Saturday, December 02, 2006

livia & james

I was interested in James Reasoner's comments about outlining, published the other night on his fine blog Rough Edges,

He talked about all the various ways he's outlined books in the past. Though he now writes three and four page outines, he's written far more extensive ones in the past. Recently, he even tried the Mickey Spillane method of writing the last pages first.

I wish I could outline. The best I can do is know the starting point and a sort of ending point. I say sort of because it usually changes throughout the book. I'm one of those writers who easily loses his way, usually because I take side trips that I have a hard time justifying later on, the odd thing being that readers frequently seem to like the side trips more than the main storyline itself. I'm not sure what that means.

Some books look much easier to write than others. This is when I'm at the theoretical stage, still doing research. But I've always remebered what Fellini said about movies, "Every picture is a war." And that's how book writing is for me. Even all the for-hire stuff I did early on was tough. There would always come a point when I realized that I needed to backtrack a bit and lean up and sharpen the storyline. That I'd inadvertently set a trap for myself and stumbled into it.

Part of this may reflect my preferences as a reader. Theodore Sturgeon was frequently criticised for his side trips. Some of them were so off-plot that he'd whip the offending pages from his typewriter and use them later on for another story altogether. Nobody wrote better side trips than Theodore Sturgeon except Stephen King.

I'm going through turmoil the phase write now. I usually write thirty, forty pages and throw them away and keep doing so until I not only "hear" the piece but also begin to have some firm ideas about the story. Evan Hunter/Ed McBain told me that he just started writing with a title and worked as deep into the book as he could before he started thinking about what lay ahead. I suspect that was part of his genius. His books have that feel of spontaneity.

As I've often said, if this is formula fiction, I sure wish somebody would sip me the formula.


And speaking of Livia and James Reasoner, they are two of the most talented, unassuming, warmest people I've ever known. My kind of folks. Here's a letter from Livia I hope she doesn't mind my sharing.

Hi Ed,

I was glad to see the interview of Steve Mertz on your blog. He and James started in this business about the same time and it's interesting how much their careers have depended on house name work. It's a shame their names have been hidden from the general public, but it is nice to have the work. For a change James and I both have plenty of work. I'm back in the mystery business and James is doing a lot of work for Kensington, Jove, and NAL. Our oldest daughter has graduated from college and our youngest is a junior after only one year. Guess they both figured they'd better finish fast while we had the work. :)

Take care,

No comments: