Monday, February 7, 2011

Outside (and Inside) Influences

Some years ago I discovered that you can’t be too careful what you read while writing. For example, one day I was writing some dialogue for Dr. Fenimore, my old-fashioned, house call-making, cardiologist-sleuth from Philadelphia, and he sounded like a tough PI from San Francisco. Instead of welcoming his patient with a courteous, “How can I help you today, Mrs. Jones?”, I had written, “Spill it, Sister.”

What was wrong?

Then my gaze wandered to my bedside table and the book I had been reading the night before: THE MALTESE FALCON. Without my realizing it, Dr. Fenimore had morphed into Sam Spade overnight! I hastily switched my reading matter to an Agatha Christie and stuck with her until I’d finished writing my cozy.

I’m also subject to inside influences. Especially when it comes to food and drink. If I’m reading about a gourmet meal, I’m often driven to the fridge to see what’s available. Usually nothing comparable. Once I was reading a short story by Colette in which the characters sat down to a feast of glistening grapes and freshly perked coffee. I had to stop and quench my appetite and thirst. Then there is that scene in THE LONG GOODBYE in which Raymond Chandler describes the opening of a cocktail lounge at dusk and the meticulous preparations of a perfect dry martini. Guess where I headed after reading that?

The moral of this story is: beware of what you read while writing, and when reading--keep your fridge and liquor cabinet well-stocked.

--Robin Hathaway

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