Are you watching the new Sherlock Holmes, the one with Sherlock in rehab and Watson as a woman? It’s different. But no matter how current authors tweak the classic character, Sherlock remains the epitome of keen observation.
When I started writing Artists & Thieves I knew a great deal about observing language. My first Master’s degree was in English, my second was related to language disorders. I’d read literature biggies and dissected how they did what they did with language. I worked with children who had difficulty using ordinary language and I had to pinpoint what was missing. In both cases, I learned to observe.
So when I wrote Artists & Thieves, adding details to a scene to put the reader “there” was easier for me than adding tension or conflict to a scene. I’m always on the lookout for details. I don’t record them in a notebook but they pop into my head as I’m writing.
When I bought a new gas stove I was surprised to hear the pilot light clicking away before the flame started. My old stove didn’t do that. I was working on a scene with Angelo, an artist, moving him around in his loft. I gave that detail to him:
“At the kitchen sink he filled the tea kettle with water, and when the clicking of the pilot light finally caught enough gas to flame, he set the pot on the burner’s medium flame.”
When I needed details to bring the setting of Fisherman’s Wharf to smelly life, I remembered a crowded market in San Francisco’s Chinatown:
“He bounced down the rough, tarred surface of the wharf shoulder to shoulder with morning tourists. He passed raw sea creatures displayed outside the seafood market on his left, then crossed to the other side to catch the aroma of clam chowder steaming on the counter at Bernie’s, ready to be ladled into paper cups.”
Details are not just for describing a scene. They work to add tension or stress to a character. While I was working on the climax of Artists & Thieves, I needed to build suspense by putting obstacles in the way of my heroine, Mai, as she frantically rushes to find the bad guy. I remembered driving home late at night lost in fog so thick I had to stop the car and wait for the fog to break. No cell phones then. A spooky situation. I gave that experience to Mai:
“The streets at the west end of Golden Gate Park were shrouded in fog and darkness. Mai couldn’t see the white center line on the road or the one at the edge marking the bicycle lane, couldn’t keep the Jaguar in her lane. . . .She leaned her head out the window, straining to see beyond the flapping windshield wipers. . . . ‘Where am I?’ She was frustrated, talking out loud.”
And on a more poetic note, I’ve seen a red tide twice in San Diego. The waves fluoresce at night in moonlight. A fellow writer in my critique group suggested that I use a red tide to add mystery to the setting for the climax. My memory helped:
“Long bands of glowing light stretched up and down the coast, eerily luminescent in the fog hanging over the waves. The red tide’s tiny organisms sparkled, ebbed and flowed in the ocean’s easy motion.”
Observation is a writer’s necessity as much as it is a detective’s. For me, plotting and character development require a lot of rewriting. That is a long and tedious process. But I can Sherlock descriptive details quickly. And that’s the fun of writing.
Linda Schroeder divides her time between the bright sun of California and the high mountains of Colorado. She has a Master’s degree in English and one in Communicative Disorders/Audiology. In addition to her novel, Artists & Thieves, she has published a college text.
Her early interest in English expanded to include language disorders and she began a second career as an audiologist and aural rehabilitation therapist working with deaf and hard-of-hearing children and adults.
Currently, she studies and practices Chinese brush painting, celebrating the vitality and energy of nature. She follows art and art theft blogs and writes her own blog about art and sometimes includes reviews of novels. She is working on two more novels, a second Mai Ling novel about the Diamond Sutra, and a Sammy Chan art mystery about the forgery of a Goya painting.
Where there is art, there are thieves.
Mai Ling is both. Artist by day, thief by night, she recovers stolen art for Interpol. It’s a business, not a passion, until her beloved grandfather reveals a family secret that is also a destiny. He is duty-bound to return to China an especially precious bowl which belonged to his ancestor. Mai must steal it for him.
But Mai Ling is not the only one after the bowl. Four others plan to extract the bowl from a private California art collection. The rival thieves grasp and then lose the bowl until finally Mai is faced with the ultimate dilemma: save the bowl or save herself. Her duty to her grandfather gives her only one choice.
Set against the vibrant backdrop of the Monterey Peninsula and peopled with quirky characters, this stylish art caper entertains on every page.