BOOK & BLOG
January 21, 2006
Book of The Week: Writings of Mary Roberts Rinehart
Im in a reminiscing mood this week, because I havent read anything new that really knocked me sideways. Ive been thinking about Mary Roberts Rinehart. Even for me, MRR is a blast from the past. Her best mysteries were written in the forties and fifties (correct me if Im wrong -- thirties may be more accurate). For her time, she wrote real thrillers. You may have seen the old movie The Bat well, that was based on her most famous book of the same name. Some of her other titles include Miss Pinkerton, The Circular Staircase, and The Yellow Room. And those are just a few of her long list of publications.
Ive always loved her work, and I frequently resort to it as a comfort read. Theres no doubt that she wrote about a bygone era. Newly impoverished rich people were her specialty; spunky young women who are trying to make do in large apartments and homes that are too expensive to maintain, struggling along with one devoted retainer, burdened with at least one neer do well relative, usually male. Well, everyones got their problems. These young women almost always have gobs of common sense, and theyre quite intelligent, so you just have to root for them. And they always recognize the right guy when they meet him or at least, it doesnt take them very long. Given the times she wrote about, this young man is usually in the service.
Despite all the trappings of another time, MRR was really a good writer, and her plotting was just delicious. Though Ive read all her books many times, I always enjoy the Big Reveal, and Im always enthralled by the characters. Whether its the unreasonable mother who doesnt understand that the family has no more money, or the old servant who has hysterics when the mysterious happenings start up, or the slutty ex sister-in-law who picks the very worst time to make an appearance, Mary Roberts Rinehart always entertains me. She gives me a sense of the time in which her characters live, and she makes me care about what happens to them. And thats what a writer should do.
As you may have noticed, Ive started a new page on the website. It contains links of interest. Ill be adding to it as time goes on. All the sites listed are those of friends or friendly acquaintances; people I dont get to see too often, but thoroughly enjoy when I do. Give some of them a visit if you have a minute to spare, or if youre just trying to think of a good way to waste some time.
The way I got to be so late on AN ICE COLD GRAVE was partly due to wasting time. Okay, some of it was family stuff, but that always arises; and some of it was the holiday season, but I should count on that happening. The real reason was: I wasted a lot of time. I did this, and I took care of that, and in between all the thiss and the thats, I didnt work. So now, the closet Id half cleaned out is still half cleaned, and the new bookshelves are sitting empty because I will not let myself take the time to move all the books destined for those shelves. I have to work, and I have to work hard.
You may be interested to know how I work this magic, how I summon my muse. Ill tell you how. I park my bottom on chair in front of the computer and I work. Sometimes I hit a blank wall, and I stare at the screen until something pops up into my head. If I keep the fingers moving, the pump is primed and ideas come out. Theyre not always good ideas. Sometimes I have to go back to delete them. Sometimes I have to trace a particular thread all the way through the book and modify it to conform with a new idea, a better twist. That can be time consuming, and theres always the chance Ill miss an outdated reference.
Surely it would be better if I sat down and figured out the whole book ahead of time. Even as I tell myself that, I know itll never happen. I may go as far as making a list of key points to be covered in the book, but Im not going to outline. I hate staring at a piece of paper.
I ought to read one of the many fine books about writing that I could easily order from Amazon or Abebooks. Ive thought about it often. Lawrence Blocks book about writing mysteries is supposed to be excellent, and Carolyn Wheats, too. You know why I dont? Im afraid I might find out Ive been doing it wrong.
© 2009 Charlaine Harris