Being a novelist is a funny thing.
It’s a funny thing for a whole host of reasons, but the funniness of it struck me particularly hard this past weekend, when I realized at 1:32AM Saturday morning that I was stone-cold sober, and earnestly researching the etymology of the term ‘serial killer’ for a throwaway detail in the novel I’m currently writing.
For those of you curious, the Germans came up with an approximation of the term (Serienmörder or serial-murder) in the 1930s, English speakers didn’t cop on until the ‘70s.
It’s a detail that maybe a dozen readers would notice and likely fewer would comment on, but I needed to be accurate. For this single sentence, near the end of a literally globe trotting epic about mages and mystery and the secret currents of the earth that may or may never see the light of publication, I needed to know whether English speakers in roughly 1972 would hear about multiple homicides and think serial killer, or not.
Spoilers, I decided they wouldn’t think that, retooled my sentence, and then went back to squeezing just a little more inuendo into some dialogue between my protagonists.
I didn’t finish for the night until almost 3.
This is being a novelist to me: funny details and harebrained midnight Wikipedia dives.
It’s finishing a really good book, or movie, or even just a song, and itching to start my own. It’s looking back on a childhood spent watching Batman cartoons and deciding that I could do that, and then spending days making sure that none of my characters closely resemble any trademarked IP that could get me in trouble.
My first novel, The Adventures of Dogg Girl and Sidekick, was an itch, a drive, a nagging thought and a need to write. That’s what writing almost always has been to me, a need, not a plotted thing, not a considered story, but a breathless chase through words and worlds unknown.
It’s only when the chase is over that I get to go back to being a functioning human.
Or as close to functioning as I get: poets, novelists, and PhDs are not conducive to what many consider functional, and I am all three.
It’s funny the way the three of them feed into each other.
The protagonist of DG&SK would not quote Rudyard Kipling, Oscar Wilde, or Dylan Thomas if I was not a fan of Kipling, Wilde, and Thomas. Nor would my PhD on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein be quite as nuanced if I didn’t bring a novelist’s perspective to her writing. Arguably, a scholar could find some abandonment themes in my novel that echo some of the research I’ve done on Shelley, though dissecting them myself would be far too meta even for me.
The snake swallows its own tail, the midnight oil burns, and this old world and these new stories, are all funny, funny things.
Written by Jenni Debie
Jennifer deBie is a native Texan living in Ireland where she earned an MA in Creative Writing at University College Cork and is in the final theros of finishing her PhD on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. She has been widely published, with poetry appearing in anthologies and journals from all around the world, a feat that neither impresses her cat, nor pays her bills.
Her first novel, The Adventures of Dogg Girl and Sidekick, was published by Dreaming Big Publications in August 2020. When not reading, writing, teaching, or desperately editing episodes for the academic podcast she co-hosts, Jennifer enjoys typical millennial pastimes like eating brunch and neglecting her blog.
You can find out more about all of these things at jenniferdebie.com.