Kate Flora here, hoping you are wondering: So what the heck is “camel-nosing?” Everyone has heard the old Arab story about the camel trying to get into the tent on a cold night, right? And according to Wikipedia:
The camel’s nose is a metaphor for a situation where the permitting of a small, seemingly innocuous act will open the door for larger, clearly undesirable actions.
Not in my world, though. I made up the term “camel-nosing” for those insidious story ideas that creep into the corners of my consciousness while I think I’m working on something else.
Those sneaky intrusions used to alarm me when they threatened to derail whatever project I had underway. Now that I’ve spent over thirty years in the writer’s chair, though, I’ve learned to embrace them. If a story appears and wants to be written, or if a character keeps sneaking into my mind and demanding my attention, I’ve learned that a sensible writer pays attention. She turns to the newcomer, even when he IS uninvited, and begins to ask the writerly questions that lead to the expansion of character and the development of character. Why is this person here? What has happened in his past that has shaped him into what he is as I encounter him? What will his journey be, what will be the obstacles he has to overcome, and how will that journey change him?
So last week, I was sitting out on the deck reading Nic Pizzolatto’s book, Galveston. (Nic Pizzolatto of True Detective fame, that is.) I was enjoying the story but what I was really loving was the darkness and strength of his writing and the seediness of his characters, and I thought, “Gee. I wonder if I could write something that dark and that strong?”
Authorial aside: Since I sent in the 5th Joe Burgess, And Led Them Thus Astray, I’ve been wondering what I’m supposed to write next. It’s rare that I finish a book without another idea already bumping up against me like a dog that wants to be petted, but this time, that was the case.
Authorial aside #2: This weekend I was at Books in Boothbay, Maine’s wonderful summer author fair, and I was watching men stroll through, picking up mysteries by male authors and ignoring my strong, gritty Burgess books, and it got my “edge” up and I thought, maybe I’ll write a book under a guy’s name and see what happens. (In truth, I also thought about having Lea Wait’s husband Bob Thomas sit behind my stack of books and see what happened, too.)
Well, thank you, Nic, because then this detective shows up in my head. He seems to lack all of the wonderful qualities that make me and my readers like Joe Burgess. He’s just a lousy, drunken, foul-mouthed, explosive ball of anger. It’s like he sits down on the bar stool beside me and keeps slumping against me because he can’t stay upright, and the heat of his rage is coming off him like he’s a human fire pit. As an author, I have to find out who he is, what he’s doing in my imagination, and what has made him so angry. And then he starts to tell me about the little girl.
Well, gentle readers, I fear this is yet another case of “be careful what you wish for,” because he, and his story, are not going to be pleasant to have in my head. So maybe the old metaphor is right after all. Maybe it will be fascinating, yet “largely undesirable,” to be writing about a character this damaged and this angry. Or maybe, as I have learned along the way, when a writer takes chances and writes the things that scare her or the characters who seem too hard, the results are often surprisingly good.
So stick around, dear reader, and let’s see where this journey goes. I have a gorgeous new office to write in, if I can only keep myself in the chair when my view through the window is so gorgeous and my gardens cry out for my attention.
Soon I will be back to you for title suggestions, and some lucky MCW reader will own a fabulous Liberty Graphics tee-shirt.
In the meantime, feel free to toss the term “camel-nosing” around quite freely, and be sure to give me the credit. Perhaps some day it may even end up in a dictionary.
Hear Nic’s advice for aspiring young writers here: