Thursday, August 27, 2009

et al....

Many people have an image of writing as a more or less solitary process. The author gets an idea, writes the idea down, and then revises and edits it before sending to the publisher. The fact is, though, that that's really not the way novels - at least my novels - are written.

The truth is that authors rely quite a bit on other people as they write. This is as true of mystery novelists as it is of any other author. Some of the most famous mysteries were actually written collaboratively, so that even the writing itself was not done by just one person. For instance, Daniel Nathan (alias Frederic Dannay) and Manford(Emanuel) Lepofsky (alias Manfred Bennington Lee) were cousins who, together, wrote the Ellery Queen mysteries. As I mentioned in my last blog, Mary Jane Latsis and Martha Henissart wrote together under the name Emma Lathen.

Even authors who write alone can't create good mysteries without the help of others. For example, I recently spent some time at my local police precinct, getting very generous help on how some police procedures work. I also visited a local retail store and got some helpful information on video surveillance. We authors can't know everything, and if we want our mysteries to be authentic, we need the help of those who know what we don't.

Getting help from others, though, goes beyond asking an expert for some information. Sometimes our ideas are inspired by others. I know that my ideas for my novels have frequently come from conversations I've had with friends and family members. It's sometimes in that conversational exchange that we find our own ideas strengthened and refined, so that they're much better than they would have been otherwise.

It goes without saying that we mystery authors are also influenced by...other mystery authors. I know that one of my greatest influences has been Agatha Christie. I've also been influenced by Lilian Jackson Braun Rita Mae Brown and Tony Hillerman. I'm not the only one whose writing is influenced by others. Michael Connelly was inspired to write when he discovered the novels of Raymond Chandler. Dean Koontz and Carl Hiassen, among, I'm sure, many others, have acknowledged the influence that John D. McDonald (and, of course, his sleuth, Travis McGee) have had on their writing. Jane Langston's writing has been influenced by Dorothy Sayers. These are just a few of the many examples of the inspiration writers get from each other.

Finally, writers depend on others for feedback on the writing itself. At least I do. Sometimes my ideas aren't clear, or something I write is implausible, or not authentic (or spelled wrong : ) ). When that happens, I rely on others to be honest with me about it. That's how writing gets better. Of course, I'll admit, praise is always nice, too : ). I'm sure other mystery authors go through the same thing, because in the end, writing isn't really solitary at all.

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