by J.D. Rhoades
One of the questions I get asked a lot these days is, "Why a standalone?" That is, why did I break from the Jack Keller books and write an entirely different set of characters in a different fictional setting?
I have a lot of comebacks, some serious, some not so much.
The fact is, though, this was just the book that wanted to be written.
People often look strangely at me when I say mystical stuff like that, which is why I have all the other responses. But it’s true. I’ll spend some time kicking around ideas, writing the beginnings of several projects, sometimes even doing two at a time, going back on forth between them, a process a friend of mine once dubbed "book adultery."
Eventually, though, one story will start to break through.That’s the one I start seeing scenes from in my head. That’s the one whose characters I hear whispering in my ear. That’s the one I have to write, whether I’d really planned to or not. I wrote BREAKING COVER as a standalone because the voices I was hearing this time weren’t those of Jack Keller and Marie Jones. They were the voices of Tony Wolf and Tim Buckthorn and Gaby Torrijos and Johnny Trent (and let me tell you, that last one is a voice you don’t want to hear in your head for an extended period of time).
As I think I’ve said here before, when people ask me why I write, the answer I often give is "mental illness." I write, I often say, because if I write down the movies I see playing on the inside of my skull, I can tell people it’s because I’m creative and not having a psychotic break.
I’m only partially joking.
Writing for me sometimes is like exorcism, because the stories and the voices are often the embodiment of topics that nag at me, sometimes to the point of obsession. Topics like: the different faces, sometimes even different names we wear with each other; the randomness and futility of violence; the emotional damage that violence does to both the victim and the perpetrator; crimes against children.
Which leads us, at long last, to the question for discussion today. I’ve talked to writers who’ve told me that not everybody sees writing the way I do. Some time back, I was talking with a friend who was going through a particularly harrowing personal crisis and was having trouble working. "Write it out," I said. "Put the pain onto the page." No, my friend said, it doesn’t work that way. For my friend, writing is a means of escape, not catharsis, and the events in the work in progress cut a little too close to that particular bone.
I have to confess, that one rocked me back a little. Not having the solace, however slight, of being able to put what’s riding you you onto the page and thus achieve some measure of control over it? Man, I thought, that’s got to be hard.
Then I started thinking about the divide between the readers who like their crime fiction dark, violent, maybe even grim, and the people who won’t even look at a murder mystery with too much blood and violence. "I read to escape," this second kind of reader tells us, "and all that dark stuff just depresses me." I, on the other hand, and I suspect people like me, find some comfort even in the darkest, grimmest stories.
The Greeks, as they say, had a word for it. Aristotle wrote that the purpose of tragedy was to provide catharsis (literally "purging") through the evocation of "horror, pity and fear." I suspect that Aristotle would not have been a fan of cat mysteries, but he would have loved him some Ken Bruen.
So how about it, writers and readers? Do you write what you write, do you read what you read, for exorcism or for escape, or for something completely different?