All I Wanna Do is Have Some Fun*

When Writing is FunIt’s not easy to write a novel. Any writer will tell you that creating characters, developing the plot, providing closure and all of the other elements of storytelling can be challenging. And that’s not to mention things like editing and revising. But don’t let any writer (including this one) fool you into thinking there’s no enjoyment in it. There are some scenes, characters and events that are fun, or at least enjoyable to write. And that enjoyment can definitely come through in a story.

For instance, of all of the books and plays she wrote, Agatha Christie is said to have most enjoyed writing Crooked House. As she put it,

 

‘Writing Crooked House was pure pleasure…’

 

It’s clear from the novel too that she took special enjoyment in creating the story. In this novel, wealthy patriarch Aristide Leonides and his much-younger wife Brenda live with several members of their family in Three Gables, the family home. When Leonides’ grand-daughter Sophie returns to Three Gables after World War II, she finds that her grandfather has been poisoned with his own eye drops. Sophie’s fiancé Charles Hayward knows that she will not marry him until the matter of who killed Leonides is settled. So Hayward is strongly motivated to do some sleuthing. As he gets to know the various members of the family, he discovers that several of them had a good reason to want Leonides dead. This novel (in my opinion, so do feel free to differ with me if you do) has all of the ingredients that made Christie’s work so well-regarded. It’s easy to see how much she enjoyed writing it.

In Michael Connolly’s The Lincoln Lawyer, we are introduced to attorney Mickey Haller, who works out of his automobile and travels to visit his clients. In this case, the client is Hollywood playboy and real estate dealer Louis Roulet, who’s been arrested for rape and murder. On the surface of it, the case looks clear-cut, but the more Haller digs into it, the more possibility there is that, as unlikeable as he is, Roulet is not guilty. Connelly has said that he enjoyed writing Haller’s two ex-wives. One is deputy district attorney Maggie ‘McFierce’ McPherson. The other is Lorna Taylor, who works as Haller’s assistant. According to Connelly, the fact that these two women still like Haller, maybe even love him, shows that he’s got some redeeming qualities. And it’s clear that Haller respects them too. The marriages may not have been successful, but the relationships have, and it’s obvious from the way Connelly has developed these characters that he likes them.

In Patricia Stoltey’s The Desert Hedge Murders, retired circuit court judge Sylvia Thorn is reluctantly persuaded to go on a sightseeing/gambling trip with her mother Kristina’s travel group the Florida Flippers. The group has plans to visit Laughlin, Nevada, and all goes well enough at first. Then, the dead body of an unknown man is found in the bathtub of the hotel room shared by two of the Flippers. Shortly afterwards, another member of the group disappears and is later found dead in an abandoned gold mine. Partly to protect her mother and the rest of the Flippers, Thorn looks into the case and together with her brother Willie, she finds out how the two deaths are connected and what’s behind them. In one scene in the novel, Thorn, her mother and the Flippers have arrived at the Oatman Hotel in Oatman, a famous ghost town near the gold mine. They’re getting off the tour bus from Laughlin when Thorn suddenly finds herself surrounded by a group of the burros that make Oatman their home. She has another encounter with the burros later in the novel. No, the burros don’t attack, and they don’t have anything to do with the murders, but they add to the story, and I’m pretty certain it was fun to write about them.

In Anthony Bidulka’s Flight of Aquavit, Saskatoon PI Russell Quant gets a new client Daniel Guest. Guest is being blackmailed because of some secret relationships he’s had with other men. He hires Quant to find and stop the blackmailer and Quant begins to look into the case. The trail leads to New York, where Quant crosses paths with another PI Jane Cross, who lives and works in Regina. Neither is particularly enamoured of the other but as it turns out, the cases they are working on are related. So like it or not, Quant has to interact with Cross. In the end, and after a murder, Quant works out who blackmailed his client, who killed the murder victim and how Jane Cross fits in. Here is what Bidulka had to say about Jane Cross:

 

‘I enjoyed writing her character, especially as a foil for Russell.’

