The Pulpy Procreation of Paper

The book that inspired me to write is one of William Faulkner’s earliest, and worst, novels — Mosquitoes. Why?

Long story long, in an English class, the teacher made us memorize and recite Faulkner’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech. The biggest challenge to reciting it was the line:

“It is easy enough to say that man is immortal simply because he will endure: that when the last dingdong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking.”

First of all, good luck finding a teen who wouldn’t snicker at “last dingdong of doom”. After the innuendo, I couldn’t clear the image of a massive mini-cake mowing down skyscrapers. Second, how many clauses can you count? For years, my writing, shaped by reading a ton of Faulkner, had page long sentences with clauses nested within clauses.

My teacher recommended we read more Faulkner, though he specifically warned us against The Sound and the Fury as he thought we were not ready for it. Naturally I went out and read it almost immediately, and of course, it was barely comprehensible to

Admit it, teens, you hate, hate, hate it when adults who are right about your limitations.

OK, I figured. Maybe I can handle some “lighter” Faulkner. I tried Mosquitoes.

It’s not a very good novel. It wanders. There’s no consistent theme. It’s full of stereotypical characters (even at that time). The setting isn’t terribly evocative (most of it takes place on a boat). Plot is haphazard. The attempts at humor fall flat (Faulkner is not exactly known as a humorist).  But the characters rip on each other a lot, the dialogue is snappy, and there’s a really cool, hot girl in it.

In short it was everything my aspiring teen author self thought was awesome writing that I could do. I could be the next William Faulkner!

Uh, no.

So, the American James Joyce launched an obsession that’s still going strong. I’m more and more hesitant to go back and read the crap I wrote back then. There are some diamonds (OK, cubic zirconium) in the rough, but overall, it gets worse by the year. Oh, and a few years ago I re-read Mosquitoes. It actually isn’t as bad as I once thought.

But no way, no how would it have been published today. Other than the mosquitoes, no vampires.

That book may have encouraged me to write, but it was another embarrassingly pulpy book that drove my lifelong alpha geek genre crush on science fiction and fantasy — Passage to Pluto. I’m too embarrassed to re-read that, but I would never have been motivated to start reading Asimov, Clarke, etc. without it.

As I think back to these reading catalysts, I realize my son’s reading has come a long way. At first, as snobbish parents, we discouraged him from reading too many comics and graphic “novels”. His teachers, thankfully, encouraged patience, encouraging us to just keep encouraging him to read more, regardless of what he read. But now, as we see that they did lead him to read more, we’ve eased up. Who knows, maybe Big Nate will inspire my son to become the next Faulkner.


Deja Lu

My son, who just turned ten, responded to my questions about a book with a quote from his school librarian:

“The first time you read a book, read it for pleasure. The second time you think about what the author is saying. The third time, you figure out what you want from the book.”

I wish I had learned that in fourth grade. Maybe I did and just forgot (Ha! to re-read whatever book that bit of wisdom is in).

Kidding aside, that way of reading is intuitive — at first. The reading bug bit me pretty early. By the time I was in first grade, I’d at least flipped my way through the family encyclopedia, marking the chapters I intended to go back and re-read with tissue paper (sorry, Mom). When I got older, I had little libraries all over the house (and yes, that included the bathrooms, though no toilet paper bookmarks). The nightstand drawer held the current books, and the most frequent re-reads.

But as I got older and time to read became more limited, I started to read less for pleasure and more for “business”. I needed to know what the author was saying the moment after I read it so I could go on and do something else: study for the science test, shoot some baskets, daydream about how to impress the cute girl I was way too shy to even introduce myself to, etc.

Then the moment came when I decided reading and writing was my vocation. I went to college knowing I was going to major in English. Since it was going to be my business, there was even less time for pleasure. And I had to adjust my reading for that added challenge. What was I going to write about what I read?

I’d unlearned step one, then I went into a profession where there is very little pleasure expected in reading. Now, almost full circle as a writer, I still skip step one of reading. A beautiful turn of phrase still makes me gasp out loud, but there’s no time to savor it.

“What a startling metaphor. I wonder how I could do something similar with. . .” or “that’s a very effective characterization, I hope she’ll carry that through and build on it as the plot turns” or “Shoot, I hope I didn’t write anything that clunky sounding” or “I should email that to the critique group, it would really help K’s novel,” etc.

I’m going to learn from my son. I’m going back to step one. But becoming a writer means taking that full circle. The close analysis, the potential of learning craft and opening the creative mind to new ideas, that all important step three, is going to be part of the pleasure of reading.

Now all I have to do is get my son to re-read Because of Winn-Dixie so we can talk about it. I can’t wait.

It Was on Page 3 of a Google Search

It’s tough to start a blog. Especially when your daughter is reading over your shoulder nixing every opening sentence. Except this one.

Technically, author blogs are supposed to be marketing tools: a searchable way for readers, agents and editors to see your writing capabilities, your interests, your day job, your favorite books,  your family and friends, where you live. . .

Oops, somewhere in there, I crossed over into straight up social media. And susceptibility to stalkers.

So, why blog? Most of what I could post here has been mentioned somewhere on the internet. Perspective is irrelevant. Wordplay is irrelevant. My posts will be assimilated. Any distinctiveness I offer will be added to the collective.

That’s what I thought when I first started this post. But like this guy,  I understand now it’s all about context. The possibilities of someone in my exact circumstances writing exactly what I have are so infinitesimally small, it’s miraculous. What’s even more wondrous? The tiny, but significant, chance that you’re the one reading this right now.

So I can’t disappoint you.  I’ve got to put stuff on this blog to take advantage of those possibilities. I’ve got to dodge memes like. . .Bloggers gonna blog, writers gonna write. Keep calm and blog on, etc.

I’ve got to aim for page 3 of a google search.

No recipes. No How-to’s. No inspirational (or depressing) messages. No cutesy stories about my kids, odes to my wife, my hobbies, etc. All those things belong on social media, right?

Instead, you’ll find samples of my writing, tributes to spectacular language/authors, book recommendations, requests for book recommendations (once enough of you follow me), writing journaling (i.e. elation and angst), writing questions, great book ideas (probably from my creative wife), and anything any of you request I blog about.

And if I slip in something wacky and deep that my son said, please forgive me.

Good enough, girl? OK, good night. Go to bed.