Please welcome Jane Gorman, author of the Adam Kaminski mystery series. Take it away, Jane!
Did You Feel That?
I had the great privilege last week of speaking to my local chapter of the Sisters in Crime about my life experiences and how I use them in my writing. In some ways, it was an easy speech to give—I got to talk about myself! In other ways… not so easy.
There I was, standing in front of a group of accomplished mystery writers, trying to teach them something about how we as writers can best use our personal experiences to enhance our writing.
I worked on that speech for weeks in advance. I wrote one version. The next day, I deleted that and wrote another. The following weekend I made significant revisions, which I of course then rewrote again the next day.
I managed to produce a version I liked. I even practiced saying it out loud to my husband, and he seemed to like it (not an impartial audience, I realize). I printed it out two days in advance and had it all ready. On the morning of the meeting it came to me while I was in the shower—which is where I have all my best ideas—that the speech I had written was completely wrong.
I reimagined it in my head, made some notes on my printed sheets, and kept making new notes up to the last minute.
As I stood in front of the group, I realized it didn’t really matter what I had on the page in front of me. I spoke from the heart about my personal experiences. I shared stories about going through security to visit a Polish member of parliament—and getting nervous as I was questioned about the hairdryer in my bag (now that’s a long story).
I told them about my awe at seeing Powazki Cemetery in Warsaw on All Saints Day—the love and faith that Poles poured out onto the graves on that day was overwhelming. I spoke about my experiences working at the State Department, from an inspiring, elegant dinner dance at an ambassador’s residence to having the Secretary of State requisition a spoonful of my butter brickle ice cream. Without asking. (And no, I wouldn’t have turned him down). I shared the tension I felt in a meeting with the head of the Muslim Brotherhood (this was a few years ago) and the anger displayed by a UN delegate as he got so worked up he accidentally spit on me.
With each new story, I realized—and shared as I realized it—how each of these experiences has colored my writing. Not necessarily because I captured those experiences exactly in my books (though in one case, I did). No, it’s more that I captured the emotions I associate with each experience. And it is those emotions that give my writing texture.
Other writers, much better than I, have shared their experience of texture on this blog over the past month. As I read each of those posts, I admired and agreed with their understanding that the little details we notice as we spend time in a place—the smells, the sounds, the way certain things feel to the touch—are what make our fictional descriptions so real. It gives them depth.
Capturing emotions from a moment also creates depth and texture. Even if I never write a book in which the Secretary of State surreptitiously eats his subordinate’s ice cream, I know I will write from the point of view of the subordinate who watches her ice cream going in his mouth. And watches it with pride.
Jane Gorman is the author of the Adam Kaminski mystery series. Gorman’s books are informed by her international experiences, both as an anthropologist and through her work with the U.S. State Department. She has previously published in the field of political anthropology, negotiated international instruments on behalf of the U.S. government, and appeared on national television through her efforts to support our nation’s cultural heritage. Her books are each set in a different city or town around the world, building on her eye for detailed settings, appreciation of complex characters, and love of place-based mystery. Learn more about Jane and her books at janegorman.com, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/JaneGormanAuthor and Twitter @Thejanegorman.