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Philip Goldsberry for Unsplash

As an author, I’ve written a number of dystopian stories, and unless we start understanding what is happening in our country and the world, they’re all set to come true.

You have to understand, Donald Trump is not the problem. If you’re breathing a sigh of relief that he’s leaving office and a normal human being (yeah, setting the bar pretty low here) is taking his place, don’t relax too much. There will be another Trump. It’s guaranteed. And the next one might be a little less stupid, which isn’t necessarily a good thing.

The problem is Republican politicians and the right-wing media ecosystem, which includes everyone from Tucker Carlson to Mark Zuckerberg. …


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image: Shutterstock

“Where do you get your ideas?”

I don’t think any author has ever not been asked that question at one time or another. (Neil Gaiman has some very creative and way-too-clever answers, by the way.) But here’s the thing: it’s the wrong question. Ideas aren’t what create characters, stories, words that can move readers to joy or anger or tears. You don’t tuck yourself into bed at night looking forward to reading some ideas before you go to sleep.

Ideas are, as a matter of fact, vastly overrated.

Beginning writers seem to guard theirs anxiously, plastering copyright notices all over unfinished opera and asking editors to sign nondisclosure agreements lest their ideas be somehow stolen. And people in general are usually baffled and sometimes irate when an idea they had finds its way into the public via a movie or an advertising slogan or a time-saving gadget, wondering how someone else could have possibly had that thought. …


My former writing partner, Assaf, loves the old Columbo TV series. Seriously loves it. He’s done Columbo-watching marathons. He’s consistently enthused about and appreciative of the show’s writing. And, like any good artist, he’s looked behind the curtain at what works so well, to analyze the how and the why of it.

In other words, deconstructing Columbo.

Different people have at different times noted that there are only three (or seven, or twenty-one, depending on who’s doing the analysis) original stories in our collective creative reservoir. Everything, every story, every idea at some level, one can argue, falls under — or into — one of these archetypes. I do think that Jung was on to something, so I tend to agree; I believe the real creativity comes not in the story itself but in its telling. …


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image: Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona for Unsplash

Racism. Misogyny. Homophobia. They’re all working off a common assumption: a given culture has a norm, and anyone who’s different from the norm is just that — different, and therefore, of course, inferior.

Feminists have for example long argued that using language like “mankind,” or making the assumption that “he” also implicitly includes the legions of “she,” effectively sets up two tiers: the norm and the not-norm. Well, of course mankind means everybody — but it says “man,” doesn’t it? And language and culture follow each other.

I’m a product of my culture. I’ll admit to my racism; I actually don’t think anyone who says they’re not racist is quite in touch with reality. My accidental advantage was to be born Caucasian, and that accident has gifted me with layers of privilege I did absolutely nothing to earn or deserve. I started to list some of those privileges here, and gave up: twenty pages on, and I’d still be writing. …


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Pretty much what I look like after reading a bad review!

In a digitally connected world, it’s not a question of whether whatever you do is reviewed online. It’s when it will be.

And how.

I do freelance work — copywriting, ghostwriting, developmental editing, that sort of thing — so pretty much the Internet is my marketplace. And the first time I got a bad review via Google Business… well, I’ll be honest. I cried. It’s easy to respond emotionally when you’ve put the work in and it’s not appreciated — and, in fact, is criticized. …


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image: Nathan Dunlap for Unsplash (modified)

I am a white woman who grew up not only with white privilege but with economic privilege as well. And until fairly recently, I’ve also been something of a curmudgeon when it comes to language usage and grammar.

That’s not a very good combination.

I’ve been gradually getting on board with the concept that language is evolving and context-dependent. That language is a living thing that needs to reflect the culture it expresses. I’ve been stubborn about that acceptance for a long time. I come from a country that takes language very seriously (we legislate it, for heaven’s sake!) and I’m also a rule-follower… so I naturally want everybody else to do the same. I resisted accepting “they” as a singular. I’m still struggling with “alright” becoming as acceptable as the (to my mind “correct”) construct of “all right.” …


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It’s been several months now since many, if not most, of our interactions — meetings, interviews, book clubs — have gone online, and Zoom has afforded us all an interesting (dare I say voyeuristic?) look into other people’s homes.

My most recent chuckle comes from the Twitter account @RateMySkypeRoom, in which the user rates the backgrounds people choose for their videoconferencing. (A recent one: “Hostage video with a nice piece of art. Kidnappers with taste. 6/10.” What’s not to love?)

And then there are the books. A well-stocked bookshelf has become the essential videoconferencing prop. Who among us hasn’t scanned the titles of books used in background shots? The very enterprising Brattle Bookshop, unable to open because of the pandemic, actually took photos of shelves arranged with selected books to send to people to use as backgrounds. Your own literary tastes not sophisticated enough? …


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“My first case,” says Father Brown in The Mask of Midas, “was just a small private affair about a man’s head being cut off.”

It’s not surprising that G.K. Chesterton’s sleuth begins with a paradox; a great many books belonging to the genre known as cozy mysteries have, in fact, a paradox at their heart. …


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image: Patrick Fore for Unsplash

I first learned about writers’ retreats — in the sense of where they work, as opposed to going off for a residency — when I met a fellow called Henry, who lived and wrote alone in a modest ten-foot square cabin he built out of pine and hickory in a forest near Concord, Massachusetts, next to a pond called Walden. (Don’t get too impressed, though, with Thoreau and solitude — he also apparently went home every weekend to get his laundry done!)

He wasn’t the first writer to seek eccentric solitude, and writers continue to create in remote, unusual places. According to Random House, fantasy author Philip Pullman writes “in a shed at the bottom of his garden. The shed contains two comfortable chairs (one for writing in, one for sitting at the computer in), several hundred books, a six-foot-long stuffed rat (which took a part in his play Sherlock Holmes and the Limehouse Horror), a guitar, a saxophone, as well as the computer, decorated with dozens of brightly colored artificial flowers attached to it by Blu-Tack.” …


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Tell the truth. When you were young — anywhere from eight to about twenty-eight — you probably aspired to creating a perfect life. You thought you might have an ideally harmonious relationship, deeply fulfilling work, a successful career, a happy family life, enough money to make you comfortable, the respect of others. Right?

Yeah; me, too. And then the day I turned thirty, I spent hours lying face down on my living-room rug, moaning. I’d had a list of things I was going to have accomplished by then. A novel on the bestseller list. A Ph.D. Owning a modest home. …

About

JeannettedeBeauvoir

Bestselling novelist of mystery and historical fiction. Writer, editor, & business storyteller at jeannettedebeauvoir.com.

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