…..Submitted by Karna Small Bodman
As we approach the delightful Valentine’s Day, I’ve been thinking about how fortunate I am to have the love of my life as my “Valentine.” I’ve also thought about activities that I love — and how some have become a passion. Last week I was invited to come and talk about one of them — my love of writing thrillers — to a gathering of four book clubs who met together to hear about my stories. After reviewing how I’ve been turning White House experience into political thrillers, during the Q&A one very nice women said, “Yes, but you’ve had a pretty exotic career” (Her terminology, not mine — actually working there meant extremely long hours and tons of stress, but still….).She went on with this question, “What about the rest of us who haven’t had such exciting experiences? How would we put novels together?”
I replied, “You know there are some three million books published every year, including novels, cook books, travel books, all kinds of books, and not all of those authors had exotic or exciting careers. What they did have is inspiration, and the determination to unleash their passion …a passion to write.” Now, as I reflect on that meeting, I could have given many examples of authors I know personally who have done just that. For example, one of the friends of all of us here on Rogue Women Writers is the international bestselling author (and former guest blogger on this website) Lee Child:
|Author Lee Child
Lee didn’t work in The White House or the House of Parliament. He wasn’t spending time in dangerous situations or getting shot at. He did spend some time as a British TV Producer, so yes, he worked with actors and others with pretty creative ideas. But he wasn’t an ex-Army investigator and certainly not a “drifter” who meanders all over the country helping people in trouble. But that’s exactly what his hero, Jack Reacher, does in dozens of terrific thrillers and in a major Hollywood film staring Tom Cruise.
|Author John Lescroart
Another recent guest blogger here was author John Lescroart who started out wanting to be a rock star (he still plays a mean guitar). When that didn’t quite work out, he had many jobs including computer programmer, house painter, bartender, eventually even one where he had to write briefs on coal transportation for the Interstate Commerce Commission. And like Lee, he certainly wasn’t an investigator. And yet, he conjured up a terrific protagonist for many of his 27 bestselling novels, Dismas Hardy, who gets into all sorts of interesting and dangerous situations roaming the streets of San Francisco.
In addition to dreaming up great characters and intriguing plots, authors also have to spend time doing a ton of research…research on history, details, descriptions, and especially locations. Even though we are writing fiction, if they are setting scenes in well known cities, they better be right. I remember a novel set in Washington, DC where an author (who obviously had either never been there or didn’t bother to take notes) had a car “careening down Pennsylvania Avenue in front of The White House.” Of course, you can’t do that — there are security barricades all over the place. In another thriller, the hero “raced out of the Roosevelt Room and up a few steps to the Oval Office.” Uh – no. there are no “steps up to the Oval Office.” He must not have bothered to even watch a video on WhiteHouse.gov.
When it comes to researching locations, one of my favorite authors, Nelson De Mille, does an outstanding job. His new novel, The Cuban Affair, is the product of a trip to Cuba where he obviously took copious notes so he could share his observations not only of the scenery but the incredible power Cuban state actors wield over the people of that country. But again, to my knowledge, DeMille never worked as a boat captain in Key West – and yet his protagonist is one of those, and the author certainly describes that character and his quirky sense of humor in an amazing way.
My point is: these and thousands of other authors may not have had “exciting” or “exotic” careers — they all have a passion for writing and were determined to take the time to develop the tools and talents needed to make it in the publishing world.
And so, what is YOUR passion? Perhaps it isn’t focused on writing stories or a memoire, maybe you’ve had a secret desire to learn to paint with oils or water colors or charcoal.
Perhaps you love to go to museums and galleries and dream about what it would be like to create lovely scenes or portraits. Remember — there are tons of classes available at local schools and colleges where even beginners can start to learn a technique.
Then again, you may have harbored a love of music and would give anything to be able to play the piano — not to perform on stage, but just to enjoy playing the music of Mozart, Gershwin or maybe
an original song that’s been echoing in your mind for quite some time. A wise music teacher once told me, “You are never too old to learn and enjoy the piano. If you have the time and the inclination, by all means, go for it.”
Several of my Rogue colleagues have been writing about new beginnings recently. One of them, S. Lee Manning, wrote about how she wanted to rekindle her passion for ice skating. I confess that I’d like to go back to my music — singing in quartets. At least I’ve now taken my old arrangements out of the cabinet.
My point is — if you have a love of writing, of art, of music, or teaching little ones, training dogs, or volunteering — think about it, ponder the possibilities and the rewards of determination and accomplishment…not especially for “public recognition” but for the knowledge that you really did unleash your passion.
The time certainly is right – for as I said at the outset – we are approaching Valentine’s Day when we all will be thinking about passion and love.
Now, do leave a comment and tell us about the loves of YOUR life and how you might unleash your very own passions! Happy Valentines Day.
….Karna Small Bodman
Great blog and suggestions. You are so right on the importance of following one's passion – how important it is in life and in writing. And, by the way, I didn't know you were a singer. Maybe we can try a duet at Thrillerfest.
What a wonderful & inspirational column, Karna. Yes, life is so very rich that as we're living it we sometimes forget parts of it that have added to our joyful gulping of it. I love your background and experiences, and the way you look at others! Gayle
A duet would be fun. You see I grew up "immersed" in four-part harmony. My Mother had a Masters in Music and my Dad sang with 3 other business friends in a barbershop quartet that won the International Championship way back in the 40's. And I've sung with girl's quartets all my life. In "barbershop" arrangements, it's tenor, lead, baritone and bass (same as the men) — I'm a tenor, which harmonizes above the lead (unlike a church hymn for example). We'll have to see how our voices blend this summer – great fun.
Thanks, Gayle – I know that you and several of our other Rogue colleagues do have very unique backgrounds (in the CIA, other government agencies and elsewhere) where they draw ideas for their great novels – I just think it's good for aspiring authors to realize that others can create great stories and clever characters as well.
Absolutely, Karna. It is passion for all sorts of life experience, including sitting here at a keyboard creating lots of trouble for characters. As one writer said, Make it impossible for your hero and heroine. Then make it worse." And that, pals, makes it passionate for those of us who live in an imaginary world — or as another observer noted, "We fiction writers lie for a living– so summon that passion for sure. Thanks for your fun blogs! cheers, Vicky
Appreciate your comment, Vicky — and knowing your great stories, you certainly do "unleash" your wonderful imagination!
Couldn't agree more! It's interesting how taking up a creative activity breeds the desire for more. I began Hip Hop and House dancing about three years ago and love it! For those of us who learned ballet and tap, the jagged, different moves in hip hop are really unique and Chicago is the home of the late, great Frankie Knuckles, House DJ icon. The movement breaks up the hours at the keyboard and the music is wonderful. To everyone looking to take up something new, enjoy!
You really did a great job in explaining how someone with no "hands on" experience can write about something and make it seem real. That is really the key. Believability. And, as Jamie said, taking up a creative activity–new or old. It's the exploration that opens the mind. Great blog!