Friday, November 07, 2008

The Impossible Virgin

Sometimes it helps to look back when looking forward. My son is wanting to write a novel, and so, from time to time, he comes to me and says, "Mom, I have an idea for a book." Often, his ideas are not novel enough, but he does not know this because he has not read enough to know what has already been written.

Good writers are first good readers. Voracious readers, in most cases. How good I am depends upon who is asking the question, but I was once a voracious reader of novels. Mom is to blame. She took me to the library, weekly in the summer, and guided my reading, from my middle school years until her death. When I was a teenager, I enjoyed thrillers and what mom called "mysteries" which were billed as gothic suspense. When she handed me The Impossible Virgin, having plucked it from the shelves of the Jefferson Public Library, I was a bit shocked. It did not look at all like a mystery, with its modern art cover and titillating title. But mom had earned my absolute trust in such matters, so I put it in my checkout pile.

Since The Impossible Virgin is the fifth story in the series of Modesty Blaise novels, I had a bit of a chore figuring out the backstory, but these books stand alone well enough, especially the early ones, so I was soon engrossed. O'Donnell published eleven novels and two books of short stories starring Modesty Blaise, who is a far more entertaining figure that Ian Fleming's James Bond. As a teenager, I was only able to find four of them, all via the local libraries. As a young adult, I read a couple more, and after the internet made shopping used books much easier, I managed to purchase all of the series, save one.

When I published The Gift Horse, a reporter at our local paper conducted a telephone interview, and she asked me what influenced my writing. My answer was "reading the news" and certainly reading some of the odd stories that are online have been in the back of my mind when I wrote some of the scenes that readers have called "fantastic" or "implausible," but another influence, one harder to describe, are all of the characters, plot devices, and action scenes in the fiction I read for years and years, prior to taking on the task of novel writing myself. As a writer, I rely on what has already been written, for research, or merely for ideas.

Recently, my son proposed a scene, where a character is strapped to a chair, and as I listened to what he thought was a great idea, I said, "Wait a minute... that has already been written, and you must see how he did it." Immediately, I went to one of the numerous book cases in my home, pulled out an old paperback copy of The Impossible Virgin and had my son read the scene, written by a master, almost 40 years ago. I've read many, many action/adventure novels, and the first five novels in the Modesty Blaise series are among the best.

I do hope that my son is able to realize his dream and write a good action novel. But he has not yet read enough to be ready for the task.

In looking for a few details, I noticed that there are now some web based resources for O'Donnell fans, including a website, and more than a bio on Wikipedia, and I am linking to those for any readers who want to know more about this wonderful writer, who also wrote gothic suspense under the pen name Madeline Brent.

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