Saturday, May 29, 2010

THE WRITER'S LIGHT IS ON

John Ramsey Miller

I'm in a hurry but I'll tell you what's on my mind. Tonight I am driving my wife and three-year-old grandson to Panama City, Florida to attend a family wedding. Little Rush is a good rider, but it's frankly a long, long drive even for adults. I have been driving picturesque county roads counting heads for three weeks, and it's time for a break. So I get to drive twelve hours, attend a wedding the next day and leave for home a day later alone because I've been asked to stay on with the head-counters and move my interviewing and persuading talents to work in a new region driving county roads and counting heads and figuring out ways to get the goods from reluctant individuals. Sometimes I get to become a detective and search out the elusive members of society, who enjoy not participating in the big count.

I have been gathering characters that I want to use in a new book and I've been thinking about writing a non-thriller for a change. (I know I've said this before) I mean I can't write a book without a degree of violence because life-or-death situations are the sort of stakes that matter to me. I'm not the sort of author who can write about the coming of age in the deep South without putting in the KKK or a dangerous adversary, but I want to write at a pace that allows for deeper character development––a different pace. I've been dancing the Boo-Ga-loo and I'd really like to try my hand at a waltz. I think the Thriller is as important and reaches as lofty a roost as any other genre. If Wally Lamb has anything on Ken Follet I'll never say its so. Anybody who looks down on our genre has never tried to write one. Thrillers are serious literature and if anybody disagrees we'll send our characters to wreak havoc on their houses and lay waste to their fields.

In my job I don't tell anyone that I am a published author, and I think it might have made things different, made me more of an outsider to my co-workers. I thought it might have made my comrades suspicious of me, and guarded in what they said and how they related to me. I've been just another worker bee in the cog of the Government wheel and it's been ...well fun and fulfilling in a way I'm not accustomed to.

So after I complete my depression-era gangster novel, I think I will take the time to write that different book. Don't get me wrong, I love writing thrillers, but like the horse looking at the grass on the other side of the paddock, I'm yearning to make a change. I'm looking to write without a ticking clock, to string together rug tugs, plot bombs, and surprising twists. I had an editor ask me once what the next book was going to be about. I said betrayal. She smiled and said, "Aren't most thrillers about betrayal?" I guess it's true. We all hate betrayal and having the protagonist's danger coming from someone he or she trusts is a standard last twist in most thrillers.

For the past few weeks I have been experiencing life up close. As an observer, and thief of life for so many years, I think I have missed actually living to a great extent. I haven't been getting out and experiencing the trenches, more like observing at a distance and imaging it as I think it might be to those involved in it.

It seems that most authors with day jobs envy authors who write full time. I find myself envying authors who work at something unrelated to writing and write because they have something to say about their lives, and are always meeting people from a different angle than I think I do. I like being anonymous in social situations. When people know you are a writer, they relate to you differently.

I never had a mid-life crisis, but I'm yearning to try new things while holding on to what I have, to participate more in the lives of my children and grandchildren, to stop coldly observing so much, and get down on the floor and play. And I want to play with my writing.

Do any of you think you're not climbing into life enough?

4 comments:

  1. Great post, John. Very thought-provoking. Welcome to the conclusion I drew six years ago when I turned my back on full-time writing and re-entered the world of mainstream workers (well, as mainstream as the K Street corridor in DC can be). Here's some unsolicited advice for you, though: Not writing becomes even more easily justified when you've got a day of day-job tucked under your belt.

    John Gilstrap
    www.johngilstrap.com

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  2. A thoughtful, and as John G. said, thought-provoking post.

    You mention observing life versus getting down on the floor to play. I don't own a camera. When I go to a party or on a trip, I want to experience it. I see people arranging their friends and trying to line up a building for the perfect photo, and I wonder if they're missing out on the moment. By trying to capture it forever, they may miss experiencing it.

    So I say, go zen. When you feed the chickens, feed the chickens. When you walk, walk. When you write, write. But when you play with your grandkids, don't think about your latest novel. Live in the moment.

    -- Largo Chimp

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  3. Trollope wrote something like 47 novels all while holding a full time civil service position. Not too shabby. "Life up close" is a good phrase, John. No matter what we're doing, see it that way.

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  4. Hey John,
    When you're laying on your death bed, what are you going to wish you'd done? I was at a conference recently where Todd Starnes from Fox News spoke. He wrote a book called, They Popped My Hood and Found Gravy On The Dip Stick. Very interesting fellow and very funny. I think you'd like it.

    Anyway, have fun at the wedding. Dance!

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