Jeanne Matthews is the author of the Dinah Pelerin international mysteries published by Poisoned Pen Press. Like her amateur sleuth, Jeanne was born with a serious wanderlust. Originally from Georgia, she enjoys traveling the world and learning about other cultures and customs, which she incorporates into her novels. She currently lives in Renton, Washington with her husband, who is a law professor, and her West Highland terrier, who is a law unto herself. Her Boyfriend’s Bones, the fourth book in the series, is in bookstores now. You can learn more about Jeanne’s books at www.jeannematthews.com.
“If once a man indulges himself in murder, very soon he comes to think little of robbing; and from robbing he comes next to drinking and Sabbath-breaking, and from that to incivility and procrastination. Once begin upon this downward path, you never know where you are to stop. Many a man has dated his ruin from some murder or other that perhaps he thought little of at the time.”
When Thomas de Quincey penned those ominous words two hundred years ago, he might have been telling my fortune. From the day I committed my first murder in Bones of Contention back in 2010, it’s been one moral lapse after another.
Theft has become second nature. I pore over the novels of famous authors in search of plots to steal. I appropriate the habits and appearance of people I know and give them to the characters in my books. Occasionally, I lift the very noses off their faces and transplant them shamelessly onto the mugs of knaves and villains. No detail, be it spiritual or physical, is safe from my plundering eye.
I perpetrate my make-believe murders and mayhem every day of the week, irrespective of the Sabbath, frequently with a glass of vino close at hand. Red wine and martinis flow through my books like coursing rivers and Dinah Pelerin, my series sleuth and alter ego, has even been known to smoke a cigarette. These gratuitous portrayals of vice exert a no doubt corrupting influence on readers. But that is not yet the full extent of my degeneracy. Flippancies tumble out of the mouths of my characters like empty calories out of a vending machine. Sarcasm and incivilities abound, and Dinah doesn’t scruple to lob in the occasional swear word when provoked past the limits of patience.
Given such a steep moral slide, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that I have lately begun to procrastinate. I should be hard at work writing Dinah’s next adventure, but there’s nothing so satisfying to me as curling up with somebody else’s book and frittering away the afternoon. Of course, I’m not the only writer dragged down by sloth and procrastination. Colette used to pluck fleas off her dog’s back for hours at a time before she could bring herself to begin writing. Graham Greene loitered by the side of the freeway gazing at license plate numbers until inspiration struck. Friedrich Schiller filled his desk drawers with apples and twiddled his thumbs until they rotted and the overpowering stench galvanized him to write. History doesn’t tell us if it was killing a person that set these authors on the downward path to killing time, but it stands to reason.
Depending on one’s point of view, there is a benign aspect to procrastination. A procrastinator would rather take a nap than take revenge. As a consequence, large numbers of extremely irritating people who might otherwise come to harm, continue to thrive and poke the public in the eye. The House of Representatives comes to mind. But I digress.
Perhaps the greatest appeal of procrastination is the drama it adds to our lives. Nothing is so urgent today that it won’t become even more urgent tomorrow and the more urgent a thing becomes, the more excitement it stirs. It’s like watching the clock on a time bomb. As the minutes tick by, tension builds. Letting the clock tick down to the last second quickens the pulse and the sound of a deadline whooshing past is the kind of real-life thriller that concentrates the writer’s mind like a march to the gallows.
But reform is in the air. It’s November, that merry month when legions of lazybones morph into motivated self-starters and vow to crank out that novel they’ve always meant to write, but never found the time. Pursuant to the guidelines of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), they dedicate themselves to the task of churning out 1,666 words each and every day for thirty days until they have reached a triumphant total of 50,000. In an effort to rehabilitate myself, I decided to give NaNo a whirl. All I have to do is plunk myself down in front of the keyboard and write, ignoring all distractions. Never mind the siren song of incoming email. Forget about crosswords and online Scrabble. Harden my heart to the imploring eyes of a lonely husband and the piteous whine of a Westie who wants her walk. How hard can it be?
It’s a slippery slope from murder to procrastination. As I lie here watching a rerun of N.C.I.S., I have fallen behind my daily quota. I’ve lost my oomph. My mind wanders. I worry about Ziva. I wonder what to cook for dinner. And that little ding that tells me I’ve got mail is driving me nuts.
The road to reform is lined with distractions and paved with stumbling blocks. But the month’s not over. There’s still time for a down-to-the-wire dash. Like Scarlett, I’ll think about it tomorrow.