The Voices in My Head

I recently attended Crime Bake, a convention in Massachusetts for mystery writers and fans. I was fortunate enough to see Dennis Lehane, one of my favorite authors, speak about writing. Recently, after publishing several stand-alone novels, which unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past decade, you’ve heard of: Shutter Island, Mystic River, The Given Day. But it’s his series featuring Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro that I’ve been eagerly awaiting another installment of, and this past year, my wish was granted when he published Moonlight Mile, the sixth book in the series. One of the attendees at Crime Bake asked him why he a) stopped writing the series and b) why he returned to it. He answered that after he published the fifth book in the series, around ten years ago, Patrick stopped talking to him. And he decided to write a new book in the series a year or so ago because Patrick had started talking to him again.

I understood exactly what he was talking about, because Alison Bergeron talks to me constantly. If she’s not complaining about her pot belly, she’s itching for a new mystery to solve. So it has been easy working up a new story because Alison has a lot of stories to tell me and they are easy for me to transcribe. But lately I’ve noticed that I have a trio of new characters talking to me and what they have to say is very interesting. One is partially deaf, the other makes jam for a living, and another is an obstetrician. Yet another, whose role is yet to be determined, is a very handsome detective with his own secrets. All very disparate, all very much alive to me. And all involved in a murder.

With all of this going on, my head is a very crowded place right now. No wonder I keep forgetting to buy toilet paper at the grocery store.

I never anticipated that this would happen. I just assumed that Alison would keep talking to me and Crawford would whisper sweet nothings in my ear every now and again that he would, in turn, then whisper to Alison. Max would continue to screech about her issues, and Fred would grunt. Other people would cycle in and out of the stories I was told and they would provide new life for the next book. The nuns would make me feel guilty for thinking impure thoughts. So it’s very exciting to think that there are a bunch of other characters floating around in there, just waiting for me to tell their stories.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Writers write and there is so much potential in the world and the people around us to come up with new ideas and new characters. It reminds me of when people talk about having extrasensory perception: you just have to be open to the energy around you. It’s the same with writers. We just have to be open to what’s around us—and listen to the voices in our heads—in order to make a new story come to life.

I’m interested, most of all, from our Stiletto faithful if your characters talk to you or if there is some other way that your stories begin. What makes you want to sit down and write?

Maggie Barbieri

3 replies
  1. Vicky Polito
    Vicky Polito says:

    Hi there, Maggie. You gots to love that Dennis Lehane! I am not someone who reads many mysteries (I used to when I was younger), but there are a few mystery/thriller authors who are mesmerizing and he's one in my eyes. I've also seen and read interviews with him and he's very fun and interesting.

    But, to your question on voices in the head: I don't have them. I see or over-hear stories and characters in my head (almost like an audio book some days!), they don't talk "to" me. I guess I'm more third person than first person in style? As Chance the Gardner said in Being There, "I like to watch." And, listen.

    Here's my other theory: my brain likes to separate my personal fantasies (the "what I should have said/will say to Maggie was xyz!" bits and pieces) from the story musings (the "look at those two characters argue–I wonder if someone is going to throw an ashtray at someone's head?" kinds of things).

    So, that's my story.

  2. Angela Scott
    Angela Scott says:

    The voices in my head are constant. I always tell people I'm writing even when it appears I'm just sitting there doing nothing. There is a quote that says: "The only difference between schizophrenics and writers is that schizophrenics take medicine to silence the voices, writers write down everything those voices say and then try to sell it."

  3. Susan McBride
    Susan McBride says:

    Maggie, I think your three new "voices" are just itching to come out! Can't wait to hear more about them in the year ahead. 🙂

    Once I get the germ of an idea that really sticks, I can't stop thinking about it. I know I'm ready to write when the characters start telling me who they are in their own voices. And then they won't let me go for a very long time (well, at least until I'm finished with revisions and moving on to the next book, although they never leave entirely!).

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