Hi, it’s Kate Flora, busily heading into fall, and a huge list of demanding tasks, including the necessity of producing a new Joe Burgess mystery, And Grant You Peace, by May. I’m teaching. We’re renovating our house. Family is coming and going. The gardens need to be put to bed. And what I want to do, in my secret heart, is curl up and read novels.
Don’t we all have that urge, when the air turns crisp and darkness comes too early? Get a nice crunchy apple, settle into our comfy chair, and just read to our heart’s content? Instead, I keep having to put my book down (the brilliant Michael Ondaatje’s Divisadero) and go write one.
But perching on the cusp of crafting a new story makes me think about writing craft. About how I want to tell the story I’m going to tell, how the events of the previous books will affect my characters’ lives in the new one. I’m just back from a walking trip in Europe–through small villages in the countryside between Vienna and Prague. One of my trip-mates was a social worker from Australia, and as we hiked through the forests of Moravia and Bohemia, I described one of my psychological challenges for this new book–how I am going to integrate children into Burgess’s solitary life, what effect that is going to have on his relationships and on his work, and how those children are going to relate to each other.
Karen and I talked about what the backgrounds of the children had been, about building trust, and about sibling rivalry. About the nature of teenagers who’ve experienced loss. And I’ve been thinking about the character of these children, and what traits they have which may open up Burgess’s world in entirely new ways.
Maybe this surprises you. It surprised me–this necessity to spend so much time on psychology when
I’m supposed to be writing a crime novel–back when I first began. But now I know it’s just another part of the job. Yes, this is the characters’ personal lives, not their crime-solving lives, but I’ve accepted the fact that if I’m going to be a character-driven writer, I’m going to be exploring their character arcs over the course of the series. Just like the other research I’ll have to do–like finding an expert on fire investigation, learning more about the Somali community in Portland, and learning about gang activity in Portland–I also have to think about the complications in my characters’ lives. The way things have changed since the last book and what that will mean for the new one.
It won’t be just exploring Burgess’s character, either. I’ll need to know how Burgess will relate to Stan Perry after Perry’s potentially career-destroying antics in the last book, and what will happen in Terry Kyle’s relationship with Michelle. Whether we’ll see the return of Shondra, the insightful and wayward hooker from Playing God.
As some famous person is supposed have remarked: So much to do, so little time.
My assignment for my students for the next class in Advanced Elements of Mystery Fiction at Grub Street is to write about their character arc, their character’s journey. Who their character is at the beginning of the book, and how the obstacles and conflicts they anticipate occurring in the book will leave that character changed at the end of the story. It’s my assignment for myself, as well.
Which means it’s time for a refresher course in the Joe Burgess series. It looks like I’m going to have to curl up in my chair and read after all. Only the reading I’ll be doing is rereading the first three Burgess books.
Then, with all of the previous events of Joe’s life fresh in my mind, I’m going to hit November, and NANOWRIMO, with a seriously demanding writing schedule. 50,000 words is a lot of hours in the chair, and November is a busy month. Will I make my word count? Will I forget to cook a turkey?