The Hidden Self

rjohnspubphoto2      First, a big thank-you to Paula Munier, the extraordinary literary agent who represents all of us who write the Murder Books blog, for suggesting that we undertake this project––an excellent idea from a very wise individual. Another thank-you to Ben Keller for masterminding the web site and the blog, and for making sure it actually came into being. And a third thank-you to Ben, and Brian Theim, and Bruce Coffin, the other writers in this crew, for signing on. It’s nice to work alongside such accomplished and interesting individuals. I’m going to follow the path laid down by Bruce and Brian, in their inaugural blog posts, and write about where my ideas come from.

For me, it begins with a theme. Certain writers seem to have a fascination with particular themes, returning to them, to great effect, over the course of their writing careers. Stephen King, for example, has written a number of fantastic novels centered on the very primal Fall-of-Man theme, a popular device since the days of the Garden of Eden––confine a group of people in an idyllic setting, loose the demon into their midst, then sit back and watch the fireworks. Needful Things, Under the Dome, and The Shining come to mind, in this regard. Amy Tan shows us the inevitable but unexpected ways that the misfortunes of the past echo endlessly––sometimes beautifully, sometimes tragically, always poignantly––through the lives of succeeding generations. The Hundred Secret Senses, and The Kitchen God’s Wife bring this theme to life so unforgettably. And, Harlen Coben shows us both the destructive and redemptive power of the subtracted life, in his haunting novels about the people left behind when someone goes missing. Tell No One, Six Years, and Home are all excellent meditations on this theme.

The theme that forms the inspirational axis of my first novel (DARK RIVER RISING, forthcoming from Minotaur Books/St. Martin’s Press in 2017) is the idea of the hidden self. From childhood, we are cautioned not to judge a book by its cover, but when it comes to how we form our understanding of the people around us, we have no other option. All we can ever know about anyone is their cover story: what they say and how they say it, what they do and how they do it. We never get to actually see the pages inside, so, by inference and implication, we construct belief systems about people based on their covers. And while a person’s words and actions are certainly revelatory, they are never fully so. That being said, I feel fairly comfortable believing that, for most of us, the difference between the cover and the pages inside is, in the grand scheme of things, probably unremarkable. Maybe a touch embarrassing or to some degree disappointing, but for the vast majority of us, I’m willing to believe that the difference between our inner and outer selves wouldn’t be a deal-breaker. However, there are those among us whose inner and outer lives are vastly, bizarrely, and sometimes dangerously different––those whose cover story is consciously and constantly misleading, the way the bait in a trap can look like a tasty meal. And, if the truth be told, unless such individuals are exposed or until they choose to reveal their true colors, we may never know when we’re standing next to them . . . or related to them . . .  or married to them.

As a writer of crime fiction, it is this latter crowd––those who’s inner and outer lives are horrifyingly inconsistent––that fascinates me. If all goes according to plan, I intend to return to this particular well from time to time, over the course of my writing career. I’ve lived in a lot of places, had a number of interesting jobs, taken my share of detours, and met all manner of interesting folks. And, I’ve tried to pay attention along the way. So, I have accumulated a rich inventory of experiences I can draw upon to construct characters and settings, and to lay out the plots of individual novels. These will be the cover stories, the visible chronicle of events that I will drape over the invisible themes that serve as the power source of the future murder books I write. Of course, there are themes other than the hidden self that occupy my thinking, and should the opportunity present itself, I may go on about them in future blog posts. In the meantime, happy reading.

2 thoughts on “The Hidden Self

  1. Roger–Great post. I love the theme of outer vs. inner lives and self. It makes me think about the self I conveyed to the world when I worked as a cop, where I had to keep my “true” self hidden, partly for my own mental and emotional survival, and the other part to survive in an environment where cops needed to conform to a certain image to succeed. I look forward to reading your novel.


    1. Thanks, Brian. Being a police officer sounds like an impossibly difficult job. But an incredibly interesting one, as well. And judging by Thrill Kill, it’s one that you’re able to translate into compelling fiction.


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