I hope you’ll forgive me this week if I repeat a blog I did over at Sirens of Suspense a couple of weeks ago. We’ve been rushing around like eejits for the past week or more, and although we expected to be home a couple of days ago … we’re not. Long story that involves builders letting people down and the prospect of houses not being finished for Christmas means our DIY skills have been called into service. And, weirdly enough, we rather enjoy it.
Part of the rushing around involved seeing our friend, fellow crime author Anne Zouroudi, doing two events for Kirklees libraries with Penny Grubb and Lesley Horton, plus a crime writing workshop also with Lesley, and interviewing the delightful Martina Cole at the 4th Reading Festival of Crime Writing last Friday. So, if you’ve been wondering why I’ve been very quiet on these pages, that’s my excuse …
When was the last time you did something just for the fun of it? Or took a moment to really observe rather than just see your way through a familiar journey?
As a race, humans are becoming hardened to beauty, disconnected from the simple pleasures in life, and I find that very sad. As a writer, part of my job is to dig deep into the kind of emotions that drive us on a primal level. To do that, I need to be in touch with those kinds of feelings.
And maintaining a sense of wonder definitely falls into that category.
Andy (my Other Half) is as daft as I am about this. We rush to the office window to see a steam train passing on the other side of the valley, a low-flying Hercules transport plane lumbering overhead, or a particularly beautiful strake of sunlight on the hills behind our house.
I still build snowmen – and snow-bears, and snow-Easter-Island heads, and I was in the middle of a full-size horse last year, but the snow turned powdery and its head fell off, dammit. I know – what an excuse – the wrong kind of snow …
I still ride the shopping cart back to the stack after we’ve loaded up the car at the supermarket, still laugh like a drain at dirty jokes and whoopee cushions. But frost on leaves or winter mist or sunlight through a cloud leaves me breathtaken.
Because how can you hope to write something that will instil any sense of wonder if you don’t have it yourself?
We are not simply hardened to beauty in the modern world, but isolated from it. A fabulous cliff view will now have a safety railing to save you from yourself. Everything, we are told, would be better with our lives if we just had the latest gadget, a larger TV, a newer car, a bigger house. And it takes something drastic to make us realise that those things are not important.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to come out with some worn platitude about the best things in life being free. Whoever said that has never had to pay for meds, make the rent, or put food on the table. Those things cost money, and you better have it when the red bill arrives, or life is going to turn pretty ugly pretty fast.
At the moment I’m caught between rich and poor in my writing, and it’s making me re-evaluate a lot of things. By definition, my bodyguard heroine Charlie Fox works for those wealthy enough to afford her services. In the latest book, FIFTH VICTIM: Charlie Fox book nine, she’s babysitting the rich and powerful of New York’s Long Island playground. She sees what too much of everything has done to these people, and it makes her reconsider what’s important in her life – love, health, happiness.
And just as FIFTH VICTIM is gearing up for its January 2012 publication in the States (sorry, but it’s been out in the UK since March this year) I’m also hard at work on the next in the series – DIE EASY: Charlie Fox book ten. For this book I wanted to set the ‘haves’ much more firmly alongside the ‘have-nots’. Where else was better to do that – where was the contrast more stark – than New Orleans, post Katrina.
OK, so the centre of NOLA looks very much as it always did, but some of the outlying areas are derelict ghost towns. It’s a fascinating setting for a book, and one that grabbed me from our first visit last year. As for the huge recycling plant – Southern Scrap – a crime thriller writer couldn’t ask for a better location for a confrontation, or a show-down.
But driving round the place it was hard not to be saddened and sobered by the destruction still on view. I came away grateful for what I have, and even more determined that as I pass the good things in life, I don’t want to miss them because I have my eyes in a text message and my ears in an iPod.
So, ‘Rati – what did you see today? And what will you notice tomorrow?
This week’s Word of the Week is innuendo. An Italian suppository …
"strake of sunlight" — is that what that's called? I like it.
I was doing the morning commute the other day, completely focused on the driver in front of me who could not for the life of him (or the sanity of me) figure out which pedal made the car *go* . . . when I glanced to the left and noticed/realized/remembered that I was driving along the Mississippi River and the sun was glittering on the water and lighting up the autumn trees.
There's a point along the road where you can see the city up ahead, clean and shining in the sunrise, while the red-bricked college buildings slide past on the opposite bank.
It struck me that I'm lucky to be able to see this every day and I really ought to make the effort. And it gets easier every morning.
I just wish I was a photographer. Or a poet.
I live in New England. Every year, no matter what I'm doing, I stop to appreciate the trees.
