Louise Penny Help Desk: Part 3
As part of Crime Month on Canada Writes, we asked you to send us your questions for our Master Class leader Louise Penny. Here, Louise answers two more—letting us know what poetry has to teach us about crime fiction, and sharing a precarious situation she once landed in thanks to her love of antiques.
Karen Janigan asks:
I know that you have said that emotion is the driver, and the details can be worked out. So do you decide what emotion is going to drive your antagonist, or what emotion Inspector Gamache is going to feel or reveal during his investigations? And when you decide on the crime, do you do your research before or after you have written the outline?
Robert Frost said that for him, ‘A poem begins as a lump in the throat’. For me a book begins that way. Some emotion strongly felt. I always advise emerging writers to read poetry because it’s all about emotion. And a surgical choice of words. ‘I was much too far out all of my life/And not waving but drowning’—the great Stevie Smith lines. Or Auden’s, ‘Goodness existed: that was the new knowledge/his terror had to blow itself quite out/to let him see it.’ What better inspiration for novels of the heart—and that’s what crime novels, at their best, are about. Not the cold-blooded crime, but the hot emotion that led to the thrust. Yes, for the most part, I decide on the overarching emotion of a book, and then watch it played out in the characters. All my books are inspired by poems. The Beautiful Mystery is inspired by TS Eliot’s "Murder in the Cathedral". The work in progress by "The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner". Paradise Lost plays a role in most of my works.
In terms of the nuts-and-bolts research, I often do it beforehand, because it influences my decision on plot and structure. But I almost never outline now. I carry a notebook and make lots of notes, and I’ll write down a paragraph or so about action but for the most part I have it in my head. It’s always a balance, for me, between allowing for inspiration and over-thinking. I’m never sure I get it right."
Lesley Warren of Etobicoke, ON asks:
You include a lot on antiques in your writing (such as the gay couple in Three Pines who run the antique store). Is this a personal obsession? How did it make its way into your mysteries?
I like antiques. My mother and I used to love antique hunting together. We once got a map of antique stores in the area, most of which were in the front of people’s homes, and spent a fabulous day poking around. At the end of the day we went into one shop, picked things up, put them down, wandered around, until we met an angry man in a bath towel wondering why we were in his living room. Seems the map was old, and this was no longer an antique store. We skiddadled. I try not to put too much of any single interest in the books—but a sort of ‘Catholic’ assortment of interests, from antiques to art to books to gardening. History, politics, poetry. Food! More fun that way."