Someone asked me not long ago if there was a book that especially triggered my becoming a writer. And I gave it some thought after this fictitious person I just made up asked that question, because writers like nothing better than thinking about themselves.
There wasn’t a magic moment, a single book that made me a writer. I don’t think that’s how it works. There were moments when I realized people actually made a living writing things they made up, but those were mostly tied to movies and television, and they didn’t so much make me a writer as they gave me an idea for a good job to have when I was older.
Well, now I’m older and this is my job. And I couldn’t be happier about that. But the idea of inspiration is an interesting one. What makes you a writer?
I think you’re born a writer or not. You can’t learn it. You can learn to be a better writer, but if you’re not doing it long before it occurs you to charge people for it, you’re probably an English professor yearning to breathe free.
The inspiration for GHOST IN THE WIND, the latest Haunted Guesthouse mystery, was not simply the fact that it said somewhere on a contract that I’d better write a seventh novel in the series (although it helps). With a series as opposed to a standalone book, inspiration comes almost intentionally. As a writer, I can sit down and think about what’s happened previously in the series and think, if I haven’t before, about what might come of that. It’s all about giving the characters things to do that they haven’t done before.
It’s also about finding ways to make the characters uncomfortable, because people sitting around being content is nice for them, but dull for readers. How can I get Alison into trouble again without making her seem like the least responsible person on the planet? The trick is to make the reader want her to get involved in a sketchy situation, so mentally there’s already the impetus for the character to do something impulsive and possibly dangerous.
In GHOST IN THE WIND, Alison is driven by hero worship. She meets (albeit in ghost form) her musical idol, 60s musician Vance McTiernan—you remember, from The Jingles—and he has come asking a favor: Vance’s daughter died a few months ago and he wants Alison to investigate because he thinks the medical examiner’s conclusion of an allergic reaction is wrong, and that Vanessa was murdered.
Now, who among us would not do what we could to help someone whose work has touched us and perhaps gotten us through difficult times? How heartless would we be if we turned our backs on a person in pain, especially after his own death?
So now we’re on Alison’s side, even as she gets in over her head and by then it’s too late for the reader to back out. We understand Alison’s predicament and we’re in for the long haul.
And my work here is done.
See, it always comes back to character. The more you torment them, the better off you are.
Inspiration or sadism? You decide.
E.J. Copperman is the author of the Haunted Guesthouse mystery series and the co-author with Jeff Cohen of the Asperger’s Mystery series. Next year E.J. will also unveil the Mysterious Detective Mystery series in which a crime fiction author is confronted by the flesh-and-blood incarnation of her fictional sleuth.