Jane Haddam’s WordPress weblog

Going Home

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It is Saturday, and I’m a little washed out from the week.  So far, though, the day has gone well enough.  I got the real writing done.  I’ve answered a few student e mails of the “I’m panicking and it’s the week-end” variety.

It is, I will admit, beyond my comprehension that they never panick during office hours.

Anyway, I’ve gotten all my little stuff done and I’m just waiting for the mail with my fingers crossed that it has no bad news in it.  If that comes through, I can officially declare myself to be Having A Week End, and proceed to watch very silly movies for the rest of the afternoon.

There’s been an awful lot going on in my life lately.  And, me being me, I’ve been dealing with each issue as it comes up, separately and without connecting it to anybody else.

This works very well for me most of the time.  Over the last fifteen or so years, I’ve had to deal with enormous upheavals, catastrophic illnesses, deaths in the family, serious medical problems that at least weren’t catastrophic but were scary.  Bill died.  Greg went blind and needed surgery to fix that.  We had the Great Drama of Greg’s exit from the only school he’d ever known.


I could do more of this if I tried, but even though most of it is fixed as well as it can be fixed, it’s really depressing.

The point I’m trying to make here, though, is that, for me, dealing with this kind of thing, getting it done, getting it over with, has always required a kind of tunnel vision.  I deal with the problem right in front of me. I shut off the problems not right in front of me. I do one thing at a time and then I sit back when there isn’t anything left.

Okay, there rarely isn’t anything left.

I’m a big advocate of this kind of tunnel vision.  I think it makes it possible to deal with enormous and overwhelming problems without being overwhelmed.

But I do understand that it also tends to make you unaware of connections where they exist and may be important.

Over the last several months, I’ve been doing a lot that directly relates to my life as a writer, and specifically as a mystery writer. 

I’ve written a book that is not a Gregor but is closer, in many ways, to the old Pay McKenna series.  I have been trying mightily, with the very patient help of this wonderful person named Margery Flax, to rejoing the Mystery Writers of America.  And, most significant, I think, I’ve left my agent of the last fifteen years and…gone back to the first agent I ever had.

There’s a lot to be said about the agent, who was also Bill’s agent (and still is, now that his books are going to e book formats and that kind of thing).  We were good friends when we were in a business relationship and we’ve been friendly ever since. 

Meredith is what I will always think of as the quintessential agent.  She’s what New York looks like to me, and probably always will.

But my point here is that it was reconnecting with Meredith that made me realize what I’ve been doing with all the small and not so small decisions I’ve been making over the last several months.

What I’ve been doing is going home–going back to the beginning of my identiy as a Writer with a capital W, the professional kind.

I have, of course, been a writer all my life, in a way.  I think I was six when I first tried to write a story of my own.  I wasn’t all that much older than that when I first tried to write a mystery series.

The dectective was a Nancy Drew clone named Susan Derringer, and at first all she had was titles–lots of them.

People ask me, very often, why I don’t go back to actual Pay McKenna series and write another installment in that.

The answer is that I couldn’t write that way even anymore no matter how hard I tried.  Pay McKenna ended just before Bill got seriously sick, and after going through all that I just don’t have the–the same mental and emotional atmosphere, I guess.

I’ve known many writers in my life who have been able to write light mysteries while going through hell on steroids, but I just don’t seem to be one of them.

Still, somewhere in my brain, I want to go back there as far as I can and reset something.

I keep thinking that my writing has become too grim, and sometimes too strident.  I’ve always been very careful about not inventing ideological markers instead of characters, but lately I’ve been sick to death of all the issues.

I wonder sometimes if the pure mystery is any longer possible in this climate.  The form was invented as a kind of anti-gothic, as the reassertion of reason against the forces of Romanticism, against the taste for emotional overkill.


Lately I think more and more that what people want is the emotional overkill.   The insistance on reason has become the mark of a bad person.  You saw it in the Trayvon Martin case, where nobody wanted to know what the law actually said, only what they wanted to happen, tell hell with everything else.

You saw it in the case of the new Miss America, who is an Indian, not an Arab, but who became the rallying point for thousands of tweets and blog posts excoriating the Miss American pageant for choosing a Muslim (always called an “Arab”) just days after the 9/11 anniversary.

The other thing I think people want that I don’t is lots of action–events! explosions! everybody chewing up the landscape!

Some people have always wanted action, of course, but the fair play mystery was always more about thinking than doing.

This is part of the reason, I think, why detective fiction has always been the one genre high culture writers and various intellectuals have always liked.  It shares the same bias in favor of mental activity as the other fiction they like.   It is interior rather than exterior in its action.

The interiority is what I found in Agatha Christie and later in the Harriet-and-Peter volumes of Dorothy L. Sayers.  It’s what I find, now, in P.D. James. 

They say that what goes around comes around, and that somewhere in the future there will be another cultural shift in favor of the reason and interiority I want.

But I’m not sure I’m going to live to see it.

And I don’t think I’m capable of recreating it on my own.

Written by janeh

September 21st, 2013 at 10:50 am

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response to 'Going Home'

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  1. Nothing wrong with remembering why you fell in love with something and going back to it. They’d take away my “Old School Wargamers” badge if I said otherwise.

    Reason will come back. After a while all these emoting idiots will be carted off to the old folks home, and their children will want evidence. But I’m not sure reason and interiority are a stable combination.

    I’m partial myself to tolerant ideologies–or belief systems, if you prefer–but the more history I read and live through the more I suspect they’re not so much an ideal sometimes achieved as an intermediate point between the early fanaticism and the later society that believes in nothing.

    Great Detectives have been applying reason to problems since Daniel was examining witnesses, but once you start focusing on what the detective feels instead of how he reasons, you are in some danger in Sayers’ words, of thinking with your entrails.

    Do it if you can. I love the Sayers and some of the Christies myself. But remember it’s a tricky balance you’ll have to fight to maintain.


    22 Sep 13 at 7:09 am

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