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Original Essays | September 15, 2014 2 comments
There's this writer, William Shakespeare. Perhaps you've heard of him. He wrote this play, Romeo and Juliet. Maybe you've heard of it as well. It's... Continue »
A Good Authorby Yannick Murphy
Ask yourself what it is you would write that a reader may like to know. Would the reader like to know how when you had the idea to write a book about Mata Hari that you did not immediately think that the book would have sex in it? Would the reader laugh, knowing that it dawned on you days later and that fear seized you knowing that yes, you would have to write scenes that showed her in the act, because after all, you were writing a book about a person for whom sex and promoting her sexuality was a part of her life? Would the reader like to know how you swallowed the lump in your throat and took the bull by the horns, and yes, wrote the scenes as if you were her? Would the reader like to know how you closed the lid quickly on the computer when your children came and stood by you, leaning over your shoulder, home from school, able to read? Would the reader like to know how one day you did not close the computer lid quickly enough and your seven year old was sounding out the letters c-l-i-t-o-r-i-s and wanting to know what it meant? And how you instantly had the idea not to answer the question, but instead suggested they dream up a sweet snack they could bake and you practically ran to the kitchen, far away from your desk and your computer with the words on the screen you did not want to explain, even though, oh god, you should be a good parent and answer their questions, it's only human anatomy, after all.
Maybe the reader would like to know how the book takes you places. The book starts off in the Netherlands, the book travels through Indonesia, the book travels to Europe. Would the reader like to know how when you wrote the book you really felt like you were at those places and you swear it saved you money, after spending the year writing the book not having the need to go on vacation, since you had already been?
Would the reader like to know instead what you did not include in the book but that you learned about Mata Hari while researching her? How you learned from a questionable source that she may have had another daughter, an illegitimate daughter born in Indonesia and that she too became a spy? Or would the reader react the way you reacted to that tidbit of information, thinking it was too good to be true, too coincidental to be real? And so you let that item fly away in the wind and it's somewhere now a lost thought you had once tried to include in your book, it's sailing past the jasmine that lined your street in southern California where you lived while you wrote the book. The same jasmine you inhaled deeply on walks with your dog, trying not to inhale instead the caustic smells of the automotive paint detailing garage across the street, but trying only to inhale the jasmine, you knew you'd need to remember the smell when writing your book. You knew it would help you write the parts that took place in Java. Tell the reader how you had to also block out the smell coming from the neighbor's chimney. How your husband swore the neighbor burned his trash in his fireplace to save money on garbage collection and how even in the summer the neighbor had a fire going and smoke could be seen trailing from the chimney and making the air smell like you lived next to an incinerator at the city dump. Tell the reader how you tugged on the end of the leash of your dog, intent on urinating on every pole, fireplug, and tree that lined the street, you pulled so you could stay breathing the jasmine smell a bit longer, and it was a difficult battle and often a losing one, your dog being 150 pounds and the size of a bear. Tell the reader you should have neutered that dog long ago. Tell the reader how they say it at the racetrack. They say "cut" for neutered. Tell the reader how you really meant to say you should have cut that dog long ago but you did not know if the reader knew what you knew, that it meant neutered. Tell the reader you only know these things because your husband worked at the racetrack as a horse doctor for years.
Tell the reader that now that you live in Vermont you have two horses. Tell the reader they are draft horses. Tell the reader they are Belgian draft horses. Tell the reader they would not win any race, not even a race against the dog that still has not been cut. Tell the reader they are chestnut with flaxen manes and tails. One is named Molly. One is named Moon. Tell the reader that the night the horses first arrived, Molly escaped and how outside your bedroom window you heard her heavy hoof steps walking by, and looked outside, the moonlight like a floodlight, and you called to her and she threw her head and nickered, then set to eating grass. Tell the reader how you and your husband went back to sleep then, there was no point in catching her, all she wanted was to graze. Tell the reader how when you opened the front door in the morning, she came to you and she let her lips move on you, caressing the front of your sweater. Tell the reader you probably have had a horse in every one of your books and that there is a horse in Signed, Mata Hari and that you wonder, now that you really have horses, if they will still come to you in your writing. Ask the reader if sometimes they have thoughts like this too.
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Yannick Murphy is the author of Stories in Another Language, The Sea of Trees, and Here They Come, as well as Ahwoooooooo!, a children's book. She lives in Reading, Vermont, with her husband and three children.