Closing Out on a Dead Horse

Only occasionally is Stephen King my favorite fiction author. However, when it comes to writing or pontificating about writing he is never anything less than exceptional.  The quotes, and there are many, are always memorable. (But, of course they’re memorable, or why else would I call them “The quotes”?) One of my favorites is, “If you don’t have time to read, then you don’t have time to write.” I can’t say for sure what he meant by that, but I do know that writing is communication and that reading helps you better understand the craft of communication.

Being tone-deaf allows me the privilege of thinking of myself as something of a musician. Being a  hapless musician the best I can hope for is to accidentally stumble across what real musicians know as the perfect sound. It is a sound so pure that it can be felt by the musician and the audience alike. It owns all who are able to hear it. It evokes a feeling that you want to hold on to for as long as you can.  (This can sometimes result in over-indulgent guitar solos by hack bands. The writers analogy, I believe, would be purple prose.)

With my writing, my purpose is not too dissimilar from that of the musician. I’m attempting to capture that perfect mix of words that will create a moment where the reader can actually feel beyond the words. My hope is to elicit a visceral response equivalent to that of the perfect sound. I want to awaken a buried memory in the service of whatever tale it is that I am trying to tell. And I’m hoping that I can create the emotional connection within the reader that will transport them to someplace that they want to hold on to for as long as they possibly can.

This brings me back to the beginning and the Stephen King quote. In order to learn the craft we must, of course, write, write, write, but we also need to read, read, read in order to understand the many nuances of the craft that we hope to master. (With any luck I’ll improve as a writer and look back on these words and want to puke; I’m hoping that day won’t be tomorrow.)  I’ll close out this blog with some observations comments regarding my two most recently read books. Although they are the “Dead Horse” of the title that is in no way a meant as a comment regarding either of them.  These books have had varying degrees of success in evoking visceral responses in me. I almost hated one and had to struggle to complete it. I loved the other. I enthusiastically suggest them both to writers interested in mastering the craft.

Ray Bradbury’s “Something Wicked This Way Comes” was really difficult for me to get through. The term “purple prose” was probably invented for this book.  Bradbury spends a lot of words fondly reconstructing various moments of what must have been his Norman Rockwell-like youth. But, as much as I hated these diversions from anything resembling a plot, many of these isolated moments worked. They felt as vivid as my own dreams. I felt what it was like to be that kid, in that tree, at that moment in time. The touch, smell and visuals all felt right, but just like a real dream they didn’t hold together for long and quickly dissolved into nothingness. Many times I felt as though the plot, such as it was, was held together more by my determination to finish this book than anything written. Still, all of the individual poetic moments in this book both inspired and cautioned my own ambitions. The inspiration was in finding the courage to write to sentimental excess in order to reveal the greater meaning in the everyday occurrences  that we often take for granted; the cautionary note is the knowledge that sometimes a thesaurus can be a really bad thing to have at your side.

The second book I’ll mention is David Mitchell’s “Cloud Atlas”. In its telling “Cloud Atlas” is more conventional than “Something Wicked…” However, instead of getting caught up in small moments the story weaves a much larger landscape that is virtually impossible to describe as it spans past and future generations with only the hint of a link. Unlike “The DaVinci Code” which tells a very linear tale, and is a good read in spite of all the cheap-shots its endured, the impact of “Cloud Atlas” is received only its conclusion and as the sum of all its parts hit you face on. It is the perfect note, the one that many musicians and writers have been chasing after for hundreds of years, seldom with only fleeting success. And that is what I, as a writer, try – so far not to my satisfaction – to do.