As the author of an amateur sleuth mystery series, I have lived in a fictional world for the last decade. I’ve had breakfast with Cassie at The Eggery, ordering my eggs and potatoes from Greta, the Eggery’s popular waitress with Tourette’s. I’ve spent the night with Cassie at the Bhait’s Motel (we have a very close and entirely platonic relationship, me and Cassie) and met it’s unfailingly polite, but eerily creepy proprietor, Mr. Beejit Bhait. I’ve ridden shotgun with Cassie in her classic Mustang, in the hour before the sun comes up, hunting for the Jersey Devil and I’ve sat with her at the Mall of New Jersey, nursing a flat soda and hunting for a story.
But for the last few years, there’s another world that’s been stuck inside my head. Richie’s world. Richie goes away for the week-end with his girlfriend. One things leads to another and now she’s dead. Richie doesn’t really think he killed her, but his memory is a little hazy. The one thing he knows for sure is that when her body is found, he’s going to be the prime suspect in a murder investigation. So Richie decides that the smart thing to do is to make sure her body is never found. And we haven’t even gotten to the bad stuff yet.
But what I’ve learned from my experience as an author is that the writer by himself (or herself) does not create the book world. The book world happens as a result of a partnership that develops between an author and his/her readers. You see, for a very long time, I carry that fictional world around inside my head. It is so real to me that I nearly forget, at that stage, that I am the only person who has visited that particular world. And then, through some magical process, I download the mess from my head to my computer. Amazingly, a publisher sends me a check and arranges for the world to be captured between the book’s covers.
And then, the truly magical thing happens, the most amazing thing of all. Other people read the book and suddenly, they’re carrying that world around inside their head too. It’s only then that the book world can truly be said to exist. When you find it not in the author’s head, but in the reader’s head. That is the partnership between a writer and a reader. That is the magic of books. That is why I write.
I hope to make an announcement soon about Richie’s world. In the meantime I find myself thinking about the question from the reader’s perspective, rather than the writer’s. What is it that draws me, as a reader, into the writer’s fictional world? If I could live in any book world, which one would it be? I am tempted to go On the Road with Jack Kerouac. Or perhaps I could hang out in Horse Badorties’ Number One Pad.
“I am all alone in my pad, man, my piled-up-to-the-ceiling-with-junk pad. Piled with sheet music, with piles of garbage bags bursting with rubbish and encrusted frying pans piled on the floor, embedded with unnameable flecks of putrified wretchedness in grease. My pad, man, my own little Lower East Side Horse Badorties pad.” (from The Fan Man, by William Kotzwinkle).
Maybe I could check out what’s going on at Queenie’s apartment.
“Queenie was a blond, and her age stood still,
And she danced twice a day in vaudeville.
Lips like coals aglow.
Her face was a tinted mask of snow.
What a back she had!
Her legs were built to drive men mad.
And she did.
She would skid.
But sooner or later they bored her:
Sixteen a year was her order.” (from The Wild Party, by Joseph Moncure March)
As tempting as that all sounds, I think if I really had to choose, I’d like to live on Mulberry Street where a writer’s genius and a little boy’s imagination conspire to turn a “plain horse and wagon” into the most fantastical of parades and, somewhere along that parade route, cement a lifetime love affair with books.
“With a roar of its motor an airplane appears
And dumps out confetti while everyone cheers.
And that makes a story that’s really not Bad!
But it still could be better. Suppose that I add…
A Chinese man who eats with sticks…
A big Magician doing tricks…
A ten-foot beard that needs a comb…
No time for more, I’m almost home.”
(from And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, by Dr. Seuss)
If I could live in a fictional world, which one would it be? Mulberry Street. What about you? Is there a book world stuck inside your head?