"I never desire to converse with a man who has written more than he has read."
During the World Horror Convention in Seattle in 2001, I had the honor of serving as the official hostess for the Horror Writers Association's hospitality suite. Thanks to the kind assistance of my friend Monica O'Rourke, we managed to pack in a whole lot of fun in the few days we occupied the host hotel. From the yummy breakfast fare we offered just after 8 a.m. to the overnight Speakeasy (sponsored by San Francisco's Borderlands Books owner Alan Beatts), the flow of convention-goers stayed brisk, and the HWA snagged quite a fair number of new members.
One highlight was the giveaway of new books by Cemetery Dance Publications which included copies of Richard Laymon's The Traveling Vampire Show which won a Bram Stoker Award at that very convention. (Sadly, Laymon, who had been President of the HWA, died of a heart attack a few months before.)
As the convention wound down and most all the books had been given away, I managed to catch a few minutes relaxation in the sunny atrium and share some laughs with friends Brian A. Hopkins and Gene O'Neill. Several anxious attendees drew our attention as they made a beeline out of the suite to our little group.
"Is it okay if we have the rest of the books on the table?"
Since I'd left them there with a huge sign indicating they were free, I merely nodded.
A few minutes later, one of the happy campers barreled back out with Dick's book in his hand. "Is he here? Is the author here?" he asked. "I'd like him to sign it."
I was stunned. Laymon's death had been big news, especially among the fans of horror. You know, people who would be attending this convention. Plus, he'd been one of the Guests of Honor and his picture was plastered everywhere.
When I broke the news to the poor guy, he merely shrugged it off. "Well, I guess I didn't know. I write horror. I don't actually read it."
It's been eleven years now, but his statement has haunted me more than zombies or ghosts (and I could fill your ears with my St. Augustine experiences!).
But this guy isn't alone. Just last year I met a writer who boasts that he doesn't read Science Fiction even though he has published at least one book and is working on another.
How in the world do they know? That's the question that niggles at me. How do they know the definitive works in their genres? How could they possibly appreciate the roads they travel when they haven't taken the time or energy to read the works of not only of the masters, but their supposed colleagues?
How do they grow as writers?
And how do they stay away from the hum and trill, the feather and dance of words conveying some fanciful tale.
I confess I can't imagine life without words. To me, that would not be life at all.
I've thumbed through the notebook where I carefully pencil in words and thoughts and quotes, searching for one I recall where a writer should read four books for every book written. Maybe I can't find it because my honest reaction was "only four?"
Here are some recommendations of books I've read in the past few months:
Roger Rosenblatt's Unless it Moves the Human Heart (a fine, fine book on writing)
Mike Mullen's Ashfall (A super volcano erupts at Yellowstone)
Moira Young's Blood Red Road (a young girl searches for her brother)
James W. Hall's Dead Last (his latest Thorn adventure)
Sarah Dunant's Sacred Hearts (Two nuns: one younger; one older. Each with a secret.)
That's more than four to one. Let's see, do I owe you a book or do you owe me one?