Maybe I shouldn’t be blurting out the truth for everyone to read. Heck, I don’t know if anyone will even be reading this, but for what it’s worth, here it is — the unvarnished truth about what it’s like to be a novelist these days.
To copy a phrase from W., “it’s hard, hard work.”
Right now, I’m finishing up VANISH, my next book in the Jane Rizzoli / Maura Isles series, and I’ll tell you now it’s been a difficult birth. But then, all my books have been difficult. Whenever someone blithely tells me “oh, you just churn them out,” I want to strangle them. No, I do not just churn out these stories. I labor hard over each and every one. I spend many sleepless nights, worrying whether I can pull my characters out of the fire. Since I don’t plot out my books ahead of time, and instead allow each one to organically develop in its own way, I never how they’ll turn out until the words are actually on the page. My method is unpredictable and, in some ways, chaotic. But it’s the way I’ve always worked, and I’m too old a dog to learn new tricks.
I figure, if I’m surprised by the twists and turns, then maybe my readers will be surprised as well.
Do I ever just turn in the books because I’ve run out of time?
No. Never. The endings you read in my stories are precisely the endings I wanted. If all the loose ends aren’t neatly tied up, it’s because I think you the reader are clever enough to figure out what happens next. (Do I REALLY need to show you the wedding of Abby and Katzka? Come on, people. You KNOW they’re gettin’ married, and that they’re gonna adopt Yakov!!!)
A question that I often have to answer in interviews is this: “You seem like such a nice person. Why do you write such horrifying stuff?”
It’s because of my mother. And I say that in the nicest way. Those of you who’ve seen my photos know that I’m Asian American. My mom was an immigrant from China — specifically, Kunming. When she came to the U.S., her command of English was a bit spotty. The one thing she understood, and enjoyed, was American horror films. No need to understand English in a horror film. You see Frankenstein or the Mummy coming after you, and you don’t need English to understand that this is a bad thing.
My mother dragged me and my younger brother to every horror film that came to San Diego. I grew up cowering in fright in movie theaters. My girlhood was fraught with nightmares of “Body Snatchers” and “Them” and those alien ships from “Robinson Crusoe on Mars”. If you want to understand where my books come from, all you need to do is watch a few horror films from the 60’s.
Yeah, Mom, thanks a lot. And I really mean that. Because she awakened my imagination. She (and Hollywood) made me think: “What’s the worst that can happen?” And that’s exactly what goes on in my books. I’m always thinking: “What’s the worst that can happen?”
And then I try to make it happen.
If you have any questions, just email me. I’ll try to address them next time I blog!