Thursday, April 26, 2012

I don't just bump people off

By Gayle Carline

Although I technically write more humor than mystery, my friends usually associate me with my mysteries instead of my columns. I blame this on conversations I have with them, like this one:

Tina: "A bunch of us are performing a hula at the fundraiser. You're a dancer. You should join us."

Me: "I don't know, the hand movements are so precise. One wrong flick of the wrist and instead of describing a pearl in an oyster, I'd be telling them to wrap the body in plastic."

You see how it is.

But I don't always see murder in every gesture, or bodies under every bush. And I confess, I don't always read mysteries or thrillers. I think it's important to read a lot of genres, just as I listen to a wide array of music styles and try foods I've never had. It broadens my experiences as a person, and it keeps my writing from getting formulaic.

One of the blogs I read is not mysterious in the least. It's called Synch-ro-ni-ing. I don't know very much about the author, except her name is Ruth and she writes beautiful poetry and takes pretty photos, and lives where she can have chickens and a lot of space to wander around and think. Hers is the one blog that makes me long to leave southern California for more space and real seasons, except I've already told Dale we can't buy a farm in the middle of nowhere because as we grow older, we'll need to be close to the pharmacy. And I still recall having to dig my car out of the snow and scrape the ice from the windshield, so the whole "real seasons" thing is only a theoretical wish.

Last year, Ruth posted a Nouvelle 55 on her site, based on an Edvard Munch painting. A Nouvelle is what the French call flash fiction, and someone challenged her to write a piece in 55 words, so she made up a genre: Nouvelle 55, flash fiction of 55 words based on a piece of art. She then challenged her readers to do their own.

How could I resist? I love flash fiction. I even have some of my scribbles posted on my website, under the category Fiction in a Flash.

So I took one of my favorite paintings, Woman with a Parasol, by Monet (which I've actually seen in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC).

And here's what I wrote:


You use more than paint and canvas.
You consume lives.
"Stand just so - hold it! Don't move."
In the glow of evening, we expect the same fire
Of passion in your arms
But we cannot receive any because it isn't yours to give.
It belongs to Art.
Hurry, finish! I grow tired here.

See? I resisted the urge to throw in a crime to be solved. (But, between you and me, doesn't Monet's wife look like she wants to kill someone?)

Perhaps these exercises are wasteful to some. I could be working on my actual books, for Pete's sake. My reasoning is that any writing I do makes my writing stronger. My use of words is my instrument. This is just one way that I "warm it up" and prepare to play a song.


  1. I think it's terrific that your read in various genres, especially poetry. I'm not a big fan of poems, but I read poetry while I'm writing the third drafts of my an attempt to use more alternative sentence structures and poetic phrases. But in general, I think about crime fiction more than anything else too.

  2. Confession time. I was a long-time reader of Reader's Digest Condensed Books. They made it convenient to read some books in genres other than crime fiction and they were exceptionally well done.

    When I was especially emotional about something (usually painful), I used to write poems. Now I find I can also bury some of the pain in my character's lives. It's nice to have a choice.

    Of course, murder is always good too.

  3. I think any exercise you do will make you a stronger, more well-rounded writer. I also admire that you like to wander into other genres. It can only broaden your experience, your knowledge, and bring your own stories more to life.

  4. What a wonderful post! I think Drew is right: writing more (in all senses of the word) will strengthen your talent.

  5. Interesting post, Gayle! A joy to read. Thanks for sharing.


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