Friday, October 23, 2009

Bill Kent on his passion for mystery

"To me, a mystery is a journey to the truth, a defiant, triumphant insistence that human beings can use their brains to solve the big questions of superstition, crime, punishment and redemption."
~Bill Kent

Today we feature the last part of conference chair Kathryn Craft's interview with Write Stuff 2010 presenter Bill Kent.

Kathryn: What about your interests/attributes led you to the mystery genre?

Bill: I started off enthralled with science fiction and fantasy, and I still am. I consider it imaginative literature, that is, writing in which the quality of the author's imagination, and the author's ability to stimulate the reader's imagination, bring us to a sense of wonder about who we are and the universe we inhabit.

I approached mysteries and thrillers as a way of adapting experiences I had as a journalist. Art Bourgeau, a mystery writer who owns the Whodunnit bookstore in Philadelphia, loaded me up with authors I should read, and to my early love for Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes, Agatha Christie and John D. MacDonald I added stories by Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammet, Donald Westlake, James Ellroy, Robert Parker, Ed McBain, Lawrence Block, Ross Thomas, Robert Campbell and even Mickey Spillane, whose crude storytelling had its powerful moments. From there I went to Sue Grafton, Walter Mosley, and many others. To me, a mystery is a journey to the truth, a defiant, triumphant insistence that human beings can use their brains to solve the big questions of superstition, crime, punishment and redemption.

K: I know you have a love for a well-developed character, but you also write in a plot-heavy genre. Do you have a particular plotting device you use, such as index cards, outline, wall diagram, etc.?

B: The best device is no device. You start somewhere, end up somewhere else. Though the journey is never a straight line, it should feel as if it has been worth the trip. The best description I ever heard of plotting came from a man I consider to be master of it: Lawrence Block. "I know my characters, I come up with a setting and then I go away. I get lost and find my way back." He meant this literally and metaphorically. Block lives in New York City but does most of his writing while traveling. Some of his best work has given us a view of a placeless America of sprawling suburbs, modular motels off highway interchanges, fast food meals and killers who look like anyone else you'd see in a shopping mall.

Before I start a novel, I usually have a good idea of the hero and a few good scenes and maybe a glimpse of the ending. Usually, but not always. Sometimes I just let the characters show me what they want to do. My goal in plotting is to have things that happen flow purposefully, and have the action adhere to a logic that is believable within the context of the story. What that means in plain speaking is the best plots are plots that you don't notice: you're swept along and you don't look back.

Next post will include an agent announcement!
Days until Write Stuff registration opens: 84! 

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