(I’m traveling abroad at the moment, so will be unable to respond to comments. But I’ll read them when I return!)
When you’re a writer, you get used to hearing criticism from countless quarters. People don’t like your characters or your stories. They don’t like your language or your genre or your politics. But one of the weirdest objections I’ve ever heard came from a TV blogger, who said that “Rizzoli & Isles” was the dumbest name ever for a TV show, and that I, the novelist, should have had the foresight to choose better names when I created the characters ten years ago. I should have planned ahead for the day when they would become a TV show. Because authors have ESP, and of course it’s inevitable our books will be picked up by Hollywood.
D’oh! What kind of idiot was I, not planning ahead for Hollywood?
It boggles the mind how many misconceptions people have about the writing profession. The public probably imagines us as a tweedy set, ensconced in our wainscotted offices, thinking deep thoughts. Or they think we’re hip Manhattanites, scribbling pages at an outdoor cafe while we sip endless cups of espresso. They’d be shocked to learn that some of us us write while hiding in the closet so our kids can’t find us. And that no, most of us don’t plan out every move in our career because baby, in this career, there ain’t a lot of planning you can do.
I certainly never did any planning. Every move I’ve ever made as a writer has been because I had the compulsion to write that book, at that particular time. And sometimes it was against the advice of people I trusted, people with experience in the industry. From romance to medical thrillers, from stand-alones to a crime series, my career path has not been a determined march forward but more of a meander, searching here and there for the idea or the character that would set the next tale in motion.
Even my books aren’t planned out. I meander my way through those as well. It makes the first drafts utterly chaotic, but I don’t know any other way to do it.
And that’s how that crime-fighting team of Rizzoli and Isles came to be. I didn’t know there was going to be any team at all, until suddenly … there they were.
Jane Rizzoli first appeared in THE SURGEON as a secondary character who was supposed to die. Oh yes, that much I had figured out, the location and circumstances of her death. A dark cellar, a slash to the throat. We all know how well that plan turned out. Instead of dying, Jane dusted herself off and came back to star in the next book, THE APPRENTICE.
That’s the book where Maura Isles makes her first appearance. (And to answer the charge of the TV blogger who said that Maura Isles is a poorly thought-out name, it’s actually, um, a real name. Of someone who won the auction to name one of my characters.) Maura was another one of those minor characters who took on a life of her own and grew into a major character. Again, unplanned.
Every book in the series has resulted from spur-of-the moment plotting decisions. I didn’t know who Maura’s mother was until she suddenly showed up in BODY DOUBLE. I didn’t know whether Jane would abort her baby until the actual chapter when she made the choice to keep it. I didn’t know if the baby was a boy or girl until that scene in VANISH when little Regina popped into the world.
It’s a good thing I’m accustomed to this uncontrolled approach to plotting, because it makes me better able to deal with my career, over which I have no control at all. Believing that you have control over your success as a writer will drive you insane. You could write the best book ever written. It could land on a top editor’s desk, be adorned with a wonderful cover, get starred reviews… and end up in the remainders bin a year later. Or you could write a book about a girl with a dragon tattoo, be published by an obscure Scandinavian publishing house, and end up as the best selling author in the world. And, tragically, be dead of a heart attack.
It’s the unpredictability of a writing career that keeps so many plugging away at it, year after year, defeat after defeat. Okay, so your last two books were a disaster in the marketplace. Change your name, change your genre, and try again! Dan Brown’s first few books went nowhere, and then, kaboom! DA VINCI CODE. Your next book could be the next DA VINCI CODE, couldn’t it? Or Hollywood could turn it into a TV series. Unlike actors, whose careers dry up as their wrinkles start to show, even a poor grizzled writer working on his thirtieth book could suddenly find fame and fortune.
That’s the seduction of the business. It could always happen. Without any planning whatsoever.