Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Do I Like Being A Writer Too Much? By Keith Raffel

I have something like career ADD. I’ve been a carpenter, a history teacher, a U.S. Senate counsel, a candidate for political office, a horseplayer, and an Internet entrepreneur. Now that I have a second novel out, can I add writer to the list?

It’s a cliché that the hardest thing about being a writer is not getting published, it’s staying published. Last Friday, the terrific mystery writer Lora Roberts wrote in The Palo Alto Weekly, “If the proof of the author is in the second novel, Raffel delivers with his new mystery, Smasher, set in the convoluted corridors of Silicon Valley power.” Looks like I passed the test. So I think I will add writer to the list of my careers. Do I like being a writer? Maybe too much. Let me explain.

Oftentimes, people ask if the main character in my two books is me – whether Ian Michaels, the protagonist of both Dot Dead and the just-released Smasher, is a lightly fictionalized version of Keith Raffel. Once I went to someone’s house and the host said she was sorry for not having Fortnum and Mason’s Queen Anne's Tea. I’m a green tea drinker and so that black tea is not my favorite. I wondered for a moment why she was apologizing. Then, bingo, I got it. “No, no, that’s Ian’s favorite tea, not mine,” I told her. “Ian is not me.”

In fact, things run the other way around. It’s not that Ian is me. It’s that in writing I become Ian. I enter an alternative universe and adopt someone else’s identity. I see what’s happening through another person’s eyes. (Something like that must happen to kids who pick an avatar and control it in a video game.) Well, anyway what do you call someone like me who spends his days living in an alternative universe and hearing voices talking to him? E.L. Doctorow offers a hint. He says, “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” Yeah. So now that I’m a full-fledged writer, do I like it? Yeah, maybe too much. Why not live in the skin of someone who’s smarter, better-looking, richer, and more attractive to women than I am?

Look at the alternative to living in a fictional world. Reality? Bah. Who wants to live in a world where dangerous countries are closing in on getting nuclear weapons, where world economy teeters on the brink of depression, and where Congress refuses to do right by the American people because of entrenched interests?

In Smasher, as CEO Ian Michaels battles a take-no-prisoners billionaire for control of his company, a black car runs down his wife Rowena, a deputy D.A. The police figure it a hit-and-run accident, so it is Ian who races to track down the assailant before he can strike again. As his wife lies near death, he rushes to an atom smasher at Stanford to fulfill what may be her last wish – that he prove an unsung female physicist was cheated out of a Nobel Prize. This world Ian lives gives him the chance to resolve knotty, dangerous problems. I hope you’ll like living there with him as much as I did.

Take a look at the book trailer to get a taste of Ian’s world.

I do hope to see you at Kepler’s on October 20 at 7.30 where I’ll discuss Smasher, read an excerpt from it, answer questions, and raffle off the right to name a character in my next book. And if you want to know more about me or Ian or Rowena, take a look at my website, Thanks, Keith.

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