Category Archives: My fiction

Doctor Mustard, In the Consulting Room, With Words

As a kid I was fascinated by a comic strip about a bumbling cop, Fearless Fosdick, most famous for his habit of pursuing bad guys by “firing a warning shot into the crowd.”   In one series of strips, there was a sinister murder weapon that was killing people off — a sheet of paper on which was written a joke that was so funny that anyone who read it would die of uncontrollable laughter.

Thus was planted in my adolescent brain the possibility that a thought could literally kill a person.  (And of course, an undying curiosity to read that joke.  Kind of the Fosdickian equivalent of Odysseus panting to hear the song of the Sirens.)

Later I discovered that various writers of thrillers had attempted to plumb the depths of this concept.  Two of the most famous were Agatha Christie and Thomas Harris.  Harris, in The Silence of the Lambs, included an episode in which the evil psychiatrist Hannibal Lecter persuaded a man in the next cell, “Miggs,” to commit suicide by swallowing his own tongue.  (Lecter is generally good at mindfucking, but this is his most notable example of having a non-drugged victim literally kill himself.)

In her novel Curtain — Poirot’s Last Case, Agatha Christie creates a villain whose skill was in getting others to kill by means of psychological manipulation.  A string of murders are all committed, seemingly by a collection of unlikely suspects; in each case the “killers” had been manipulated into performing the deed by this third party, labeled “X” for much of the book.  Generally, “X” needed only a brief, seemingly casual conversation to launch the “bolt” through the other person’s actions.  It’s often pointed out that “X” is a kind of Iago on steroids.

This is a fascinating topic.  But a moment’s reflection might reveal that the idea of being manipulated into doing something horrendous is not far removed from our everyday experience.  Seductions abound, whether it’s someone using sex or wealth or “best foot forward” lies to get us to marry (or at least sleep with) them, or advertisers conning us into buying the ten dollar shampoo when it cleans no better than the cheapest brand.  Much in our lives is about being, or resisting being seduced into doing things that may be against our self-interest, whether as individuals or “demographics” or entire nations.

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A daily workflow for novel-writing

I’ve begun to immerse myself in my second novel about my heroine detective, and so am thinking again about the daily workflow. Generally, the main part of the process that interests writers is the question of whether to have some kind of daily writing quota, most often a word-count based quota. But I think I’m realizing that what I really need is a somewhat more complex routine.

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Catching Up With Your iNsides

What language shall you make love in? It can seem like an odd or impossible question, but it gets right to the heart, I’m realizing, of certain kinds of writing and reading experiences. Particularly fiction, or so it seems at first glance.

Someone who’s spent time in a dark room with a lover who thought and spoke in different languages will know what this means. I remember someone whispering Lakota phrases once and it was like falling through a trapdoor in the dark to a different time, different tastes and touches and smells and glowing embers in the middle of the bedroom/tipi floor and suddenly what birds appeared and what they thought might actually matter, not to mention that for a moment this was the most exotic exciting woman on earth. I know people who have fallen in love together as they struggled over English-Czech dictionaries to decide what they wanted for dinner. Cut below the actual words and you are in a different mental universe, one where “core” meanings, primitive feelings, vulnerability and longing and hunger are the main tongues spoken.

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Filed under Fiction, My fiction, Writing