What colors they are (half-changed? All changed? Red? Yellow? One tree at my parent's house turns pink every year. They say this one it's magenta, not hot pink, which still makes me giggle). How the light shines off them at morning or in the evening. The college won't let me jump in leaf piles here, or I would. And I still stop and pick up particularly pretty leaves to admire.
A lovely post, Zoe. You definitely see the world through a photographer's eyes, and that must bring an extra layer to your writing.
Description, or the lack of it, is one reason why I can't really write prose. With the radio dramas I've had produced the stories, obviously, are told through dialogue, and sound. So when I try writing fiction I've a problem describing characters and settings. I just want to get on with the dialogue. Then the WIP begins to look a bit like a play. I can believe in the dialogue that advances the plot, but the passages of description fall flat.
Interesting what you say about beauty – and safety rails. I'm fortunate to be living in the Alps. There is so much here for the eye to take in that often in the early morning, when I'm running, I see something so startlingly beautiful I wish I had a camera with me.
And not a safety rail in sight.
Right off the 680 Mission Boulevard exit ramp is an open field. And roaming in that field at various times of the year are two to six llamas. Yesterday I saw a llama sitting on the cusp of the hill reveling in the sunset over the San Francisco Bay. I envied that llama because I had to continue on in traffic.
Each morning I anticipate my first fiew of the fog wending its way through the valley, sometimes a marshmallow river, sometimes an ocean of ripples.
It does a sould good. thanks for stirring memories and anticipations.
Hope those houses are ready for Christmas! Good on you two, your wonderful "do-it-yourselfnesses!"
You remember the mountains surrounding Tucson? I love to go outside and turn 360° to look at them. Very soothing. Grounding.
Alaina's comment reminds me of my years in school back home in New England. Our first fall ritual started on moving-in day with "First Leaf" watch, words that were a play on the founding of The College and its "First Fruits . . . After God carried us safe to New England, and we had built our houses, provided necessaries for our livelihood, reared convenient places for God's worship, and led the civil government, one of the next things we longed for and looked after was to advance learning and perpetuate it to posterity . . . ." Our little ritual, 350+ years later, was to be on the watch for the first brightly-colored leaf of fall. When we found our First Leaf" we celebrated by just being happy and showing the leaf, almost always yellow, to our friends, passersby, professors . . . anyone, then return to our rooms where we tacked them to the little cork message boards on our doors.
Possibly ‘strake of sunlight’ is not the right word, but it *sounds* right, so I’ve used it anyway.
It’s so easy to get fixated on the frustrations of the morning commute, and I hope you enjoy yours more than you have been doing. Just as long as you’re not so distracted by the Mississippi that you actually nerf the driver in front off the road. And I’m not sure if ‘nerf’ is really a word, either, but it sounds right too 🙂
Who needs to be a photographer? Writers are photographers in their own mind.
Thank you – I try to see rather than just look. I suppose years of looking for photo locations everywhere does make me spot bits of cities that other people miss. Also years of being the navigator rather than the driver help, too!
If you can crack dialogue, that’s more than half the battle won, I think. Convincing natural-sounding dialogue is by far the more difficult thing to write. Just follow the Stephen King advice – read, read, read, write, write, write. I have to say that Robert B Parker was the almost-perfect mix for me. Wonderful volleying rolls of dialogue and then the most wonderful little observations. OK, he was obsessed with what people were wearing, but then so was his hero, Chandler.
Love the idea of no safety rails in the Alps. Every now and then I’d like to be trusted not to do something stupid without having to be protected from myself 🙂
There is a little place on the A66 not too far from us called the Llama Karma Café. You can sit inside drinking the most wonderful hot chocolate and watching the llamas sitting right outside the window. They also have German Giant rabbits in pens outside. Worth going just for that 🙂
We get a lot of mist in the dips and fields around here, and it’s a magical effect, like you’ve broken through the top of the clouds. Lovely.
Hopefully the houses will be. We just finished tiling a 14ft fireplace today which has been a bit of a mission, but immensely satisfying too!
Those mountains are gorgeous, aren’t they? There’s something about the light and the impression of distance that gets me every time.
What a wonderful idea showing fallen leaves to people. I’d start doing it over here, but I fear they’d think I was even more mad than they do already …
New England is fabulous. I have a pic I took in New England as my desktop and I love it. The trees are so pretty over there, with the golds and pinks. We just seem to get mainly sludge green or sludge brown.
The only problem with jumping in leaf piles is that people often walk their dogs there and don’t erm, pick up after them. Leaves can be a very similar colour.
