WRITING DARK LIE
By Nancy Springer
It’s kind of as if a chickadee laid a hawk egg, right? I mean, after all those novels for children and teens, I went and wrote DARK LIE, which is SO not for kids and so very much IS FOR ADULTS. It’s a psychological suspense thriller, for gosh sake, with deep insights and dark shadows and creepy people and sexual weirdness, not to speak of a whole lot more words. So what got into me?
Well, as a writer, I like to try my wings. I’m willing to attempt almost anything. Starting with mythic fantasy, I segued into magical realism, women’s fiction, contemporary literature for middle graders, then horror and fantasy and mystery for young adults, and then guess what? Suspense, such as MY SISTER’S STALKER. So it seemed a natural next step to write suspense for adults.
I think what helped me the most with the transition is that I’m a character-driven writer. When teaching classes about writing for children, I always advised my students to imagine themselves into the child main character as thoroughly as possible, and not to worry about vocabulary lists, developmental stages in child psychology, reading levels, appropriate topics, or any of the difficulties they thought they might get into. If they could really imagine themselves to be their child protagonist as they wrote, then the reading level would settle into place, and so would the developmental level and the topics a kid that age would be likely to think about and even, if necessary, the sort of trouble that particular kid might get into, meaning a plot. Now, most adults find imagining a fictional adult a lot easier than imagining a fictional child, so shouldn’t writing a novel for adults be easier?
Actually, yes, it would be easier if it weren’t for all those words. Novels for adults are, like, three or four times as long as children’s books, you know?
Seriously, writing DARK LIE was a joy and a challenge. Dorrie White as a character was no stretch at all for me; I know a lot about being a middle-aged woman with low self-esteem in a lukewarm marriage, and one of my best friends has lupus. What challenged me was maintaining a consistently adult voice (none of, like, this kind of stuff, you know?) handling the antagonist’s sexual kinks (hey, I’m past menopause now; do we have to go there?) and keeping the chronology straight while scenes and viewpoints continually changed. The organization of children’s books is so simple, using only one viewpoint, that I don’t even need notes, but for DARK LIE I had to chart a plot calendar to keep track of who was where doing what on what day of the week, which determined the sequence in which the characters got to reveal their stories.
Not to speak of all those characters, way more than I was used to, wanting their own quirks and depth of development. So maybe at one point I really was feeling like a chickadee that had laid a hawk’s egg. But I’ve fully recovered now. And it feels so good to spread my wings and soar.
Nancy Springer has written fifty novels for adults, young adults and children, in genres that include mythic fantasy, contemporary fiction, magical realism, horror, and mystery -- although she did not realize she wrote mystery until she won the Edgar Allan Poe Award from the Mystery Writers of America two years in succession. Dark Lie is her first venture into adult suspense.
Born in New Jersey, Nancy Springer lived for many decades near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, of Civil War fame, raising two children, writing, riding horseback, fishing, and birdwatching. In 2007 she surprised her friends and herself by moving with her second husband to an isolated area of the Florida panhandle, where the birdwatching is spectacular and where, when fishing, she occasionally catches an alligator.
Check out her website at www.nancyspringer.info
My thanks to Penguin Books and Fiona Brown for coordinating this guest post and for the review copy of the book. I was not compensated for my opinion or for hosting this post.