Sunday, August 19, 2007

After the bite, there is no cure...

"I'm not a very good writer, but I'm an excellent rewriter." James Michener

Every writer has inside her the vast ocean of words she has gulped down during her descent into the deep. Which writers' words are yours?

The first writer whose words I truly fell in love with is James Michener. No, not his TALES FROM THE SOUTH PACIFIC, but THE FIRES OF SPRING and his enormous THE SOURCE. While the former offered an eloquent tale of one man's journey into adulthood, the latter pitched historical truths that let me wrap my head around the fact that real people have left their footprints in the dusts of the aging Earth and the rest of us who stumble along behind manage to mimic those footfalls.

Yet just as nothing really changes, it is at once altogether different. Michener had his own tales to tell just as every writer has.

One of the saddest interviews I ever did was with a man who followed the career of another of my favorite Storytellers: John D. MacDonald. This man related that he, too, had been a writer, but after reading so much of John D.'s stories, he knew he could never achieve that standard of storytelling, so he just quit writing. I'm certain John D. would never have wanted that.

The best writers I know are also some of the most supportive. Joe R. Lansdale, who is probably closest to being this generation's Mark Twain in storytelling, offered his congratulations to me when I had my very first story published. "Now take the next step," he wrote. "Write another story."

Ed Gorman, one of the most prolific and soul-seering writers I am honored to know, is also one of the most giving and encouraging booster to young (or even old) writers. But, like all the others named above, his written words teach more than he could ever tell. No one puts the slush and crunch into describing snow quite like Ed.

I might not have stumbled upon John D., Joe R., or Ed if it hadn't been for Dean Koontz. I was writing a story that involved brainwashing. Not having any first-hand experiences with brainwashing, I did research. Under "subject" came "fiction," listing a title by this Koontz guy, whose work I had never touched because he wrote -- spit, spit -- horror! (I was very into Melville, Conrad, James, Twain, and Crane.) I bit the nail and fell madly in love with his storytelling abilities. I had to know more which led to more of his books as well as his biography and a companion book. In his biography, he noted how he fell madly in love with the Travis McGee novels and especially the Gold Medal paperbacks of John D. MacDonald. Besides digging into the McGee books and the rest, I also found an Introduction Koontz had written for some Texas writer who could have been a Tator King if he hadn't decided he just had to write (Joe R. Lansdale) and a story of a visit to that companion Koontz volume editor who lived in Cedar Rapids, IA (Ed Gorman).

There's a pattern here, isn't there?

The next thing I knew I was knee-deep in the horror community, still writing what I write: dark fantasy. More writers came my way: Brian A. Hopkins (one of the most gifted storytellers I know), Jean Rabe (I sooooo would like to be in her mind for just a day just to see those amazing worlds of hers!), Dave Silva (write MORE, please!), and the master of all living storytellers: Gene Wolfe.

I'd be remiss to not mention Ray Bradbury. I've been reading this master's work since I was young. And Flannery O'Connor, Shirley Jackson, James Morrow, and...

My point is that to write one has to sit down on the chair and WRITE. But first, and most importantly, one has to read. And read. And read.

And then write and write and write.


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