<img class="alignleft size-medium wp-image-1257" title="” src=”http://mainecrimewriters.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/Vicki-Photo3-300×225.jpg” alt=”” width=”201″ height=”149″ />This spring, while biking in Italy with my husband, I was attacked by two huge, muscular Dobermans.
We had biked to some hot springs in the Umbria region, changed into our bathing suits and soaked for several minutes in the sulfurous waters. When we emerged from our respite, I headed down a little wooded path to put my biking clothes back on. As I was exchanging my wet suit for sweaty shorts and shirt, two beasts charged up the path at me, teeth bared, hackles up, and growling. I screamed; they lunged; and then their owner appeared, shouting staccato commands in German. Slowly they backed off, leaving me scratched, scared, and blathering who knows what in Italian.
My first thought was that I could have been mauled to death, but it is my second thought — right on the heels of the first — that fellow writers will recognize. As I willed my wobbly legs to walk up the path and rejoin my bike group, I realized: I can use these emotions for Darby. Darby Farr, my protagonist in KILLER LISTING and A HOUSE TO DIE FOR, would benefit from my misfortune.
Last night, I again felt fear, but of a different sort. My mother needed emergency surgery and I rushed from my appointments to be with her. I kissed her goodbye as the technician wheeled her down the corridor to the operating room. Then I found the empty hospital chapel and voiced my emotions to whomever was up there listening. Thankfully, he or she heard me, and Mom will be fine.
Fear is a key emotion in crime writing, and yet we Mainers don’t really live in a scary place. Our state is one of the safest in the country, an Eden where car doors and front doors remain largely unlocked. We don’t have strangers following us down grimy city streets; nor do we have the degree of random violence that plagues other places. Violence here tends to be of the domestic variety. If you’re harmed in Maine, chances are it will be by someone you know.
Which means that I need to imagine what my characters are feeling when they are stalked by someone sinister. I need to take any experiences that do happen to me and mine them for their fearful nuggets. If what I write makes my own heart pound in terror, then I’ve got it. I’ve felt it in my gut and hopefully you have, too.
Right on, Vicki…I discovered the same thing in the midst of an MRI. Trapped inside the tube with the clanging all around me, feeling like I was inside an engine block, I thought…hey…everything is grist for the mill. You want to imagine sheer terror…there’s nothing like a root canal. Become a crime writer and your whole life becomes your laboratory.
Still…that’s only after your heart stops pounding and you realize that you’ve survived, right? and I still have trouble firing guns.
You’re so right about the “I can use this” moment. Sometimes I feel guilty, because I’ll have just had a scare or a thrill or some other strong emotion, and one part of me is analysing and memorizing the sensation so I can reproduce it on the page. I recently went to a funeral, and while I was sad and weepy, I was also standing a little apart in my head, thinking of what my characters would do in my place.
Such is the writers life.
Gerry here. I hope that scene is played out sometime, Vicki. The fear and then the imagined altercation. The slash of teeth, screaming at the dogs (two is exponentially worse than one as they egg each other on), and your character telling herself to stay on her feet. At all costs, don’t go down.
See you got me going, and I wasn’t even there. But I can imagine it, and that’s what readers will do. Yes, it’s all grist. If we get raw material from real life, take it and run.