A writer sits alone. Or in my case (as well as Proust’s), reclines alone. If someone chanced to pass by, they might think us doing nothing. They might even think us alone and lonely. Our lives seem so motionless, so lacking in adventure. But they would be wrong. A writer’s life is lived as vividly as Oscar Wilde’s life was lived. When the character pushing out from under my hand is afraid, I am afraid. When ill, I feel ill. Her or his sights and sounds and smells are mine. For so long as this new book takes to write, I live thousands of years ago as well as in the Now.
A writer tries to catch all this in netted words.
In China Blues, my first ever published book (Harper Collins and Doubleday and whoever else in whatever language, plus a new edition coming soon), it’s 1906 in San Francisco and I race through the streets as the city burns. Then, older, I live in the city as it is in 1923…a spoiled rich girl caught up between the Chinese tongs and white bootleggers. In my second novel, Chasing Women, it’s the last few months of 1929. I’m a New York City reporter, working alongside Damon Runyon ringside as I write the only sport’s column in town penned by a woman…but I have to use a name that could be a man’s to do it: Teddy O’Rourke. As Teddy, I’m caught up in a killing that comes much too close to the man I love/hate, a fellow reporter after the same scoop as me. In the as yet unpublished Walks Away Woman, it’s last week or this week or next week and I live in the suburbs of Tucson, Arizona. My kids are grown and away, my husband has a woman in town. I watch the soaps. And then one day I set down the groceries I’ve just bought, walk past my car fading in the beating sun, and stride out into the desert to die. Amazing what a despairing housewife can find alone in a world of heat. In Houdini Heart I am part of me, the part that feels small and lost. And I’ve done something very very bad. Knowing there’s little time left me, I’m holed up in a once grand hotel in Vermont writing one last book for better or for worse and then…then, things begin to get very strange. Am I haunted by what I’ve done or by the failure of a life poorly lived, or is it the hotel I hide in? Great artists have been here before me. Alfred Hitchcock, H.P. Lovecraft, Louise Brooks, Shirley Jackson. Is it their art that threatens me: better truer art than mine? Do I go mad or merely madder?
Bloody hell. My life as a writer is crowded with event, with people who use my mouth to speak and my heart to feel. Sometimes it gets so crowded inside there seems no room left for me. Whoever that is.