SJ Rozan, a life-long New Yorker, is the author of thirteen novels and three dozen short stories. She's an Edgar, Shamus, Anthony, Nero and Macavity winner, as well as a recipient of the Japanese Maltese Falcon award. SJ has been Guest of Honor at a number of fan conventions and in 2003 was an invited speaker at the World Economic Forum in Davos. She's served on the boards of Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime, and as President of Private Eye Writers of America. She leads writing workshops and lectures widely. Her latest book is Ghost Hero. S.J., take it away!
Hi, there, Femmes fans. I'll be guest blogging at you a couple of times over the next few weeks, and what I'm going to do is muse about the public side of the writing life. Which is, as the Victorians used to say, a vexed question.
Many of us became writers precisely because we hoped to make our livings sitting in rooms alone. The creatures of our imaginations, and their stories, retreat in the face of the demands of the physical world. Even those of us who can and do write in cafés use the coming and going as comforting white noise. Writers who work in the kitchen with their children running under the table and their nearest and dearest clattering the pots do exist, but they're the exceptions that prove the rule.
However, as with so much in life, the good news is the same as the bad news. Solitude permits work, but it's lonely. The reason I work in cafés at all is that sometimes I look up from my desk after a morning's writing in my quiet, sunny apartment and realize everyone else in the world could have been beamed up to the mothership and I would have no idea. (I listen to classical music radio when I write, rather than playing CD's, for a subtler version of the same reason: to connect to a bunch of other people, unseen and unknown, but all listening to Bartok at the same time.)
In my case this is complicated by the fact that I live alone. It's a choice that by and large I'm happy with, but it means that while I'm sitting here writing I don't have the comfort of knowing that a significant other will be walking in the door at six, bringing the world with him. Besides which, unless he were also a writer, there'd still be an issue. Some things, only other writers understand. (Some things, no one understands, but that's another conversation.) So I, like so many of us, seek out the company of my own kind.
Like the other night, when I did a NY Public Library gig. Triss Stein moderated a panel where Peter Blauner, Reed Farrel Coleman, Stefanie Pintoff, and I discussed NYC in crime fiction. The NYPL does a good event; about 75 people showed up. Which, considering one of the great things about NYC is how many things there are to do at any given moment, is damned impressive. The discussion was thoughtful, occasionally funny, and I learned some things about my fellow panelists and their approaches. But mostly, I accept requests to do this kind of event for the reassurance of hearing my own language spoken. Like when you're in a foreign country and you hear English on the street. I think writers are always in a foreign country. Or maybe I'm only speaking for myself; but I spend a lot of time trying to figure out why people do what they do. Ultimately it's my subject, it's what I write about. People interest me endlessly largely because I don't understand them. Us. The closest I come is when I'm talking to another writer. No writer I know understands other people, either. But every writer I've ever met understands, at least to some degree, the process of trying to understand.