Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Writer Cocktail

Charlotte Firbank-King

Writers are a cocktail of madness. We’re psychotic, bent on killing those we love with as much impunity as those we hate. We wallow in death, misery, and general mayhem. Couple that with being pathological liars and master manipulators, then top it off with a dash of perpetual fried-brain and, oh, did I mention that we also have scant regard for laws and rules—of the English language or of social etiquette, that is. We fabricate words and foist them on unsuspecting readers who can’t even refer to a dictionary or Google to find out what the words mean. So that also makes us narcissistic deceivers. But we really don’t care as long as what we write is believable—and even that isn’t a given—we don’t care if it isn’t believable, because we will turn the reader into a believer.

Writers are a lone species of Homo sapiens. Okay, maybe we aren’t actually human.

Alice was an amateur when it comes to disappearing down rabbit holes. We probably shouldn’t marry and should definitely be neutered. The truth is, there’s no room in a writer’s life for anything except the characters we live through vicariously. But we gird our loins and periodically return to real-life like a meteorite hitting Earth. Our family will re-introduce themselves as we try not to call them by our characters’ names or warn them of some impending disaster that’s about to ruin their lives—note to self—that’s your daughter, idiot, not the character.

When we’re on a roll, we writers have this odd habit of ignoring dress code. We leap out of bed with ideas fermenting in our deranged, but very fertile brains, and head for the laptop or pen and paper. The only thing we may do en route is switch on the coffee machine. Five hours later, we’re surrounded by books, along with empty and full coffee cups ranging from cold to hot, and we’re still in our pajamas. We happily beat away on the PC, birthing new characters or killing off others in the most inventive ways. We transport ourselves to a thousand years back or a thousand years ahead. We go to countries and planets never heard of—we live in the realm of the impossible made possible through words. Sigh. What a divine place we live in.

Writers will discuss their characters as if they are real, and to us, they very much are. A conversation between writers could go like this:

Writer 1: “I don’t know what to do about Joe. He wants to head the narc operation, but he’s not ready and he’s too weak.”

Writer 2 understands completely and gives a sage nod: “I agree, he’s spineless. Kill him off.”

Writer 1 runs fingers distractedly through tousled hair and bites lip: “He wasn’t supposed to be a wimp—he’s the damn hero.”

Writer 2 sighs: “I know. It’s a pain in the arse when they won’t behave. My Mary was supposed to be the wilting damsel in distress, and now the slag is taking control. I might have to shoot her. I tried to get Mark to do it, but he’s not cooperating because the stupid sod thinks he’s in love with her.”

If non-writers happen to overhear this rather bizarre conversation, they may think they’ve landed in some sort of twilight zone. And they have—that’s where writers live.

Writers have long since learned to ignore certain responses to questions people ask. Usually starting with, “What do you do?”

“I write.”

“Wow, I’ve never met a writer.” Their brow furrows as they process the information. “Is that a real job?”

“Eh? It isn’t a job!”

“Oh.” Eyebrows rise. “Then how do you make a living?”

“What? Damn, dude, that question is so not relevant.”

Confusion reigns. “Not relevant?”

The person will get a long, direct look as we size them up—how will they fit into the next novel? That one predatory look usually has them backing off nervously, especially when you mutter that they would be a good fit for the villain you need to kill off in the next book. Some people don’t back down, but rush in and tell us about their lives or a friend’s life. Perfect. Absolutely perfect.

People need to understand that writers don’t operate in the same realm as say, a stockbroker, but we sure can write about one.

If one unobtrusively observes a writer, one may see them making faces or speaking to themselves in odd voices. Even getting themselves into weird physical positions. Writers are known for doing crazy things like crawling into a snake pit just to see how it feels—maybe that’s a little extreme, but they may sit at the bottom of a pool to see what it’s like to drown. Writers will certainly cut themselves to see what blood tastes or smells like. All experiments are toward one end—instilling realism into a story.

If you find a person watching you intently at an airport, shopping mall, or any public place, it may not be a psychotic stalker—not that there’s much difference—but it’s probably a writer, especially if he is making notes on any available scrap of paper. Cause a scene and make his day.

Writers will buy books worth hundreds of dollars for one paragraph of information. The books will probably sit on a shelf for the rest of the writer’s life. We don’t part with books—ever, especially reference books. You’d have to kill us first.

The moral of this convoluted discourse is: don’t become a writer if you value your sanity.

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