Please join me in welcoming George Weinstein to the blog, today. George is the author of six novels, including his latest, Watch What You Say, which he discusses below. In addition to being a fine novelist, George is the long-time former and once again President of the Atlanta Writers Club, and the Executive Director of the twice-yearly Atlanta Writers Conference which will have its 22nd iteration this coming November. Both the club and the conference have been instrumental in launching the careers of a great many writers (including mine), and George shares some of the insights into starting a writing career that he has gathered from his time at the helm. His work has also been published in Writer’s Digest and in regional and national anthologies, including A Cup of Comfort for Writers.
MB: Your newest novel, Watch What You Say, features a radio show host gifted with a very interesting condition known as synesthesia. Tell our readers a bit about this and how it figures into your story.
GW: According to the National Institutes of Health, 5%-15% of the world’s population has some form of synesthesia, the blending of senses, but I think we’ve all experienced a flash of this cross-wiring at one point or another: a sound that seems to produce a color (maybe that’s how “blues” music got its name), a taste that seems to produce a feeling of shapes in one’s mouth, an odor that evokes a skin reaction, etc. For web radio host Bo Riccardi, she hears as much or more with her eyes as her ears, a form of synesthesia known as chromesthesia. Musicians as varied as Duke Ellington, Billy Joel, Mary J. Blige, and Tori Amos were/are all synesthetes with chromesthesia. In Bo’s case, every sound produces a mental image of moving, colorful shapes. She’s learned to interpret these such that, if you’re speaking, she can tell your emotions and also your intent. This makes her the ultimate BS detector, as she can literally watch what you say. She hopes this will give her an edge over the kidnapper who’s holding her husband, but there are problems when one relies too much on a dominant strength, as Bo will soon learn.
MB: What inspired you to write about an individual with this particular variety of synesthesia?
GW: I’ve always had an interest in our amazing minds, and became a longtime fan of Dr. Oliver Sacks of Awakenings fame early on. Among many other mental phenomena, he wrote and spoke about the synesthesia. One of the most fascinating things about this blending of senses is that every synesthete experiences it differently from everybody else with the same gift. For example, as a little boy, Vladimir Nabokov complained to his mother that his alphabet blocks were all painted the wrong colors. “A” was actually red, not blue, and so on. Experiencing the phenomenon herself, his mother understood—and her perception of the “right” color of each block differed from her son’s as well as what was painted there.
The most common form is this “grapheme-color” synesthesia, where the individual sees a distinct hue for every number and often each letter. After months of reading about Nabokov and many others, I embarked on a story outline with a heroine who had grapheme-color synesthesia, and I began writing a first draft. I didn’t get far. The trouble with the story was that this form of the phenomenon didn’t affect her interactions with anybody else and didn’t result in any tension or help resolve the plot.
Another common form of synesthesia is chromesthesia. As I began to consider what I could do with this, the “what if” scenarios began again: What if my protagonist not only saw colors and shapes all the time but she could also interpret them? When people spoke, she could read their emotions and intent and literally watch what they said. And what if her job was as an interviewer, where her ability could be put to exceptional use as the ultimate BS meter? Also, such a gift could make her vulnerable if she relied on it too much. Add in Internet radio as a cool, up-and-coming form of media, the twist where the wife must rescue the kidnapped husband instead of the usual other way around, and a dark, personal connection with the kidnapper, and Watch What You Say was born.
MB: Your new book, and your preceding one, Aftermath, are mysteries. Your earlier works were not mysteries. How did you find your way to the dark side, and how do you like it over here?
: After writing two historical novels and a modern relationship drama, I wanted a new challenge. Mystery/thriller/suspense novels are what I read for entertainment, so I embarked on a murder mystery, Aftermath. The premise is that Janet Wright, a middle-aged woman who’s been estranged from her father since she was five, learns she’s the sole inheritor of his riches following his murder. Supposedly it was an open-and-shut case, with the killer shot to death by the police at the murder scene, but she can’t resist poking at the facts of the case and makes herself the next target for a killing. This genre forced me to be a more disciplined writer when it comes to outlining, deciding where to place red herrings, and being more deliberate about where all the beats go. I love writing in this world of high stakes, danger, and intrigue so much, it was an easy decision to follow it up with the suspense-thriller Watch What You Say.
MB: As the former, and now-again president of the Atlanta Writers Club, the director of the Atlanta Writers Conference, and a long-time moderator of a successful critique group, you’ve seen the launch of a lot of writing careers, so you’re in a unique position to offer some thoughts on pathways to success for writers. Please share the wisdom of your experience with our readers who have their eyes on a writing career.
GW: The only writer who fails is the one who quits. To keep from quitting, it’s important to set ambitious but achievable goals and to break huge tasks (e.g., getting your work out in the marketplace) into small, doable ones. Surrounding yourself with a community of supportive writers–people who understand you and are willing to share resources and insights–is also key, so you don’t have to go on this journey alone. It’s important to know your desired destination when you start out, so you can make a plan to get there. Becoming a New York Times bestselling author is a different journey than self-publishing a book to sell to family, friends, and occasional strangers. Perhaps most importantly, you can’t call yourself a writer unless you write, rather than merely think about writing. Nothing else can happen in pursuit of your goals if you don’t put in the effort to draft, rewrite ad nauseum, and edit until you can’t make another improvement. It all starts with doing the hard work of writing.
MB: What’s coming next from the pen of George Weinstein?
GW: I’m working on a sequel to Watch What You Say, where Bo is compelled to join forces with the strong-willed heroine of my mystery novel Aftermath, Janet Wright, to solve a new mystery and, along the way, discover the power of sisterhood.
MB: Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts with the Murder Books readers.
Please visit George at www.georgeweinstein.com.
George Weinstein was interviewed by Roger Johns.