I’m back from New York, where I spent an energizing morning with my publishers, talking about plans for the publication of Hardball, the next book in my V I series. It will be on sale on September 22, and, given how whole years seem to go by while I’m blinking, that’s pretty much just around the corner. Putnam has done a great jacket–it says “Chicago” in a bold, PI kind of way.
Before going into the city, I spent a day upstate with a beloved old friend, Dorothy Salisbury Davis. Dorothy is 93 now, frail, but still with a tough, insightful mind. I leave her always with new insights into life, living, and writing. I leave her always with a painful wrench–parting is so hard that it’s sometimes hard to bring myself to visit in the first place. Dorothy was one of the great masters of crime fiction in the fifties, sixties and seventies. Unfortunately, her books are no longer in print, although Christina Pickles just read from one of them on Selected Shorts. Look for Dorothy’s books in your used bookstore or your library–she’s so insightful, such an economical storyteller.
I could write for days about Dorothy and not exhaust what I know about her, or my love for her, but I’ll just tell you two of the many suggestions she’s given me: if you’re stuck in a book, if the story isn’t working, stand it on its head. If you like the basic story, turning it upside down, in structure, or in whose narrative viewpoint you’re embracing, can sometimes shake things loose.
The second insight is that you are your best source of material. What you’ve lived, how you’ve lived. Of course, Dorothy’s life holds richer physical material than most: she was the daughter of a poor immigrant mother and tenant-farming father, and her first job out of school was as a magician’s assistant in the middle of the Depression; after she married and moved to New York with her actor husband, Harry, she landed in an exciting milieu of writers and artists– she knew Elia Kazan, Paul Robeson, Joanne Woodward, Hortense Calisher, Carson McCullers and a host of other names we conjure with.
She’s written about her childhood, and her magician boss, often. But she really means, your emotional life is your goldmine. Understanding yourself, being prepared to perform surgery on your emotions in public–that is, on the page–is the only way to write in an authentic voice.