It’s much too easy to find oneself wrapped up in the work of being an author. Writing has its own set of demands, and today’s authors are expected to also function as editors, publicists, marketing strategists, researchers—you name it. But, as any good writer can tell you, the payoff is in those moments where fantasy and reality intersect. It’s in these moments that inspiration strikes and the writing flourishes.
In this week’s Killer Nashville Guest Blog, author Claire Applewhite explores what it means enter into that give-and-take between the real and imagined.
Sooner or later, if a writer is fortunate, it happens. I’m referring to that magic moment when your hero rises up from the ashes. I’m talking about a connection.
I’m talking about 3:30 a.m., and you need answers. Suddenly, they appear.
You may not notice that you don’t notice. You may continue to type. Secretly, you might even rejoice that this human wannabe is finally pulling its own weight. You were beginning to wonder about that, I know. I know, because the same thoughts occurred to me, but, I digress.
I was, I thought, well acquainted with my Vietnam vet-turned-PI, Elvin Suggs. After all I’d put him through in The Wrong Side of Memphis, what else could happen to him? Oh, did I have a lot to learn!
The year was 2011. For a while, I had been researching the history of Coral Courts, a St. Louis no-tell motel. It seemed like the perfect place for a murder mystery setting. Why? Each bungalow had its own garage and private entrance. Of course, the motel staff was expected to exercise discretion.
I don’t struggle with writer’s block, nor do I wait for inspiration.to write. I have a goal of five pages a day, and that is my guideline. Around 3:45 one morning, I was trying to decide where Elvin Suggs was going after losing another round with Dimond “Di” Redding. My second book, St. Louis Hustle, was halfway complete, and yet I felt weary and frustrated. “C’mon Elvin,” I said, “what do you really want?’ In that isolated moment, I felt a presence I couldn’t explain. Suddenly, I knew exactly where Elvin was going. Three months later, the first draft of St. Louis Hustle was finished! Still, I wanted to know: who provided the answer?
Faced with a quirky question without answers, I did what I usually do in such a pressing situation. I asked Google. It turns out, Elvin Suggs got himself a sweet spot on the Thrilling Detective website. Yes, he did. All by his lonesome.
And, he never told me.
I sensed my rising indignation. This was news! Why didn’t Elvin tell me?
FACT: Elvin Suggs is not a real man.
FACT: Elvin Suggs cannot talk.
Still, he could give me his new address. When is he most likely to visit? I’ve noticed a pattern: I am usually alone, it is typically around 4:00 a.m., and like a sizzling skillet waiting for a steak, the world that Elvin is about to enter is tense, threatening, and entirely too hot.
A writer that I admire once told me that she never had to rewrite anything that she wrote at three o’clock in the morning. I, too, have found that claim to be true. Indeed, a physician once observed that many critically ill patients expire between three and five a.m. At this time, in his opinion, the veil between the physical world and the supernatural is at its thinnest; those who might seek protection from demons are in a most vulnerable state. I know that if I am searching for answers, somehow they will be there if the setting feels alive, the action crackles with tension, and the characters possess a certain intrigue. Elvin is most likely to appear when a petite blonde arrives on the scene. Any scene will do, by the way.
And there is something else. One must disconnect from the known to connect with the unknown. After all, there is no need to engage the imagination to observe the familiar. The insight that allows the imagination to create something out of nothing demands a stiff tariff: an exchange of reality for stardust, the stuff that dreams are made of. So, dream on—until your dream comes true—or talks back.
(To be a part of the Killer Nashville Guest Blog, send a query to firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love to hear from you.)
And be sure to check out our new book, Killer Nashville Noir: Cold-Blooded, an anthology of original short stories by New York Times bestselling authors and newbies alike.
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