Writing a book is hard. If anyone doubts this, try it.
Never mind questions of quality. It is enormously difficult to achieve even ugliness, especially at the beginning. The ones who persist in their failures, failing better each time, get to the high place where they can think with justification, “This is good.”
Never mind reviews. Good reviews feel wonderful. Bad reviews feel awful. Both are the result of readers completing stories in their own way. These things are out of a writer’s control.
I don’t review books very often, but when I do, my reviews are positive. This is NOT because I am nice. It is because I don’t finish books I don’t like and if I don’t finish a book, I have no authority to review it. No writer deserves to be dismissed that way.
Praise means that a story got to me in a good way. It is 100% sincere. I was a reader long before I was a writer.
As I work on the story cycle involving Green Town (an homage to Ray Bradbury, there), I am finding myself drawn to writers and books I liked when I was young. Ray Bradbury, Shirley Jackson, Marguerite Henry, C.W. Anderson, Walter Farley, Edgar Lee Masters.
I am glad I still have a copy of the book that introduced me to poetry as a child: A Golden Treasury of Poetry. There’s good poetry in it.
What do these books and writers have in common? They made an emotional connection. I discovered that they still do. They are the deeps of my reading experience, That I am returning to them now is a very, very good sign.
A story that does not punch through on a deep level is a story that vanishes as soon as it is read. The Green Town stories are rooted in emotion. Though set in 2199, they will barely be techie. The e-beasts run everything (see the description of Warning: Something Else Is Happening to see HOW they run everything), but people ignore the e-beasts as much as possible.
Folks get on with life in Green Town. There is one sixteen-year-old girl for whom getting on with life means falling in love, leaving home, and trying to save the world.
What are the deeps of your reading experience?
The idea is to write down ten titles fast, without thinking much about it.
Here are my ten, in no particular order:
- Turtle Diary
- Something Wicked This Way Comes
- Dandelion Wine
- King of the Wind
- A Golden Treasury of Poetry
- Little Women
- The Jungle
- Lark Rise to Candleford
- The Lottery and Other Stories
- The Black Stallion
I read six of the ten before age 21. Come to think of it, I read seven: part of The Jungle was an assignment in a high school history class.
Only numbers 1, 8, and 9 reflect adult tastes.
It shows that what you read young has a disproportionate chance of sticking with you, for better or worse. In my case it was for better.
The Green Town story cycle I am writing now has its roots in Dandelion Wine and Something Wicked. Ray Bradbury is an author I have come to re-appreciate.
Which books stay with you?
Everyone has their favorites, but I prefer music that stays in the background. Soundtracks can be excellent, because they are composed to play under the action.
If you are working in a reflective mood, the lovely melancholy of the soundtrack to The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford can be a friendly accompaniment. I love it that the people who made this movie gave it such a long name, as if they needed every one of those ten words to make their point.
It is a lovely, melancholy movie, by the way—just like its score. You can find the entire soundtrack on YouTube.
However, my go-to music right now is by Helen Jane Long. Repetitious in a chant-like way, with a core like a diamond. Every time I hear “Out of It All” or “The Aviators,” I smile.
(Today WordPress refuses to allow me to insert live YouTube links, or maybe the problem is YouTube. I don’t know. More time, that is, more life, lost forever down the great maw of Software That Doesn’t Work Right.)
Here is a link to The Aviators.
We’ve all got our music. What’s yours?
I read Eric Hodgins’s autobiography, Trolley to the Moon. That is because I liked his other two books and blogged about them:
Mr Blandings Builds His Dream House
In Trolley to the Moon is a passage that perfectly describes my first drafts.
Sentences are deleted, paragraphs wrenched from their place and stuck bodily in some incongruous section, where they perch like cows stranded on barn roofs by a passing tornado.
My next project is a story cycle, eight or ten of them presenting different takes on a single event: the arrest and imprisonment of an eighteen-year-old girl falsely accused of witchcraft.
The time is 2199. The place is the Reunited States.
Networld e-beasts rule the Reunited States and most of the rest of the world, too (and they are getting sick of it). But these stories are not about e-beasts. Nor are they about how strange the future will look compared with what we know. In Green Town the future bears a strong resemblance to the present, in spite of the e-beasts.
The stories are about the business of living, which goes on regardless of what governments are trying to do.
I took the name Green Town from Ray Bradbury. It is the setting for his novels Dandelion Wine and Something Wicked This Way Comes. The original of his Green Town was Waukegan, Illinois. The original of my Green Town is Chautauqua, New York.
What the two Green Towns have in common is being well loved by their creators.
Hey, I wrote a review that just went live in the Books section of the Huffington Post. A pretty cool thing on this pretty nice Friday.
The book—Clear Skies, Deep Water: A Memoir of Chautauqua—is a find.