 

And that’s clear from the novels in which she appears. Cross is smart, interesting and absolutely unafraid. The interactions between her and Quant are sometimes tense and unpleasant, but they are engaging and sometimes really witty.

And then there’s Angela Savage’s The Half Child. That’s the second in her series featuring  PI Jayne Keeney, who lives and works in Bangkok. In that novel, Keeney investigates the death of Maryanne Delbeck, who jumped (or fell, or was pushed) from the roof of the Pattaya hotel where she was living. The official police report is that Maryanne was suffering from depression and committed suicide. But her father doesn’t believe it and wants Keeney to look into the matter. Keeney travels to Pattaya and goes undercover at the orphanage/child care home where Maryanne volunteered to try to get some answers. Along with finding out what really happened to Maryanne, Keeney also finds out some very ugly truths about the child care facility. In her personal life, Keeney has begun a relationship with Rajiv Patel, who manages his uncle’s Bangkok bookshop. Throughout this case, Patel proves to be very helpful, so much so that Keeney re-thinks her relationship with him as well as her view of her work. At the end of this novel, Patel finds a way to surprise Keeney. That scene is not just fun, it’s moving, too, and I have it on very good authority that it was

 

‘…great fun to write…’

 

And that’s clear when one reads it.

Part of the reason that writers keep doing what they do is that despite the challenges, it can be a lot of fun. And when an author enjoys particular characters, scenes and so on, that comes through clearly in the story. Do you see that too? Can you tell when an author is enjoying himself or herself? If you’re a writer, which scenes or characters have you had the most fun writing?

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Sheryl Crow’s All I Wanna Do.

34 Comments

Filed under Agatha Christie, Angela Savage, Anthony Bidulka, Michael Connelly, Patricia Stoltey

34 responses to “All I Wanna Do is Have Some Fun*

  1. Margot, I just finished reading a book by French author Paul Halter, a writer who has made himself the successor to John Dickson Carr in his ability to create locked room/impossible crime stories. In “The Seventh Hypothesis,” there is a marvelous succession of surprises, spread over some 26 pages, where the reader is hit every few pages with what is essentially a completely new reversal of the plot and told “everything you think you know by now is WRONG” – the best way to describe it, without spoilers, is to say that it reads like an extended sequence from Anthony Shaffer’s marvelous play (later movie) “Sleuth,” in which very little is at it first appears and where the audience’s perceptions are shifted radically every few pages. The characters in Halter’s book, while quite serious, also seem to relish these constant switches, and I would imagine that the author must have been enjoying himself quite thoroughly while writing them!

    • Les – I would say he probably was! It often is a lot of fun to lead the reader right down the proverbial garden path. Carr did that brilliantly and so does Halter. Such talent with the ‘impossible mystery’ plot point. And thanks for reminding me of the play Sleuth. Folks, if you haven’t seen it and you get the chance to do so, don’t miss it. It is a terrific play.

  2. I am always surprised to hear writers say they only enjoy have written but not the actual writing. Sad.

  3. How do you get any novel writing of your own done, with the amount of time you spend posting on this blog and reading/posting on other blogs?

    • Curious – I can answer your question in one word: coffee. ;-) Seriously, though, it does take a tool. Fortunately, I love writing, blogging and interacting with other readers and writers. So it’s a labour of love.

  4. You were one of the people who recommended Jussi Adler-Olsen’s Mercy to me, and thank you very much – I read it on my way to Copenhagen, & a blog post is forthcoming. And I’m guessing he loved writing Carl’s assistant, Assad, and the relationship between the two men. I loved that, thought it was so well-done and funny.

    • Moira – Oh, I am so glad you read that novel; I’ll be looking forward to reading your review of it. I truly do hope you enjoyed it as I think it’s an excellent book. And you’re probably quite right that Adler-Olsen enjoyed writing Assad’s character. The interplay between and Carl Mørck is deftly written I think and there’s quite a lot of wit there. So I’ll bet it was fin to write.

