writing workshop part one

listening to: eerie funky dubstep stuff

In mid-July I went to an all-day novel-writing workshop held in Topanga Canyon and it proved to be one of the smarter things I’ve done all year. I hadn’t participated in a workshop since before BLOODANGEL was published — when I was workshopping, in fact, the first 60 pages of BLOODANGEL — and on the whole I tend to find them a mixed bag: what I take away from them isn’t always worth the time and effort I put in, although this has as much to do with my tendency to get obsessive-compulsive in my critiquing as it does with anything else.

This workshop promised to kickstart my new novel, which is exactly what I felt I needed. More importantly, the workshop leader was local writer Rachel Resnick, whose recent memoir LOVE JUNKIE had blown me away, not least for its deep, courageous honesty which in turn inspired me to get more personal in some of my blog posts. I felt enough writerly kinship with the style and themes in Rachel’s writing that I figured she could indeed kickstart me. Also, I liked her outfit when I saw her give a reading at a Beverly Hills bookstore some years ago — and this, as we all know, is important.

This is Rachel.

This is Rachel’s book. You should read it. It’s not for the faint of heart.

The book that I’m starting to write is called THE DECADENTS, about a wealthy group of LA friends who refer to themselves as ‘the family’ and find themselves re-enacting a drama of erotic obsession from twenty years ago, when a Hollywood ‘It’ girl went missing. It’s a book I first tried to write several years ago, but it — and I — weren’t ready. I had the central storyline, involving a screenwriter’s relationship with a mysterious young dancer who might or might not be the reincarnation of his high school love, and the impact this has on his friends and the missing girl’s family and the secrets that come to light, yadda yadda. What I didn’t have at the time was enough knowledge of the social milieu that I wanted to write about. I was also lacking, I realize now, a depth of another kind of knowledge: I wanted to write a literary psychological thriller but needed a deeper understanding of the characters and how they relate.

I’m intrigued by the term ‘psychological thriller’, maybe because if I hadn’t been so hellbent on writing fiction I probably would have become a psychologist (after first going to law school, realizing it wasn’t for me, and dropping out). There was a discussion on a related Facebook page recently where a group of suspense and thriller writers attempted to define what makes a thriller “psychological”. There was talk about the difference between mystery and suspense. There was a lot of emphasis placed on the interior state and emotional reactions of the characters, which seemed, to me, to kind of miss the point. Characters must ring true in any kind of novel, requiring authentic reactions and ‘interior states’ — and too much interiority can kill the pace and sink the story (and come off as that favorite critical chestnut, ‘self-indulgent’). I piped up and suggested that in a psychological thriller, the psychology is in a sense the mystery to be figured out; the novel turns on gradual revelations of the true nature of a particular character. The character is the story and the story is the character. Something like that, anyway. Thoughts?

Will continue this tomorrow, writing about the workshop and the six or seven things about writing and publishing that (I realized) can’t seem to get repeated enough, no matter how seasoned a writer you think you already are…

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