I’m sure I don’t need to draw you pictures here 🙂
Sometimes I do lose my sense of wonder, I'll admit it. I live in my head, and though it can be rather exciting in there, I can miss out on every day pleasures. I think this is why I gravitated toward photography. I recently bought a new camera, and it sits on my desk all the time, reminding me to get out and experience life. I don't need the camera to do this, obviously; it works as a reminder though.
Sitting her in front of my computer, I might stretch, take note of my camera, and then look around. I might see a play of autumn light against the wall, and think, oh pretty. I may or may not snap the shot, but for that moment I wasn't in my head.
So Zoë, you're helping someone finish their house build? I would think that makes for an interesting blog (DIY) especially if you're enjoying it.
I've recently redone my postage stamp back yard and I try every morning to go out and enjoy my little patch of green and order. I live in SF so there's no end of things to stop and see in the middle of a busy day and I try to do it frequently. In New Orleans, spent a lot of time looking at the new house in the Musians Village and the Make it Right houses…and also the changes in the Marigny. Although, you're right to point out, there is still a lot of destruction that hasn't been dealt with. There are still blocks and blocks of the city without water and electricity (hard to rebuild without that). Looking forward to Charlie's time in the Big Easy.
What a lovely way to think of having a camera – a way to get you out of your head for a moment. I shall treasure that one 🙂
We’re not quite helping someone finish a house build, just a major DIY project where the builder has naffed off halfway through and left them with the difficult bits to finish off. It’s at times like these you discover they haven’t quite got things straight or square, which is probably why they naffed off before such discrepancies became obvious – ie, at the finishing-off stage. Argh!
What a wonderful contrast of cities you spend your time between! I may well be picking your brains about NOLA at some point if I may …?
Great post, Zoe. It's so true…it's often easier NOT to stop and NOT to look around. Especially these days when we're all so busy.
Mind you, my hectic schedule has actually given me reason to pause and look in awe this week. The only way/time I can guarantee to get to the gym is a 6.15am class (then II get home before my hubby has to leave for work – a necessity with a 4yro). Anyway, this week my gym class and the sunrise have been in sync, so I've seen some gorgeous skies. I know it won't last long – soon the sun will be that bit higher at 6.10am when I zoom into the car park. But I'm enjoying it while I can.!
Well, yes . . . the leaf hunt . . . long time ago for me, now. At this advanced age, I'm sure they'd think I'd lost it! Kendall says they already know I am looney.
Santa just delivered my new iMac with bluetooth everything, which means it is hugely accessible, especially with Dragon and voice controls and such. Perhaps I will be able to catch up on NaNo.
Every time I'm up early enough to watch another sunrise, I keep promising myself that I'm going to start getting up early in the mornings again. It's just such a wonderful time of day and I always feel I've got ahead of myself, rather than having to play catch-up at the othe rend of the day (much as I am now). I used to be a lark rather than an owl, but these days I seem to be something of both!
Hooray – happy new computer! I hope it works wonderfully for you.
And come on – you know as well as I do that Kendall is far too sweet to ever describe you as "looney"
He'd be much more likely to say you were "barking mad …"
When we were kids my mom took us to hundreds, maybe even thousands, of art galleries and museums because she said if we could learn to see things aesthetically, we'd find beauty no matter where we were.
It was a huge gift.
Today, I'm in So Cal, but there is a Crape Myrtle tree outside that's every bit as jewel toned as any tree in the East!
Your mother did indeed give you a priceless gift. Trees are one of my favourite lifeforms. I was particularly awe-struck to visit the giant sequoia trees in King's Canyon a few years ago. Just magnificent.
Zoe, anytime. I sent an email to your aol address.
Thanks, Allison – I may well be taking you up on that 🙂
One of my children told me the other day that one of her best memories so far is the time I chased a full moon, driving as far as I could to get a clear view of it coming over the mountain.
Wonder is the stuff of joy.
Today it was brilliant pink and orange sunset against an otherwise gray cloudy sky. Stunning.
And did I mention the rose outside my front gate that has one beautiful reddish pink bloom even though we've already had a frost?
I was watching video of a clash between Occupy Wall Street protesters and the police at Zuccotti Park, and got completely distracted by the vibrant yellow leaves of the trees. They were like a beautiful, golden cloud floating above the mayhem, but no one below seemed to take notice.
So sorry to come late to your comment. How lovely to have a blooming rose outside your gate, even after the weather's turned. And I LOVE the idea of chasing the moon. We have fabulous moonlit starry nights here because we have no streetlights, so there are nights when every star is visible and you can trace the curve of the plough and follow Orion's belt. Just gorgeous.
Well, I think in that particular case I can forgive the protestors for not noticing the leaves above them when they have riot police and tear gas to worry about. It’s not just smoke that gets in your eyes …