      • Thought the same Moira, Margot, Carl’s assistant stole the show. Can’t wait till the next book in the series! Read Lincoln Lawyer and enjoyed it despite not really caring for legal thrillers. Also, I’d have to think that Robert B. Parker had fun with Spencer. Recently reading a few, they are still quite funny with some depth and insight (for the time period) and Ed McBain with his subtle way of inserting social commentary into his 87th Precinct novels, very funny sometimes. McBain came across to me as someone who enjoyed words.

        • Keshon – I can’t argue with you; Assad is a terrific character isn’t he? He’s just great. And I’m glad you mentioned Spenser and Robert B. Parker. I don’t know it for a fact but my guess is that he probably did enjoy telling those stories. And I wouldn’t be surprised if McBain liked a good turn of phrase. He could be very witty.

        • Yes, I was just speculating and since both are dead, we’ll never know for sure. I don’t know. Sometimes you can tell when a writer enjoys what they do for a living. The witty lines can’t be easy to write but still, they are a lot of fun to read :-) thanks Margot.

  5. Margot: I listened to a radio interview with Louise Penny, author of the Inspector Gamache series, in which she said that Gamache is her dream husband. She said that if she had to live with a fictional character because she spent so much time with him while writing she wanted someone she would marry.

  6. kathy d.

    I would imagine most writers have fun with much of the writing, especially if they’re writing humor. I’m sure Anthony Bidulka enjoys the wit he creats through Russell Quant.
    I’m thinking that Andrea Camilleri has a lot of fun with Salvo Montalbano, our favorite Sicilian curmudgeon. As he churns out the hilarious comments or thoughts, he must laugh. I have read that Stephen Sartarelli laughs out loud while he’s translating the humor in these books. He definitely has fun translating the gourmet detective’s witty remarks and craziness. (How could he not laugh at Catarell’s confused messages? Or Montalbano’s fear of running into the actor who plays him on the TV episodes? Or so much more.
    I also imagine that Kerry Greenwood enjoys writing about Corinna Chapman’s lively adventures and building mates, all of them eccentrics.
    And I’d bet that Rex Stout had a lot of fun with the corpulent, agoraphobic, orchid- and food-obsessed detective, Nero Wolfe, and his sidekick, Archie Goodwin.

    • Kathy – You know, I wasn’t thinking of it when I wrote this post, but I’m not at all surprised that Sartarelli has his share of laughs when he translates Camilleri’s work. I”ll bet he’s not the only translator either who gets a laugh out of the job. And you’re right, authors such as Kerry Greenwood and Anthony Bidulka probably do enjoy writing their characters and dialogue. I’ve recently read that it’s not always easy to write humour, but honestly, I’ve found that it is fun when you write a scene that makes you laugh.

  7. I usually don’t see it when an author might have enjoyed writing about particular characters and scenes. However, I often wonder how much of the author there is in his or her characters, plots, and scenes. I think there is a fair amount of “the personal” in every fiction except authors are good at disguising it. On the other hand, I have found it easier to learn about an author’s beliefs and ideologies (social and political in the main) through his or her books. Then again, I’m never sure.

    • Prashant – I think you have a very well-taken point that there’s a little bit of every author in what s/he writes. It’s hard for there not to be really. And I do think that one can learn about an author’s personality and views through reading what s/he has written.

  8. Margot I’m pretty sure that Camilleri, Nesser, Solana and Villar enjoy themselves writing, and it shows on their books.

    • José Ignacio – I have no doubt that you’re right. The authors you’ve mentioned have styles that show an easy comfort and a wit that to me shows that they enjoy what they’re writing. There is nothing forced about it.

  9. Skywatcher

    Alan Plater was a famous British playwright, who wrote for television and theatre. He also did an enormous amount of stuff in the detective/crime genre (adaptions of Christie and Allingham, as well as original dramas such as Z CARS and LEWIS). He always said that he loved doing dialogue between the characters, but found actually having to plot a bit of a drag.

    This reached its peak in the sublime BEIDERBECKE AFFAIR (as well as its two sequels). He seems to have allowed himself to relax and just write about characters that he liked. It’s quite possible to reach the end of the novel (or the television show that he wrote at the same time) and still not be certain what the plot was! The denoument to the conspiracy story happens very much off screen. On the other hand, you do know all about the characters.

