Advice at MysteryNet.com: “How I Spent My Summer Vacation” by S.J. Rozan
Award-winning mystery author S.J. Rozan outlines the job requirements for a writer.
I spent my summer vacation working on two books at once, the one I’m writing and the one I’m going to be writing as soon as I finish this one. I spent my winter that way, too, and my spring and fall. Since I started this writing scam (at an advanced age I will not reveal) I’ve spent all seasons, all weather, hours, and times of day, like that.
The concept of a vacation, in fact, eludes me, as it does most writers. Even if you’ve just finished a book and turned it in–even if it’s early (that sound is my editor laughing)–there’s always something you should be doing: an idea that’s been nagging at you; a story you promised an anthology that you haven’t started yet; facts to check from that book you just finished early because you were on such a roll you didn’t stop to look into what the landscaping really is at South Cove or whether the chopped liver sandwiches at Sammy’s are still six inches thick the way you remember from when you were a kid.
And if you say the hell with it, get on that airplane, and fly to Shanghai, you find that all your fellow travelers are proto-characters and the smell, sound, and feel of the streets of the night market are why you’ve come: so that, knowing them on a physical level, under your skin and in your gut, you can take them home, lift them out, and cram them into words: abstractions which someone else will read, lift out, and translate back into–if you’ve done it well–something that will grab him in the gut, too.
It’s this translation thing, this requirement that everything counts for something, that distinguishes writers from normal people. Thomas Cook says that writing is an imperial impulse, a taking of territory. He’s right, and I think it goes even beyond that: it’s a taking of territory for the purposes of (in the writer’s mind) benevolent dictatorship. I pull out the pieces of experience that have meaning for me, organize them in a way that says something I think is worth saying, and hand them back to the reader for attention. I’ve already cut out the parts that could distract the reader, dilute the message. Life is what it is; fiction tries to tell you what it’s about.
Then what could be better than crime fiction, really, as the tool? The ur-stories behind crime fiction, the myths on which it’s based, are two epic battles: between chaos and order, and between good and evil. They’re not the same, though usually they’re presented in terms of close allies, chaos on the side of evil, order fighting shoulder to shoulder with good. The stories that interest me, though–the pieces I lift out and present to you–are the one where order is a mask for evil, where for good to prevail the world has to explode into chaos and not everyone finds a happy ending. That’s like life, and amazingly, it echoes the process itself; the writer’s job is to make order–fiction–out of life, which is chaos. But it has to be done every day, every season, on vacation, at work, because the reason to do it is to examine the small, daily defeats or victories in the eternal, ongoing, never-ending good vs. evil war.
Buy Lydia Chin – Bill Smith Mysteries at MysteryBookstore.com
The Bill Smith & Lydia Chin Mysteries
- China Trade, 1994
- Concourse, 1995
- Mandarin Plaid, 1996
- No Colder Place, 1997
- Bitter Feast, 1998
- Stone Quarry, 1999
- Reflecting the Sky, 2002
- Winter and Night, 2002
S.J. Rozan is the author of the Lydia Chin and Bill Smith mystery series. Rozan’s work has been nominated for an Edgar Award and an Anthony Award and is the winner of the Shamus Award for Best Novel–the only woman other than Sue Grafton to be so recognized.