Monday, September 20, 2010

Rhythms and Methods

"I'm a poet who also writes crime novels. One foot on the high road, one in the gutter. It makes for a lovely stride." James W. Hall "Poets Sinks to Crime," an essay in HOT DAMN!

Ah, yes, I'm still savoring the finely crafted writings of James W. Hall. Oh, I finished all his novels and his book of essays and even a few of his poems and short stories. Now, I'm rereading in what I call "Judi order": how the themes work best.

I did the same with John D. MacDonald. When I finished his final Travis McGee book, THE LONELY SILVER RAIN, I reopened THE DEEP BLUE GOODBYE. And I was stunned to find parallels. Things mentioned at the last that had been mentioned in the first. But most of all, I found Travis McGee a richer character because I knew who he had become all those years later.

The same is true of Hall's Thorn. When I finished reading his latest Thorn adventure, SILENCER, I pitched myself back inside the pages of his debut, UNDER COVER OF DAYLIGHT. Great trip. Happily, Hall is again traisping through an adventure with his best know character in his own writing process.

But the arc I'm enjoying is with his Alexandra Collins character: BODY LANGUAGE (a stand alone novel), BLACKWATER SOUND, OFF THE CHART, and MAGIC CITY (these are Thorn novels).

As for my own writing, I'm 25k into a story outside my four-part HERITAGE series, though my evening writing times are devoted strictly to what I call H2, the second book in the Daniel and Johanna epic. I find it's not easy shifting back and forth because my characters jostle too hard for center stage in my mind.

The Hall readings have made me understand how important it is to do works outside a series. As much as I love the Thorn adventures, I find Hall's stand alones to be so very rich. I can see how they stretch him creatively. That's what I'm after: growth as a writer.

Meanwhile I about to box up HERITAGE and post it to the appropriate party. Big step here as I gulp down my fears. Feedback has been very encouraging and strong from my reliable first readers. Heck, I'm no newbie. I have stories published in several respected anthologies. So, we'll see...

Writer L. McKenna Donovan notes at her fine site that writers often "self-sabotage." I think she's absolutely right.

For me, I'm out of here, fitting my own feet in different places, setting my own stride. If it is odd, if I limp, then I like to imagine I'm in good company. Imagining is what I love doing.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

From One Word Lover to Another

I haven't decided if mingling with other writers is a good or bad thing. I also haven't decided whether playing a lone wolf is any good either. Writing is certainly a solitary endeavor. Yet, if a writer stays cloistered in her den then is it any surprise all her stories are about characters cloistered in a den/castle/spaceship/cabin/etc.? Kind of like all the country songs about lonely country boys picking up lonely country girls in bars where country singers sing.


As I indicated in my last post while I'm hammering away on new words and scenes for TOUCHING LEAVES and EPIPHANY and working on the dreaded synopsis for HERITAGE for my leap into submissionville, I've been reading the works of James W. Hall.

Hall writes thrillers and essays and poems. His novels include those written with his continuing character Thorn, a minimalist who cherishes the environment and follows the simple rules where people should be kind to one another. He fashions fishing lures and lives with few possessions. But, boy, does trouble find that guy!

I'm only just now heading into his others fictional pieces. I have read BODY LANGUAGE, but I cheated because I knew Alex Collins and her dad Lawton Collins, who appear in three Thorn books, are the main characters. I've just begun ROUGH DRAFT.

Finding Hall's poems is a rich man's journey because I simply can't afford any of the four volumes he's published. But I did catch the four poems he had posted on his old website. Liked very much what I read.

Though I've read only a few of his short stories, I have found myself thoroughly enjoying the essays he collected in HOT DAMN!

Turns out Hall and I have lots in common. He's originally from Hopkinsville, KY, a place just a spit down HWY 41 from where I live in Indiana. Oddly, it's a place my family and I travel through on our way to one of our favorite places: Florida. That's where Hall felt driven to live. I fully understand. The only other place I'd like to live is North Carolina, which just happens to be where Hall and his wife have a second home.

One of his essays discusses going back to read books that had an impact on him in his formative years. I do that quite often, and have found myself being sorely disappointed. Melville's BILLY BUDD and Conrad's LORD JIM were two very important books for me along with James' THE TURN OF THE SCREW, Crane's RED BADGE OF COURAGE, Twain's HUCK FINN, and Lee's TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. Plus, every Ian Fleming James Bond novel I could check out on my mom's library card.

It seems every essay of Hall's I read I can relate to. So though I'm merely sitting here in the corner of my Indiana kitchen, I'm connecting with another word wrestler. Hardly an equal. His prose hits harder than mine. He's been at it longer and is no doubt a lot smarter. But in a simple way that maybe his Thorn could understand and appreciate, we can at least sit at the same table.

My mornings begin with making the coffee and getting breakfast ready for my husband, but my day never begins well unless I get to read a bit. My matins or morning prayer comes with opening one of Billy Collins' books of poetry. I read at least two, letting his fine, sharp knife peel back the gristle and flick away the fat rendering the fine succulent meat.

But the other day, I had a few extra minutes and beyond those poems I read a few paragraphs of Hall's latest, SILENCER. And I was struck by how Hall had somehow snuck in and wielded a similar fine, sharp knife, peeling away gristle and fat.

Hall has said he doesn't write poetry any more. Pffff, Grammy Maevie, a character of mine would say. It's niggled its way into his prose and the dear can't help it.

Alas, all these years later, the words I feel so madly in love with, offered out to me by James and Twain and Melville and Crane and Fleming and Conrad and Lee and Bradbury and all the others may have a different meaning for me now than they did then, but they remain unchanged as each author intended. As each author carefully nipped and tucked and sweated and searched and peeled and cobbled. Teaching as they pass along to another silly person who hears the voices and sees the lush scenery in the mind. Prickled by too many thoughts not to write them down, not to toss out the characters and allow them to suck in the sweet air of life.

Funny. Maybe a writer's life is so much less lonely than we imagine or pretend. As Wavy Gravy at Woodstock said, "Chew a bit and pass it on."

So thank you, Storytellers who have been brave enough to pass their words my way: John D. MacDonald, Ray Bradbury, David Morrell, James Michener, Mary Shelley, Flannery O'Connor, Ed Gorman, Gene Wolfe, Joe R. Lansdale, Andrew Vachss, David B. Silva, Brian A. Hopkins, Jean Rabe. And most recently, James W. Hall.

Thank you for the gift of your words.