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.

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