I’m not gonna lie, when I read the line“…the measure of my Jewishness had been tossed into a hospital’s foreskin container…” I laughed out loud. As those of you who follow my posts know, I’m deep into proofing my four original Matt Jacob books for digital downloads. And what I’m discovering is how much I enjoy my earlier work and how scared shitless I am about the new Matt Jacob books that will be coming.
Frankly, I’m not sure that at my age of sixty three I still have the chops to turn a phrase, think of a phrase as snappy or interesting as I could in my forties. Forgetfulness alone makes a huge difference. When I was forty and walked into a room to retrieve something, I remembered what I was there for.
Not that I was a young forty. I was born old, or quickly got there given my childhood experiences. But even an old forty is damn different than sixty three. There are, however, similarities. Then I decided to write because I had used up being a counselor. Now because I felt finished with my time as a trial and jury consultant. In both instances I turned to writing because the way humans act and interact is, for me, the most interesting aspect of life. And to fictionally chronicle both is a way to express not only what I see, but how I understand it.
I’m still confident in my ability to observe and understand. Confident about relationships. How they work—or don’t. Why they work—or don’t. How groups of people function—or dysfunction. Furthermore, age brings the gift of deeper understandings. But at forty I never even bothered to define those talents. I simply decided to write detective fiction, sat down, and wrote.
In those days my biggest worry was the twists and turns of a plot. Could I create situations where readers would wonder about what was happening, but look for clues and not find the ones that were there. (An aside—I start writing by thinking about a theme I want to explore, the natures of my ongoing and non-ongoing characters, and finally try to imagine a dénouement that ties the theme with the people—though my endings are never even close to those which I imagine before I begin.) Back then I was still young and brash enough to push away the plot fear and plunge ahead, secure with my voice, main characters, and ability to write in a style that would hold readers. And be pretty funny along the way while I developed interesting stories.
Now the fears are more numerous. What will Matt Jacob sound like now that I’m 20 years older and he is older as well? Hell, my personal voice is different, won’t his be? My personal issues are different, won’t his be? Can I still see the world with the same quirky eye? Can my style be as captivating as it had been? How will Matt’s neuroses play out now with more age and experience packed onto his life? Mine are certainly different and, while fiction is, in fact, fiction, it’s also a reflection of a writer’s insights. And of course there’s still that deeply felt plot fear, which has never left and I don’t expect ever will.
Now that I’m older and gifted with deeper understanding something just struck me. Are my fears really more numerous now—or am I just more capable of admitting and eyeballing them? A somewhat comforting thought.
It’s funny how things change. In my forties I felt competitive with Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Ross Macdonald, Charles Bukowski, Harry Crews, and a number of other writers I admired and respected. Now I find myself in competition with only one author—me.
It’s also funny how things stay the same. Then I really, really wanted to push the limits of detective fiction into the world of literary novels and not be consigned to the genre bin. Now I still want to push those same limits, but no longer care about categories. Though the goal is still the same, and I’ll work just as hard to attain it, age has taught me something about what I can and cannot control. I don’t do the labeling of my work, other people do–and it will be what it will be.
Soon my new website will be up, the books for sale, and it will be crunch time.
But as I write this I remember sitting down for the first time to work on STILL AMONG THE LIVING thinking, Damn this is one hell of a cliff dive. Well, the cliff is now different but the void is the same–and it’s almost time to jump.
“Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night!” Margo Channing from Three Faces Of Eve.