I love to read well-researched novels. It seems many of my favorite authors are in it for the joy of research, and spend hours meandering down history lanes, or psychology avenues, or literally down the garden path. The dose of reality they infuse into their plots makes reading that much more interesting, and many times I’ve felt prompted to pursue a topic or an idea simply because of the seeds planted during a well-informed read.
One of my favorite writers for just this reason is the late Blaize Clement. I love her books for three reasons:
- The marvelous sense of place in her Florida setting
- The bittersweet character development from book-to-book
- The fascinating tidbits of little-known facts skillfully woven into each plot-line
In her recent Dixie Hemingway mystery #7, The Catsitter’s Pajamas (published posthumously by St. Martin's Press), the protagonist seeks to understand the motivations of the perp in a burglary-turned-murder scenario. She seeks the advice of a friend and neighbor who happens to be a psychologist. Their dialogue soon gets very intriguing. The doctor explains to Dixie that the perp might have burglarized a famous athlete’s home simply for the thrill of getting away with it. The ensuing “high” is akin to being addicted to any drug, but in this case, the drug is a person’s own body chemicals. Really? I’d never heard of such a thing!
I was ambivalent about the idea of being addicted to myself (it even sounds weird!), so asked my friend who is a psychologist in real life. He verified the concept. We all have these addictions, and they go back to childhood. It really got me to thinking about my strongest feelings growing up and how they reappear in my life all these decades later. I have to worry – that’s my drug of choice. And then I have to feel safe and protected to balance all that worrying. I’ve seesawed between those two emotions most of my life. I have a pretty straightforward (and probably common) pair of addictions there. There are others I'm discovering as I moodle this concept.
What situations do you repeat for the rush? Do you put off finishing projects until the last minute, so you have the thrill of that last-minute cram and the feeling of accomplishment when you’re done? Do you steal little things to see if you can get away with it? Do you snoop in other people’s personal belongings? Do you have to feel like you’re falling in love all the time for a relationship to be important? Or maybe your addiction is as innocent as the double-dose of endorphins from a nice warm cup of hot chocolate when you’re feeling blue, because that made you feel loved when you were a kid. What feelings (and associated chemicals) do you re-create over and over?
Now think about your characters in your current piece of writing. What personal chemical addiction is driving them? Maybe the sense of power when they share personal advice or professional information and they can really feel their own sense of authority? Imagine how much interest you can add to your story with this subtle, added layer of information.
Dani Greer is founding member of the Blood-Red Pencil, special projects coordinator at Little Pickle Press, and is currently struggling through a Kindle short story formatting project for the BBT Cafe writers. And she's worrying about it. Can someone send her some hot chocolate?.