Monday, May 6, 2013

Chasing the Dragon - Or Why I Write

There are two reasons I write, and the first is purely selfish.

Life is hard. I gained first-hand experience of this little nugget when my twin brothers grew so big in my mother's belly that her lap disappeared. Shortly after taking my lap, they popped into the world and from that moment on, life changed. It got noisy and messy and stinky and the center of the universe tilted.


Away from me.

I needed an escape.

I am fortunate to have parents who taught me to love reading. We read about castles and talking dogs and good people and different people and hurtful people and monsters. (Oh yes, the monsters. *delightful shiver*) I was transported. I might've been sitting on a lap but I was inside that page.


This one gift has given me a lifetime of pleasure and escape. An ability to step out of this noisy, messy, stinky place we call life and into an imaginary world. And when I say step into, I mean literally step into. Books do this for me in a way that a movie or television show cannot. I still disappear into a book and leave this world behind (and have done so to my detriment and the amusement of strangers on the London Underground many times).

I said that the first reason I write is selfish. When I put fingers to keyboard, I'm chasing the dragon - the pure intoxication - of that escape. The kind of absolute absorption into another world that Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls 'flow' in his books "Flow" and "Good Business". He describes the basic elements of flow like this:

The task at hand draws one in with its complexity to such an extent that one becomes completely involved in it. There is no distinction between thought and action, between self and environment.

 
Mihaly also says that "...the most widely reported flow activity the world over is reading a good book, during which one becomes immersed in the characters and their vicissitudes to the point of forgetting oneself."


This is the second reason that I write.

A selfless reason, if you will. To give others an opportunity to forget themselves and the day-to-dayness of life.

I want to create good books with characters and experiences that are so absorbing that a reader steps into my imaginary world, bonds with those imaginary people, and cares deeply about what happens to them. I want that reader to come back to reality with a jolt, a sharp intake of breath, and feel elation that they escaped our noisy, messy, stinky world for a time.

I believe in the power of a story to enchant and transport. I believe the writing of such a story is a gift to the reader. Yes, I write to satisfy my selfish need for the dragon, but also to feed those whose hunger for escape is as great as my own.

 
I write crime novels, and at their heart these stories are about imperfect people facing hard decisions that define who they are and who they want to become. Life is noisy, messy, and stinky, and so are some of my characters and their problems. But still they struggle on.

 
Like we do.

 
Can I write a good book that transports readers? Time and reader feedback will tell. But in the meantime, I'll keep chasing my personal dragon and feeding that hunger for escape for myself, and hopefully for others.

What about you? Why do you read, or write, or both?

(For the record, I adore my brothers, but it's over four decades later and they're still noisy, messy, and stinky. Some things never change.)

* Shameless bit of self-promotion: Readers say they can't put the Cass Elliot crime series down! Click on the book covers to escape with Cass and the good (and bad) folks of Forney County, then let me know what the trip was like for you. *


 



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