Saturday, October 10, 2009

Writing Obsessions - Part 1

Elizabeth Spann Craig (Guest Blogger)

This is a two-part blog. More coming tomorrow, so don't forget to check back.

Elizabeth Spann Craig is the author of the August Midnight Ink release Pretty is as Pretty Dies and the upcoming Memphis Barbeque mystery series for Berkley Prime Crime (written under her Riley Adams pen name.)

 She’s the mother of two and currently lives in Matthews, North Carolina. Between juggling room mom duties, refereeing play dates, and being dragged along as chaperone/hostage on field trips, she dreams of dark and stormy nights beside stacks of intriguing mysteries with excellent opening lines.

Writing, in many ways, has completely taken over my life. There aren’t many minutes in the day when I’m not mulling over a plot point, weaving random ideas and dialogue into my book, or scribbling crazy little notes to myself that only I understand.

Occasionally, like most obsessions, I carry things just a little too far. Sometimes my writing methods get me into some trouble:

I become enthralled by people who remind me of characters: to the point of not actually listening very closely to them.

People fascinate me. And too frequently now I size them up to see how they’d fit into my book. What a wonderful lisp! Or, “What a pompous bore. He’d be great to add a little conflict to that party scene of mine. He could even be killed at the party! He’d make the perfect victim.”

I’ve gotten in trouble with this habit of mine before. I was at my son’s soccer practice and a woman came up, introduced herself, and started launching into a longish monologue. I was struck by the fact that she looked exactly like Camilla (the Prince of Wales’ wife.) It was incredible! Her gruff voice (I had no idea what she was saying, but I loved the way she sounded), aristocratically thin and horsey appearance—it all combined to give her this amazing similarity to Camilla. She moved with a rough elegance that amazed me.

I learned a sad lesson later when I discovered she’d been talking to me about the soccer snack schedule and I didn’t have the snack the following week at practice.

I snap pictures of interesting people.

This has yet to get me in trouble, but I’m sure my day is coming. At first I took pictures of interesting places for my files. I love dark places, abandoned barns, old houses that are falling apart, tired-looking architecture from long ago. Then I graduated to people. I kept finding unusual people around. Sometimes I’ve got my camera out anyway and it’s not that noticeable (I don’t think, anyway) what I’m taking a picture of.

The elderly gentleman above was a very interesting man I saw at a large amusement park a few weeks ago. He had the requisite black socks pulled up too high, was eating a lollypop, and shared his table with an egret. He also had a purse. He had to have his picture taken!

Unfortunately, he was already quite suspicious of me because…well, because I was staring at him. My social skills since becoming a writing enthusiast have definitely gone out the window.

I carefully looked in completely the opposite direction, leaning my chin on my hand. I snapped the picture with the other hand. As you see, the picture didn’t turn out exactly as I planned. Since, of course, I wasn’t looking through the viewfinder. But my second picture turned out much better. I won’t share that one here. But he was a wonderful character. Too bad he ran away from me as fast as he could.

Your name? Your child’s name? Your funny turn of phrase? Your eccentric habit? Look out, they may become my material.

I’m particularly looking out for things that get under people’s skin on an everyday basis—it might be enough to commit murder under, in the right circumstances. Just the final straw to push someone over the edge. Or enough to add a bit of side-drama to my book—like the gnomes in my recent release, Pretty is as Pretty Dies.
They came about right after a friend complained bitterly about her neighbor’s yard art. I decided yard gnomes would be the perfect way for my sleuth to get back at her interfering son. The fractious book club in my novel? It was inspired by a club that actually did exist…until the members became so irritated with each other that the club folded.

Am I alone in this odd behavior? Do you have any writing obsessions or eccentricities you’d like to share? Be sure to check back in tomorrow for more ways I’ve complicated my life with my obsession.

Elizabeth Spann Craig's web site.


Marvin D Wilson said...

I too am a people watcher. I'll sit in a wifi cafe or the library and be watching people - the amazing diversity, such characters all over the place! Sometimes I get caught staring - lol. But my characters are almost always inspired by observing real life people.

Great feature post - nice job both of you - I always enjoy learning more about Elizabeth's writing and quirks (wink).

The Old Silly

Margot Kinberg said...

Elizabeth - Like you, I'm obsessed with writing. It's so funny, too, that you mention how people you meet end up in your writing. I have a T-shirt (given me as a gift) that says, Careful, or you'll end up in my novel!. I think we writers are like that; we soak in our environment and it comes out in some way in what we write.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Marvin--I get caught staring, too. I try to be a little less-obvious about it now--the quick, darting look. :)

Margot--What a great tee-shirt! I love that.

Kathleen A. Ryan said...

Wonderful post, I really enjoyed it, and I'm looking forward to the next installment! Since turning to writing full-time, I, too, have developed some of your "obsessions." My family and friends are getting used to me pulling out a notebook and jotting down funny or interesting phrases; I tell them, "I don't know how or when, but one day I will work that into a story." Their words are just too good to pass by, and if I don't write them down, I will forget. I'll have to incorporate the photo-taking -- thanks for the tip! I always carry a digital camera in my purse at all times, so I'll start using it more!
Thanks to Poe's Deadly Daughters for inviting Elizabeth to guest blog.
I'm going to Tweet this post -- it's terrific.

Journaling Woman said...

I am hypervigilant by nature. I want the best seat in a restaurant so that I can watch the people. But watch out for this one. The people I am with often complain about my wandering eyes and less attention to them. So, I need to use this for my writing hmm...and hope I don't get arrested.

