Tuesday last was heavenly, truly a day off. I had to report to neither of my day jobs, the weather was a sunny 80˚ with blue sky and no humidity, and I read several hours away. The next book I will write is in the conceptualization stage (in that “mental crockpot,” as I recently heard someone describe), and reading is a fine and fun way to move that process along. The Gendarme by Mark Mustian (2010, Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam. Available everywhere) is serving well to stimulate and inspire—and help me keep in mind what good writing is.
How can I develop a character like Mustian’s Emmett Conn/Ahmet Kahn, who is immediately intriguing, human, entertaining, and sympathy-inducing despite—even because of—his flaws? How can I develop a story that is this electrifying and filled with mystery, even for the main character himself? How can I change scenes and travel back and forth through time crisply and clearly like this? How can I write dialogue that sounds this natural as it crackles with meaning?
At the 2010 Lutheran Festival of Writing, Mustian recounted “the making of” The Gendarme, drawing us into the horrible history of the annihilation of one million Armenians in Turkey at the beginning of World War I. His Armenian ancestry was part of his reason for writing the book, though none of his immediate forebears were directly involved, having immigrated to the United States long before. Again, in response, I entertain the possibility of using other times and places and perhaps my own ancestry in my novel. Right now, I don’t think I will do that; nevertheless, I appreciate being opened to bigger, broader vistas. I also prize this model of compelling composition that is bold to tell the truth, even the hard and ugly truth. And, most importantly, perhaps, I am affirmed in my passion for using humor and surprise and artistry to weave bright threads of redemption throughout. Thank you, Mark–and all other writers. Each of us has something to teach.