    There’s Trevor Chaplin, Woodwork teacher and Jazz fan (“For the greater part of his forty years on the planet Earth he had been saying things that no-one took any notice of”); the love of his life Jill Swinburne, English teacher and political activist, who stands for local government on behalf of The Conservation Party (“We’re against practically everything!”); Their fellow teacher Mr Carter, who teaches history and is a sort of cynical Greek Chorus on the story (“Mrs Swinburne, you are glowing like the vital morn. And even Mr Chaplin has a blush on his damask cheek”) Then there’s Sergeant Hobson B.A, Big Al and Little Norm, Harry the supergrass and his dog Jason, Forrester….. This is really a story where you have to forget about the plot and just go enjoy the time you spend with the characters.

    • Skywatcher – Oh, those are great characters! And when you read characters like that, you just know that someone has had a good time writing about them. Little wonder Plater had fun with them. It’s interesting too that you would mention Plater’s fondness for dialogue. Many authors find it easier to write either description/narrative or dialogue, but not both. For many authors there’s a preference for one or the other.

  10. Jan

    I love this post! Margot – you are so right – when someone enjoys what they do, it is like a spiral upward – the writing itself, the story, all is infused with this liking and the act itself – the writing, or painting, or cooking, or … cannot help but become a rich offering.
    On a personal note – thank you so much for being my reader through this A to Z – I so enjoy reading your comments on my pieces and to know that there is someone out there reading them is heaven!

    • Jan – Oh, no need to thank me. Your pieces are so beautifully woven together and so evocative. It’s a pleasure to read them. And you’re right. When we enjoy what we do, it can’t help but come through in what we create. And that’s the case whether it’s a story, a garden, a meal or something else.

  11. When Lilian Jackson Braun was alive, I gleefully grabbed every volume of The Cat Who . . . series. I always hoped she laughed out loud when writing those stories, like I did when reading them.

    • Barbara – I’ll bet that Braun had a lot of fun creating some of the eccentric characters and situations that appear in her novels. Even some of the names are funny (Toodles’ Market? It’s a great name! So is the town of Brrr). And the scenes in which Jim Qwilleran does his cats’ bidding are sometimes very funny. I’ll bet she enjoyed them too.

  12. Great post, Margot, and thanks as always for the mention.

    I’m with Patti in enjoying not only what I’ve written but the actual writing. Yes, some days the words flow less freely than others, but if there’s no pleasure in it, then I can’t see the point.

    BTW the other scene I had great fun writing in The Half-Child was the one in the pool hall with the US Marines. While my novels are by no means autobiographical, that scene is based on a night I spent in a bar in Hanoi and brought back many fun memories.

    • Angela – Thanks – and it was my pleasure to mention your work. You make a well-taken point that telling a story ought to be fun. Yes, there are ‘those days,’ but who doesn’t have them? In general, writing really can be fun and it ought to be or as you say, what’s the point?
       
      And as to that pool hall scene, I guessed it was fun to write, ‘though of course I didn’t know it was based on something that really happened to you. It’s a terrific scene and I think it’s woven in really well with the rest of the story.

  13. Reblogged this on Angela Savage and commented:
    I am a great fan of Margot Kinberg’s blog. Her topical posts are always original and engaging. This one, on the joys of writing crime, hits close to home, a timely reminder that being a published author is a privilege and a pleasure — and that if it ain’t fun, you’re probably in the wrong line of work.

  14. Leif G W Persson *must* have enjoyed writing ‘Linda, As in the Linda Murder’. Backstrom is so un-pc and the humour comes across on every page.

    • Sarah – When a book has a good sense of humour like that, you can indeed tell the author was having fun. And that makes the book all the more enjoyable for the reader.

  15. Thanks, Margot! And yes, writing about the burro is almost as much fun as being in Oatman and seeing them first hand. Some stories are written just for the pure fun of it.

    • My pleasure, Pat – I haven’t (yet) been to Oatman, but it must be fun to be there and see those burros. I felt bad for Sylvia but at the same time I did enjoy reading about her encounters with them :-)

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