Monday, January 4, 2010

Everything is material.

Our guest blogger today is Mary Kennedy, national best-selling author, clinical psychologist, and my friend. Mary is currently writing The Talk Radio Mysteries, set in a fictional south Florida town. The first title, DEAD AIR, will be out this week. Knowing Mary's snappy writing and wicked sense of humor, I know this book will be a winner. And now, here's Mary!
When people discover I'm a novelist, they tend to ask me where I get my "material." The question always puzzles me. It's as if an alien popped down from outer space and said, "So, earthling, what do you use for oxgen, that's what humans breathe, right?"
I don't even have to think about the answer.

Where do I get my material?? Everywhere. Material, like oxygen, is all around us. Do I think writers have a special sensitivity to bits of dialogue, the colors in a spectacular sunset, a quirky turn of phrase, an interesting bit of body language? Absolutely. But I also think that actors, theatre directors, painters and many other people have this same sensitivity. There is something that sets artists apart from "civilians" (besides our rather thin pay checks). It's hard to define but I think of it as a sort of hyper- awareness of our surroundings. We're constantly watching, recording, appreciating the world around us.

I was walking down a street in London with my sister-in-law, who happens to be a very talented painter, and the day was heavy,overcast with dense clouds. She was silent for a couple of minutes, staring at the bleak sky. Then she said, "Have you ever noticed that clouds are rather flat on the bottom? They're not all round and puffy. And when it's about to rain, they have a dark gray base at the bottom. I have to remember to use this in my next watercolor." I looked up and she was right. They were flat on the bottom, just as she described.

I hear interesting bits of dialgoue and often incorporate them in my books. When I was riding on a cross town bus in Manhattan, I noticed two matrons sitting side by side chatting. One said to the other, "Did you notice something different about Herman and Marion? I don't think they're getting along." Her friend shook her head. "You're right," she said sadly. "Things have never been the same between them--ever since he threw her through that plate glass window."

Wow. That's the kind of dialogue I couldn't invent!

And when I stopped by Barney's the sales clerk had a long face and mournful look, just like a Weimaraner. I made a mental note to use that in my next book. A few minutes later, I made a phone call, and the receptionist on the other end was so curt, you'd think I'd interrupted her in the middle of brain surgery. Another image I'll use somewhere. And recently someone elbowed me aside, as if we were battling for the same set of towels at a Macy's White Sale. Yep, that will go in a book, too.
This tendency to take mental notes on things can be irritating to non-writers. A friend said to me, in an exasperated way, "Honestly, don't you ever stop thinking?? Do you have to think every single minute?" Well, yes, I do, actually. My cat rarely thinks of anything, and let's face it, where has it gotten him in life?

I think my annoying tendency to note, to describe, to be intrigued by what I see is just part of being a writer and goes with the territory. The wheels are always churning, ask any writer. It would probably take Sigmund Freud to figure it out, but I feel that like a shark, I have to keep swimming, keep moving, or I'll die.

Watch for the second book in the series, REEL MURDER, in June, 2010.