I will do it!

Martha Nichols said...

Oh, you are not alone, Elizabeth! I think since childhood I've squirreled away details in my writing notebooks, and they're still filled with random observations or dialogue that I've overheard.

Just as photographers are always framing shots when they look at the world, I believe writers are endlessly fascinated with the quirks of people. I, too, may start using my cell-phone camera for quick snaps, though most of the unexpected gems I find out there involve interactions between people.

Once again, I'm very glad to have come upon your blog and now Poe's Deadly Daughters. You can find me at or

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Kathy--Thanks so much for coming by! I've found cameras to be really useful and have a great file on my computer to help me out whenever I get stuck with setting or characters. I just have to be careful of people who may not want their picture snapped. :)

Journaling Woman--There have been one or two times where I really got some cross looks. Fortunately, the comments I've gotten have been people asking if I'm a photographer. And--well, I am! Just not professionally. A photographer is one who takes pics, right? :) That seems to calm the irritated people a bit.

Martha--Thanks for popping by! I think writers like to look at the world through their own lens--we like to sit back and watch. I think photographers have much in common with us. I feel more removed behind a camera, and much more comfortable. I'm not a wonderful photographer, but it's fun for me and great for my writing.

Alan Orloff said...

Great post, Elizabeth.

I think I'm going to follow your lead and start carrying a camera. My memory is fading and I can use all the help I can get remembering great characters and settings (from the real world).

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Alan--Oh, memories. Ugh. I have a wretchedly horrid memory and it hasn't gotten any better as I've approached middle age. I have files for everything now--easy to access notes and photos. I may now start labeling them by mood, setting, etc.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

No, guess I'm pretty non-obssessive when it comes to these things! LOL Your story of the old man in the photo is pretty funny though. What is it with old men and black socks?

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Diane--I'm not sure. If my dad starts wearing black socks and shorts, I'm staging an intervention.

Anonymous said...

I loved this post, Elizabeth. I love studying odd people and places, too. You've reminded me that I should pay more attention to documenting them, either in photos or by jotting down my impressions so they don't vanish in thin air.

Julie Lomoe's Musings Mysterioso

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Julie--Thanks for popping by! Documenting the info can be really helpful, especially when you start to accumulate a lot.

Elspeth Antonelli said...

Oh dear, once again I seem to march to the beat of a completely different drummer. I don't take characteristics from people I've met, or study people's walks or habits. My characters are completely fictional; not based (even in the smallest way) on anyone.

This is a wonderful post, Elizabeth that has (I admit) got me wondering if I'm doing everything wrong!


Jemi Fraser said...

Sounds like we're all very alike in our curiousity :) Real people are so interesting. I'd like a copy of Margot's shirt!

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Elspeth-- No, that might be a sign that you're able to create a whole world and populate it completely in your head. I do that...sometimes. But usually I'm looking for some help in the world around me. You're very creative--enjoy it!

Jemi--Gosh, there are just so many interesting people out there. The funny thing is that they find themselves so ordinary!

Tara said...

This is a fun post. I had a little trouble reading the text along the edge of the photos, but I still enjoyed the post. By the way, I love the name of this blog.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Tara--I like it, too! They've got a lot of great posts and guest bloggers here. My favorite recurring segment is one that Sharon does---merit badges for writers! If you do a search for it on this blog, you'll get a smile (and maybe even a badge or two.)

Sandra Parshall said...

Elizabeth, you've been such a loyal reader of Poe's Deadly Daughters that it's a special treat to have you here as a guest! Great post -- looking forward to part 2.

Julia Smith said...

You are not alone. Once I'm out on the sidewalks, I'm not paying any attention to the world - only the world in my head. You don't know how many people have told me, "I waved to you and said hi but you walked right past me." LOL!

Sorry, folks - if you're not a character in the scene in my head, you're just not there.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Sandra--Thanks so much for inviting me today! It's been a lot of fun.

Julia--Too funny! Gosh, that happens to me, too. I think people think I'm stuffy, but I honestly don't even *see* them.

Christine Hammar said...

A great post and funny picture of the man in shorts & black socks :).
A lollypop and a purse? Now what does that suggest?

I'm the same: don't look, don't listen just see and hear. Not many moments in the day go by without me thinking about my plot.

I enjoy watching people: how they move, what they wear how they react and wondering why.
A good place to stare at people, is in the car in the parking lot of a big shopping center, or sitting, trying to look exhausted with too big bags at you feet in that same shopping center :).

And then there are of course the small, local gas stations here in Finland :).

I found a good book on the subject of recording & collecting colors, cases of curiosities, differences and people watching: Keri Smith's "How to be an explorer of the world" (ISBN 978-0-399-53460-7).

Ludwig Wittgenstein said: "The aspect of things that are most important for us are hidden because of their simplicity and familiarity."

I totally agree.
That's why it's important to keep a record of the most mundane things, too. When you look at them later, you may see them in a completely new light.

I need to get my digicam out of my handbag more often :).

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Christine--Excellent ideas! The shopping mall would be a good place to see a variety of different people--older people and moms during the weekday, teenagers on Friday nights, etc. Thanks for the book link: I'll check it out!

Rayna M. Iyer said...

You may have forgotten the snacks, but not only did you get a character out of it, you got a story out of the incident too. Too funny!!!

And people watching is my favourite hobby too!!!