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bear by san

March 2017

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wire in the blood, writing shadow unit todd remorseful

you better know, you better know, you better know i'm at your door

Still thinking about what I'm learning about writing, this year. And some of it clicked last night while I was reading Val McDermid's The Mermaids Singing.

She's a Scottish mystery writer, not as well known in the US as the UK (where she is really, really, really well known. Like, Rick Castle famous.)

The difference between McDermid and Castle is that McDermid is not a hack.

If you have not read Val McDermid? When I say she's good? She's really, really good at her job. She can write serial-killer POV that does not make me want to throw the book across the room for being (a) cheap (b) exploitative (c) wrong.

It's a feature of my career that I read a lot of first novels, a lot of early-career novels. I don't get to read a lot of novels by authors at the absolute height of their powers and development, frankly, because they don't need the book reviews. And I forget, sometimes, what a really solidly constructed novel by a master craftsperson looks like, because I'm so used to looking at that slackly plotted middle section and shrugging, because it's the author's third novel, and it takes a while to learn to do this stuff.

See, I stayed up until 4:22 a.m. to finish this book, even though I already knew how it ended, because I had seen the fairly accurate ITV adaptation. Because McDermid had her hooks into me, in a way I'd kind of forgotten a book could do. (I think the last one to nail me to the page this severely was Gene Wolfe's The Sorcerer's House but I could be forgetting something.)

She's not a flashy prose stylist, though her imagery is precise and understated. She's not prone to huge pyrotechnics in terms of character interaction. She didn't string me along with cheap cliffhanger tricks, although the level of suspense was high throughout. Actually, the climax (I thought) was one of the weaker sections of the book.

I just really, really cared about her two (smart, capable, flawed) protagonists, and wanted to keep reading about them.

It occurred to me this morning, while washing dishes (because as we all know, inspiration and comprehension are commonly found dissolved in hot tap water) that the thing I'm working to get my head around right now is a career stage that every writer must face, consciously or not.

I'm good enough at this writing thing to sell just about everything I write, at this point. It's something I've worked towards for thirty years, and I realized this morning that it would be very easy to stop here, to say, okay, that's enough suffering. I'm good enough. I know how to do this writing thing. I can allow myself to slide into unconscious, professional-level competence, and become the sort of artist of whom people say, "...I respect her early work."*

But if I do that, I'm never going to be any better than a journeyman.

That's not what I want. That's not who I want to be.

So I need to keep learning and internalizing, I guess.



This moment of navel-gazing brought to you by revising the proposal for Gotham Jazz yesterday, revising the draft of "The Slaughtered Lamb" tonight, and revising the draft of "REZ" tomorrow or Tuesday.

And then bloody well writing "Underground," one way or another, Smee.



*Sarah McLachlan, I am looking at you.

Comments

Val McDermid's Tony Hill stuff is addictive - as, tbh, are most of her novels. I did really enjoy The Grave Tattoo - how to write a modern-day historical crime mystery novel. :)
I'll have to read that one. Thanks!
But if I do that, I'm never going to be any better than a journeyman.

That's not what I want. That's not who I want to be.


That goes for me, too.

I also feel a chill on the back of my neck -- I've passed 45, I'm increasingly less flexible and it takes me longer to get my head around new stuff and I have less patience. I can't help wondering if I've already peaked, and it's downhill from here.

On the other hand? If folks a decade older than me are still getting better ...

I picked a better career track than "aspiring rock god".

If folks a decade older than me are still getting better ...

Yee Gawds I hope so. 'Cause if not, at almost 68, I don't have a prayer

Re: If folks a decade older than me are still getting better ...

Carol Emshwiler didn't start publishing until quite late in life. There's always hope.
The good news is, novelists supposedly (generally) do their best work between 40-60, from what I've heard. So we're both in our prime. *g*
I've read a number of Val McDermid's books. I think they are brilliant.

Can you reccomend which book(s) Val McDermid writes a serial killer's POV in? I'm going to be writing a book from that point of view, and I'm always looking for books where it's done well so I can do it without disturbing my readers too much.
The one I mentioned in this post.

You also might try Red Dragon and Silence of the Lambs, by Thomas Harris. I think his later books are, well, pretty bad however.
Thank you :)

I have read Silence of the Lambs, and have Red Dragon on my to-read list.
She's a Scottish mystery writer, not as well known in the US as the UK (where she is really, really, really well known. Like, Rick Castle famous.)

Also, she's my friend. (Tho' I don't know who Rick Castle is.)

And you should absolutely read A Place of Execution. It's her Gold Dagger winner, and (I think) still her best book.
In fact, I have it in my pile.

Next time you see her, tell her I was raving about her on the Internets. *g*

(Rick Castle is the fictional hack crime writer who is the protagonist of the US TV Series "Castle." Think Jessica Fletcher, only mean to be a famous, popular, and yet terrible writer. *g*)
Ah, right - the Nathan Fillion thing. I think Karen showed me one, because, well, Nathan Fillion.

And yup, I will tell Val, and she will be chuffed. (We were sort of the Bright Young Things of the UK Crime Writers' Association, she and Ian Rankin and I, back in the late '80s. And then, um, things happened. Different things, for all three of us...)
The Richard Castle "Nikki Heat" books are also actually being released, though I'm not really interested enough to find out who the ghostwriter is, as apparently the novels read a bit too much like episodes of the show and not enough like the books I'd hope to see written by the character in the show.
And you should absolutely read A Place of Execution. It's her Gold Dagger winner, and (I think) still her best book.

Also, I thought, a nicely done TV movie/mini-series with Juliet Stevenson. Since Robson Green's an exec producer, I assume it's some of the Wire in the Blood production team.
Yup. Coastal Productions is Robson's in-house company, more or less.
I have enjoyed the teledramas made from the books, and I have a couple of them, but havent read them yet, I was holding back in case they werent better than the tv rendering.
>> the sort of artist of whom people say, "...I respect her early work."

We'll still say this about you at 4th Street, even if we wink at you when we do it.

It just won't be all we respect.

;-)
McDermid's Tony Hill - Carol whatsit books are some of my favorites. I discovered her on a trip to the UK and do not understand why she's so unknown here. Good stuff, Maynard.
MKK
Indeed.
Y'know, that's twice in the past few days a writer has mentioned Ms McDermid.*

I'm definitely going to have to add her to my 'Authors to read' list.

(*) T'other mention was in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, which I devoured over Friday/Saturday whilst 'testing my new Android tablet.**

(**) geeksqeee
I read, "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" in a weekend (original title in Sweden: "Men Who Hate Women", but NY didn't think that would sell books in the States), I read "The Girl Who Played with Fire" practically in a single sitting, and "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest" in a weekend.