On the Road: Getting a Life in New York

I flew into New York, if not kicking and screaming, at least whining and pouting because I wasn’t at home working on AKMG, getting stuff done. Then I hauled my weary butt off the plane, got a cab, said, “West Village,” leaned my head back on the seat and thought, as I have thought so many time befores, “I have to get a life.”

I’m not sure why that’s a litany for so many writers. It may be because making up lives for our characters that are fascinating and filled with adventure leaves our own looking so pale and ordinary, or it may be that spending all our time making up those lives fills in the spaces where we should be talking to people and forming meaningful relationships, or we may all just be big whiners, “drama queens” as my daughter has pointed out: we write drama because we’re drawn to it so we create it in our own lives without even thinking about it.

For whatever reason, I was in the taxi thinking the “get a life” whine when I noticed Manhattan flashing by through the supports on the bridge and thought, “Wait a minute, I have a life. And it’s pretty damn good.” And then it got even better when a friend of mine, Katherine Ramsland, came into the city to stay with me. (This is Katherine, coming into the city:


Katherine is, well, amazing. Her vita is stunning: she has a BA in philosophy and psychology, a master’s degree in forensic psychology from John Jay College of Criminal Justice, a Ph.D. in philosophy from Rutgers University and a master’s in clinical psychology from Duquesne University. She’s an expert on serial killers, modern vampires, Anne Rice, mass murderers, Dean Koontz, forensic science, writing . . . you know what?, just google her and then look on Amazon, and while you’re at it, search the CNN crime section (formerly Court TV) for some of her articles. She’s a college professor, she’s a journalist, she’s a writer, she’s blonde, she’s beautiful, she’s the only person I’ve ever known who stole a haunted ring from a vampire in real life, and she’s a helluva good time in general. In short, Katherine never thinks, “I have to get a life.”

So we’re talking over Chinese dumplings at the apartment, catching up on gossip and mutual friends (Hi, Bob) and I finally said, “I know you’re a vampire expert, but I’m working on this new book and . . . do you know anything about ghosts?” Katherine said, “Is that a joke?” because it turns out the vampires and the serial killers were pretty much johnny-come-latelies in Katherine’s life: Her first love is ghosts. So she’s a good time and a research bonanza. I bounced all my ideas off her and while everything she told me was gold, what really struck me was how she could combine her knowledge of ghosts and ghost hunting with her knowledge of writing fiction, so that while we talked about what Emme would and would not see, she could tie it to character arc, how Emme’s sensitivity to paranormal phenomena would grow stronger as her sensitivity to the other people in the house grew stronger. Basically, Katherine was a writer’s dream source, and she didn’t even object when I quizzed her for most of the night.

And then the next morning we went off to our separate meetings, and I did think for a moment, “That was supposed to be a night off,” but we laughed a lot and talked about all kinds of things for hours before we got to the ghosts and we both really enjoyed the hell out of the ghost conversation, so I’m beginning to think that maybe “getting a life” doesn’t have as much to do with not making my entire life about writing as much as opening it up so that my writing intersects with the outside world more often. I mean, Katherine never stops working and she has a fabulous life. I even had one moment when I thought, “I should be more like Katherine,” and then reality returned because I am not the kind of person who would ever steal a haunted ring from a vampire. I can live with that. And with the life I’ve got which, since it has people like Katherine in it, is damn good.

Whine over.