by Cheri Pray Earl
I started a new blog when I turned fifty-five in October. Funny how staring sixty right in the naval can inspire you to dismiss that snotty poet who lives in your head. The one who says, “Isn’t it bad enough you can’t write poetry? Now you’re writing a genre novel? On a BLOG?!” My poet is a man, by the way. He also doesn’t approve of that exclamation point I just used.
Yes, I’m writing a genre novel. A murder mystery. Out loud. Scene by scene, chapter by chapter on a blog. Because I love murder mysteries. I read them like I eat candy—right off the shelf. I sit in the car in the library parking lot, reading the first chapter. I watch murder movies and murder television series for hours on end and listen to my mother’s heinous “true stories” of murder and mayhem. Crime fiction is my barrel of meal, my cruise of oil. My shelf Twinkies because I don’t mind if the books and movies and TV series are not good for me and offend my literary sensibilities with lots of nutty dialog tags and adverbs. My poet says my analogies are goosey. Sometimes I shake my head real hard and knock him around in there.
Do you know why I decided, after all these years, to write a mystery novel? Mortality. Menopause. Because I want to give it a shot before I die. Life is short, as they say, and too short to listen to poets. Poets, by the way, talk about death a lot in their poems. Billy Collins once said that all poems are about death. I asked him what he meant and he explained that everything is about death, isn’t it? Since we will all die. Anne Lamott, on the other hand, says that because we are all going to die there’s no point in writing about it. What is worth writing about is how men and women live in the face of death. American writers should be willing to let a novel end well, she says, rather than in tragedy or worse, unresolved.
I also believe that every writer should have the experience, at least once, of writing what he or she loves to read. If that’s possible. For instance, besides genre murder mysteries I love Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and Annie Proulx’s Shipping News. I doubt I’ll ever write the way they do because I don’t think the way they do, even though I try; that’s brain-melting work. A murder mystery, however, is just plain fun. My poet raises an eyebrow over that one—writing should depress you and force that inappropriate psychological disorder into the open and then make you brood a lot. He doesn’t like me using “a lot,” either.
QUALIFYING EXPLANATION: When I say write something fun, I don’t mean that a fun story can’t also be beautiful. It can be and should be. I can write a beautiful murder mystery if I try. Maybe. We shall see.
So today I told my daughter that she should stop trying to revise that serious, literary, depressing short story she wrote in “Introduction to Creative Writing” at Brigham Young University. She had become discouraged because she had no story; what she had was an abstract philosophy and some pretty words on the page. I told her to give herself permission to write something fun. “Write a clown scene instead,” I said. She smiled because she knew what I meant; the scene popped into her head in full color and live action. This. Is. Where. She. Lives. In her hilarious imaginings, anyway. And this is what she loves—quirky humor.
Talking all over each other, we described the scene—clowns wearing fezzes and big red rubber noses practicing their act and having dialogs about how to cram twenty of themselves in a VW Bug and someone’s got to take the lead of this insanity in the center ring of a circus tent before the matinee begins. Then we laughed about that one scene in Uncle Buck where the professional clown comes to the door and Buck answers it and the clown is drunk and dressed in a clown suit but he has a major five o’clock shadow and he drove to the house for a kids’ party in a VW Bug decked out like a mouse. Buck tells him to get in his mouse and leave but the clown says “Who are you, Mother Theresa?” Then Buck punches the clown in the rubber nose and the clown falls backward but bounces back up like that Bozo the Clown punching thingy and his nose is all caved in.
Hahahahahahhahahaha! That’s what we said. “Low hanging fruit” is what my poet says and he walks off to write a poem about death with a superior but brooding look on his face.
There you have it.