Creative Living 8: Christopher G. Moore

February 28th, 2009

Christopher G Moore is the godfather of the Bangkok mystery genre – his books about private eye Vincent Calvino are, as far as I know, the first to put a Western detective to work in the Thai City of Angels. The author of twenty books (and counting), Chris is also a lawyer, a great guy, and the creator of a literary Bangkok that’s been called a “subtle and compelling evocation of a part of the world rarely seen through our eyes.” The first two of his Bangkok novels to be published in America, The Risk of Infidelity Index and Spirit House, are available on Amazon. I should also acknowledge that without Chris Moore’s terrific books, I probably would never have come up with Poke Rafferty. Chris’s website is: www.cgmoore.com

Writers of fiction are said to be in the creativity business. That bunches us with painters, dancers, singers, actors, film directors, Wall Street bankers, software programmers, and astrophysicists. It is, in other words, a crowded intersection where writers stand trying to flag a reader passing at warp speed, trying just to get from point A to B. I have a feeling that creativity has some common elements that apply across many different fields. But let’s start with what many people believe is the definition of creativity: someone who has a vivid imagination. No one can say that is entirely wrong when checking the list of creative workers above. But there are a few problems with the definition. While imagination is useful and indeed necessary, it is not sufficient to define creativity. What is missing? I have few ideas to share about the basic elements. No doubt one day cognitive scientist will have a better way of understanding creativity. But here’s my rough outline: clarity, coherence, insight, and truthfulness (and in a slightly different way for everyone) form the quantum creativity universe. No matter what extraordinary, vivid worlds, characters, scenes, word play, plots you imagine, these fundamental particles form the mass and energy necessary to sustain the life force that is creativity.

Clarity because we live in the midst of a dense fog of ideas, information, images, and the speed at which life approach us means what we experience is blurred, filled with ghostly specters detached from their context. We only partially comprehend or understand the motives, needs, and wants of others, and the fast moving web of events which we witness around us also catches us, pulling us too close for a detached, second look. That is we push against our personal limits of observation. Clarity focuses the reader on the context and illuminates meaning and purpose. Creative people lift the fog if only for a moment and provide a glimpse of how things are interconnected.

Coherence means that the whole book has a unified structure and persuasively builds a seamless organized system. There can be a book with brilliant sentences or paragraphs or scenes, and those may, when isolated, reach to the height of creative achievement but the book fails if the reader must dig through tons of ordinary clay to unearth the few gems submerged beneath. Like clarity, coherence is a universe where all the laws set in motion given the author a chance to explore the mysteries of events and characters in an ordered system.

Insightful is that feeling in reading a book where the reader says, “That’s what I’ve always felt but never had put it in words.” Or “I often saw (felt, understood, was taught) A, B, and C but always thought of them as existing in isolation from one another and now I can see the connection between them.” Or “I had been to that place or done that activity many times but never stopped to consider the consequences of my involvement.”

Truthful is often the most difficult quality to achieve because rather than search for the truth we assume that we know what is true and false and can dispense with the search. Readers come to books in search of truths that they can’t find elsewhere. Creativity, in part, requires a journey where truth is the reward. It may knock over conventional wisdom, threatened the perceived way of understanding an idea, person or event, or it may undermine a belief system such as truth is always clear, evident and beyond dispute. Authors, the most creative ones, are able to connect readers to what is true in human relationships and what is a smokescreen that people find convenient to hide behind as they flee from reality.

4 Responses to “Creative Living 8: Christopher G. Moore”

  1. Larissa Says:

    Creativity, in part, requires a journey where truth is the reward.

    That’s awesome. And gives me a few things to think about regarding the fiction books I read and what I look for in them. Most of the time it’s a truth that I couldn’t find anywhere else, like you also said.

    It also puts a few ideas back into the tumbler for my own writing. Because it’s definitely lacking some truth and authenticity right now.

  2. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    I’m with you, Riss — that sentence knocked me out, too. I think it’s much more common for us to work toward truth than it is for us to start with it. I don’t know about Chris Moore, but I usually start with a wisp of smoke — some notion that I might have an interesting situation in mind, and then it’s a process of working toward what the truth of it would be — emotionally, factually, logically, causally — you name it.

