In which you probably see what I mean

About turning the blog over to Nancy. Here’s her response to Tuesday’s post, and today I’m answering her questions. This may go on for awhile…

I knew it. I KNEW you were going to say that. I suppose it’s the same for everything. The best advice I got was as a recent body work grad, if I wanted to be a good massage therapist, I’d get worked on myself often. Immersion is the best teacher. BE the ball! Supposedly a good way to learn a language is live where its spoken.

Do you think the similes you use is an automatic part of the voice you employ, or have you ever used them deliberately in order to get the reader to a specific destination?

Had to google deus ex machina. I think it’s a cheat. How can I work through the book to a conclusion if the author is hiding an ace in their sleeve? Sure, stories that use it can be a pleasure just to ride along on, *if* I know I can never possibly figure “it” out. In mysteries, it doesn’t seem fair. Isn’t part of the thrill in reading a mystery trying to figure it out? Just feels like the author wasn’t playing fair when they “deus ex machina” things up.

And symbolism! With my eyes beginning to peel open, I’m excited to go back and read your books yet again and look for symbolism specifically. Til now, I’ve kept far away from ‘analyzing’ literature as I think it pulls the fun out reading. Similar to what you said, I prefer to just be carried away and enjoy the “it is what it is” aspect of the work. Hope that makes sense. I do love to masticate for hours on a good poem though, in search of all the efforts/devices packed into a few lines. I just submitted my analysis of Robert Hayden’s “Those Winter Sundays”. Loads of devices crammed like sardines in 97 words. That there is some good art. Love it.

This was a great, great post-thank you!!

The deus ex machina is a bit of a cheat which is why readers tend to shake their tiny fists. (Whatever you do, do NOT point out to a lover of JANE EYRE that the fact that Jane wandered half of England and just happened to land on the doorstep of cousins she didn’t know she had is THE GREATEST COINCIDENCE IN THE HISTORY OF LITERATURE. Blood will be shed.) Readers get annoyed when things are solved too easily and the hand of the writer is apparent. In mysteries, it’s absolutely unfair to hide an essential fact from the reader, thereby preventing them from solving the puzzle. Some writers can skirt around this–Christie was brilliant at playing with this notion of fairness as evidenced by MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS and THE MURDER OF ROGER ACKROYD. The first time through, a reader may feel cheated by her manipulation of the convention. But when you go back and reread, you realize she left the clues in plain sight–the definition of fair play. But because her choices were innovative, they weren’t immediately obvious to the reader. Brilliant.

As far as similes go, I don’t give too much conscious thought to them. So much of this writing gig is like driving a car. When you’ve done it a long time, you do things automatically that you aren’t even aware of doing. You make choices based on instinct, on muscle memory, on experience–and you don’t even know you’ve made actual choices. You just DO. And that’s a hugely unhelpful thing to say to someone, I realize. But it all goes back to the idea that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to achieve mastery. I’ve been reading mysteries for forty years. I shudder to think how many books that might actually translate to. And I’ve written WELL over a million words, most of them in service of mystery plots. Without stopping to explain that, “Okay, right now I’m going to take my foot off the brake and begin to accelerate while I continue to check my blind spot and monitor my speed and see if the car behind me is tailgating and watch my following distance,” I move forward, knowing what I’m doing.

And as far as symbolism goes, if you’re looking for it in my books, you will probably find more than I deliberately intended. One example that was quite intentional was the dream Julia has after *SPOILER ALERT TO THE DARK ENQUIRY NO SERIOUSLY STOP READING NOW IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW FINE THEN I TRIED TO WARN YOU* losing the baby in THE DARK ENQUIRY. She dreams of a garden where as she walks past, the flowers all close up. Then she closes the gate of the garden behind her and doesn’t look back. There was no clearer signal I could have given readers that Julia was never going to conceive again. I thought of that scene while I was writing SILENT IN THE GRAVE, and I always knew it was going to be part of the series, but it took five books before I could find the right place to insert it. I always knew Julia wasn’t going to have biological children, but that wasn’t something I could just up and tell readers.

As ever, great questions, Nancy!


2 thoughts on “In which you probably see what I mean”

  1. Nancy C says:

    Will I be shunned forever more if I admit I have yet to read anything of Christie’s? I even own some of her stuff, but something’s got me stalling, which is weird because I love to read classics to find out *why* they’re classics. Not too weird, I suppose, because holy-are-you-kidding-me-with-this Treasure Island. Great premise. Excruciatingly boring and I want to picket the publisher who obviously bumped their head and deemed this printable.

    As always, thank you!

  2. Lynne says:

    Between your comment, Deanna, and Nancy’s insight, I feel like I will be reading everything in a whole new light. I didn’t catch the symbolism in Silent in the Grave but just sensed somehow, that Julia would never have another baby. (I confess to crying a lot when she lost the baby.) All the Lady Julia books will be a reread for me someday…I’ve just started Night of a Thousand Stars and am so glad to find some of the March family in it. Thanks to you and Nancy for a great post!

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