Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Mystery Fatigue

Sharon Wildwind

Dreams are my bellwether.

When I’ve been going at this mystery thing too hard and too long, I dream complete mysteries. They have wonderful complex plots; I wrap everything up neatly in the last few minutes before I wake up; and they’re almost always set in a tough police procedural world.

Only . . . there’s always something ghastly wrong. Like the one where the squad room was painted bright pink, and cops sat on large marshmallows while smoking hookahs. It resembled The Wire meets Alice in Wonderland. Try pitching that concept to an editor.

Or there is the not-to-automatic grammar editor. That’s another warning sign. That’s when I’m typing along and I do a no-no such as split an infinitive, as in Kirk’s legendary, “to boldly go.” My fingers automatically hit the delete key, then I spend five minutes staring at the screen trying to decide whether “to go boldly” or “boldly to go” captures the essence of what I’m trying to say.

Lately it’s been fish. Everywhere, something piscine. A water-colored, rice paper wall hanging of carp at the restaurant where we had supper last night. A red-and-white fishing bobble abandoned in the parking lot. Fish rubber stamps. Fish decals. Fish buttons. My favorite frozen fish on sale in the grocery. Fish and baby shrimp in oyster sauce at the above mentioned restaurant.

The point is, mysteries are a tough world. As a mystery writer, I live several hours every day in an imaginary environment where people hurt one another. There’s blood, gore, body fluids, forensic evidence, motives, repercussions, and conflict. Always conflict.

When I leave the fictional world to devote time to the business of writing, selling, and marketing mysteries, at least there is less blood and body fluids. Mystery writers are, on the whole, a well behaved lot. But there is still a heck of a lot of repercussions—What will happen if I don’t get a good review? How do I stand in relation to the competition? Is there a young hot-shot writer coming up hard on my heels?—and conflict. My needs, my agent’s needs, my editor’s needs, the publisher’s needs, the readers’ needs, the bookseller’s needs. Always conflict.

That’s why I’m going on vacation. Hopefully, after a few days of not doing mystery things—well, okay, I have a deadline and I’ll probably knock out several chapters—but I’m not doing anything out of the ordinary, I’ll be able to get that dream-world squad room back to it’s dingy green walls, and get those darn fish out of my head.

Of course, there was that one dream where Captain Frank Furillo—he of Hill Street Blues fame—was actually a giant goldfish, and his office was an aquarium, and all the people in the squad room were watching him swimming around in his office. Maybe . . .

Never mind. See you on the flip side of my holidays.

Writing quote for the week:

As soon as I think I know anything for sure about the creative process, I should open a fruit stand.
~Michael Conforti, script writer

1 comment:

Julia Buckley said...

You really do love your old tv shows, Sharon! :)

I know what you mean about all the fears a writer can have, and there is always that notion of that better writer jogging up next to us and making us feel small.

But there are readers for all of our work, I firmly believe, and we have to pursue our vision--even when it's full of fish or hookah smokers.

Imagine if Lewis Carroll had dismissed his own work as "too fantastical." :)