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Thursday, July 10, 2008

WHODUNNIT??---Why not YOU?

In case you're interested, I'm teaching a one-day seminar on writing mysteries and crime thrillers at UCLA Extension on Saturday, July 26. For info, please call 310-825-9415 or (800) 388-UCLA.


Anyway, when the folks at Extension asked me to participate in a short Q&A about the seminar, I was only too happy to oblige. Here's an excerpt: 




Q: Your upcoming one-day seminar is called "Taking the Mystery Out of Writing Mysteries."  In your own work, what has been the most challenging element of writing mysteries?


A: Initially, years ago, the hardest element was the plotting. Then, as I grew more confident as a writer (fueled, in great part, by my years as a screenwriter, which requires diligent attention to plot and structure), I discovered that equally important to a good mystery is creating strong, relatable characters.


Henry James famously said, "Plot is characters under stress," and this dictum is never more apparent than when devising powerful, involving mystery and crime stories.


In fact, when you strive to develop interesting characters, who are struggling with relatable emotions---fear, envy, lust, etc.---the way they intersect helps build the foundation of the plot. 


Mystery writers need to remember: crime stems from strong emotions, and strong emotions stem from interpersonal conflict. Kinda like life.


Q: As a licensed psychotherapist specializing in creative issues, what are some things from your psychotherapy practice that you bring into your teaching?  What about to your writing?


A: After 19 years counseling writers who struggle with issues like writer's block, procrastination, and fear of rejection---not to mention anxiety and depression---I think I bring to my teaching both a real understanding of the difficulties of the writer's life, as well as some solid tools for addressing those problems. 


That said, despite my many years as both a therapist and a professional writer, I come up against the same fears and doubts as any other writer. Except that now I just see them as part of the creative process, part of who I am when I'm writing, and trust in my craft as a writer.  Most of the time. 


Q: You were recently an inactive instructor, now returning to the Writers' Program to teach this fall.  For those students who may not be familiar with your teaching or with your work, what is it that you'd like students to know about your courses?  What would you like students to take away from your courses?


A: I'd like students to know that my workshops are interactive, lively and combine solid information with good in-class writing exercises.  Also, because of my experience as both a writer and a therapist who counsels writers, I think I bring a unique perspective to whatever personal issues they might be grappling with  that are impeding their work.



Q: Where do you find inspiration for your own writing? 


A: Everywhere. How people interact with each other. My own passions, fears, concerns, interests. Frankly, however, I don't put much stock in inspiration. I think waiting and hoping to be inspired is a drain on a writer's time and energy. You're better served, I believe, by hard work and striving to cultivate imagination, which, unlike inspiration,  is available to everyone and doesn't depend on divine intervention!


Q: What's your best advice for those trying to published mystery novels?


A: Read what's out there, just to get a general sense of what the industry's publishing, but don't try to slavishly emulate it. Now is not the time to write a novel like The Da Vinci Code. That trend is over. Which means, it's a mistake to try to follow trends. I believe your best bet is to mine your own life, your own passions and interests, and then write the kind of story you'd like to read.


For example, in my new collection of mystery short stories, From Crime to Crime, most of the tales are about a group of hapless amateur sleuths based on real people--a therapist (me) and three of my friends. Our relationship to each other, how we interact under stress, our humor and personal foibles---all formed the foundation of the story-telling. Though the mystery stories are of course fictional, I was curious as to how we would react if we stumbled upon crimes and tried to solve them.


Q: Who is your favorite mystery author of all time?  


A: Too many authors to name, across a range of types of mystery stories. Conan Doyle, Hammett and Chandler, Colin Dexter, Patrica Highsmith, Ed McBain, Michael Connelly, James Lee Burke, Robert Crais. We literally don't have the space!


Q: Is there anything else that you'd like students to know about your upcoming class?


A: Just bring writing implements. Oh, and dress is formal.



Again, for info about this seminar, please call UCLA Extension's Writing Program at 310-825-9415 or (800) 388-UCLA.

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