Not long ago I read a thriller novel by Faye Kellerman. The book spent a great deal of time examining the heroine's personal life - her friendships and romantic episodes, the food she liked, the clothes she wore. I began to think that maybe I ought to try something along the same lines. So I gave it a shot. I tried writing a few pages of my latest book in a way that would establish my heroine as a normal person with friends and a social life and genuine human emotions that the average reader could relate to in a very genuine and human way.
I had her taking a self defense class just to stay in shape now that she has hit thirty. Then she goes to lunch with a female friend and they talk about their boyfriends and how neither guy will commit. They order lobster roll croissant sandwiches. They finish up with cappuccinos. They are regular, normal, real people with real emotions that are very normal and genuine and real.
And as I came to the end of this dialogue I jumped down two lines and wrote this:
You know what? I f***ing HATE this woman. She is an insipid f***ing bitch and I want her to f***ing die.
Thus endeth the writing session.
So there ya go. Faye Kellerman, I am not.
It's all about staying within the ol' comfort zone. Get outside the zone, and very bad things happen.
My characters are, I think, a little distant emotionally, kind of aloof. But that's just the way I write. I can't do warm and fuzzy.
I think it's like an actor who can play a certain range of roles, but if he goes too far outside his range, he stinks. Laurence Olivier was a great actor but he couldn't play the roles that Al Pacino plays, and vice versa. And when an actor does get outside his range, he makes a fool of himself, as John Wayne did when he played Genghis Khan, or like Bill Murray trying to be serious in The Razor's Edge. Or like Heather Graham playing anything at all other than a walking, talking blowup doll. (Okay, so some actors have a more limited range than others.)
We wouldn't expect to see Christopher Walken playing a nice, normal guy. And we wouldn't expect to see Will Ferrell playing a psycho killer. We each have our little niche, our little nook or cranny of talent, and we need to be happy about that, because it's who we are. Not to say that we can't stretch, but it has to be an intelligent stretch, the right kind of stretch.
The problem is that the publishing business makes writers doubt themselves. Sales decline, editors lose faith, agents are out of ideas, and all of a sudden we say, "Heck, maybe I need to do something really, really different - reinvent myself totally! Go in a whole new direction. That'll wake everybody up!"
A mystery writer I used to know called this the "Martian baseball" syndrome. An author panics, sees his numbers going south, and tries to get back on track with something ridiculously far afield, something insanely high concept, like a book about Martian baseball. But editors can see through this ruse. They know flop sweat when they smell it. The Martian baseball book won't fool anybody.
Now, Martian soccer, on the other hand ... that could be the winner I've been looking for.