    Chris got it in fewer than a dozen words. I’ve loved putting this series up.

  3. Thomas Says:

    To me, any musings about creativity are bound to bring up words such as courage, passion, and knowledge, for they are all intertwined. They are facets of the same diamond that we look through as we perceive and interpret the world around us. Creativity is not some freestanding entity that can be bought, sold, and used, as we see fit. Creativity is something unique for all of us, as unique as our fingerprints.

    Please bear with me.

    Courage is our ability to stay in the here and now, to follow that train of thought to its end station, to explore that idea in full without censorship. This is a difficult area for me personally and I’m guessing some other people out there share it as well. That is, a fear that something you are creating will turn out to be either really bad (in which case one’s own expectations get confirmed) or really good (which one usually doesn’t stick around long enough to find out because lacking confidence prevents us from reaching that point). Courage is needed to stay in the moment long enough to find out where that idea, or fantasy, is going. Self-sabotage is a strong force that can work in subtle ways. In Swedish folklore there is something called Jantelagen (translates into Jante’s Law). This is akin to Murphy’s Law (e.g. If something bad can happen, it will happen, etc). One of Jante’s Laws states that you should not think you are any better than anyone else. It doesn’t say that you are no better than anyone else. It says that you should not think that you are. What is the point of this? The point is that by believing you are no better than anyone else, you save yourself from disappointment caused by your lacking ability and you save yourself from the wrath of others for thinking you are better than they are. The connection to creativity? Courage! Courage to break out of the self-imposed mold that holds you back. This is not unique to Swedes; all people carry these doubts around. Creativity requires courage but we are often too afraid to see it.

    Passion is the next facet. It is an abstract concept, something we often couple with love and longing. But, when discussing creativity, what passion means is an attachment to whatever it is we want to write about. We have to be invested in our topic, we have to feel strongly about it, almost at an organic level, for us to invest in what is required to get the job done. Without passion, any creativity becomes half-hearted and watered down. Thoughts are discarded before they are fully formed, ideas don’t pass that first barrier of censorship, and creativity is just too much work for too small rewards. This is where writer’s block comes in; when we are not passionate enough about our story and when our characters come and go without leaving a mark in our minds. The more passion we feel, the easier it gets to turn that faucet on, to let the ideas and words flow out and fill us up faster than we can get it down on paper. Without passion there is drought. Without passion, creativity is just a word, not a function.

    Knowledge is an easy concept to grasp. Gaining knowledge is harder. How often have we stopped in our tracks to consider that which we don’t know? There is the saying that one good idea gives birth to another good idea. With knowledge it’s the same way. The more knowledge we have, the easier we can navigate through our story and the easier we can let our creativity be the captain of the ship, for there will be no obstacles to slow us down. Give a master carpenter nothing but a screwdriver and some wood and ask him to build you a bookcase. He can probably do it but it will take time, cause frustration, and the end result will not be what it could have been if the same carpenter had been given all appropriate tools up front. The mechanics, the facts, the tools would not stand in his way. Instead, he could use all his skills, passion, courage, and creativity to create the type of furniture that would surprise you both.

    (I know this is long but I’m trying to make a point. 🙂

    And here’s the point. Courage, passion, and knowledge are the three words that come up in my mind when thinking about creativity. Chris just mentioned four others that are unique to him. Tim would likely add his signature twist to the topic and come up with yet a few more. There is no right or wrong answer, no complete and exhaustive list. The creativity-diamond has an infinite number of facets. There is no such thing as an “ideal cut”. Creativity is fluid and hard to grasp; its very essence is abstract, and yet we depend on it for creating some kind of art that has never been done before. Chris speaks of insight, which in my mind really gets to the core of the topic. That is, when we create something that turns that light bulb on in our readers’ heads as well as our own, making us both say, “Aha, so that is what it’s like.” Only then can we say that what we have just written or read was something truly creative. The rest are just copies.

    Chris, thank you for a great post!

    Tim, please forgive my ramblings and for taking up so much space.

    Thomas

  4. Cynthia Mueller Says:

    I haven’t commented on this entry in the Creativity series because I’m still chewing on it. This post has so many nuggets and sparkly bits that I’m re-reading and digesting. Thank you, Mr. Moore, and everyone else for sharing your insight. And, of course, Tim!

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