that have to be arranged just so on my desk.

So when that pesky student in a creative writing program is describing the wisdom of the writer and superiority of certain publishers, I'm finding that scarf tied around her neck a convenient device for a short story about strangling someone between the salad and the main course.

A friend once pointed out to me (which was pointed out to her by her son the doctor), there is no such thing as the life of the mind. We are all just cells--physical, percolating cells making it all up as we go along. (Well, he was more elegant than that but you get the idea.) And I like making it up on paper.