I plan to post Part IV of my in-progress, first-draft story, “Joe’s Tales” here tomorrow, but for now I want to wander with a few rambled thoughts.
“Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love reading.”
That’s Scout speaking in the early chapters of Harper Lee’s masterpiece, To Kill A Mockingbird. I’ve been re-reading that book. I don’t always enjoy Pulitzer-prize-winning stories, mostly because I enjoy what I enjoy and awards committees be damned. But this book, if no other, deserved the trophy.
I’ve long admired Truman Capote’s books. Spoiled little man he was, but in spite of all his faults he was a genius. As a young boy and a resident at Yaddo, Saratoga Springs, New York, Capote exuded an arrogant sense of superiority. Then again, when I consider Capote’s origins in Monroeville, Alabama, and the rules he had to break in order to “break in,” I admire the man’s perseverance even as I judge his sense of superiority to have been a ruse most sorely suffered.
The self-destructive end to Truman’s life seems such a waste. He mistook rudeness for courage, and he never forgave himself for the mortal sin. For anyone interested, I recommend George Plimpton’s “oral biography” of Truman.
For anyone not interested, I still recommend George Plimpton’s “oral biography” of Truman Capote.
And so why did I mention Capote? Because I wanted to mention Capote, and because Capote was, of course, a contemporary and a friend to Harper Lee. One of the several films I’ve watched about Capote’s life makes extensive note of Truman’s jealous reaction to Harper Lee when she won the Pulitzer in 1962. I’m not at all surprised by Capote’s envy of another writer’s success, but his apparent cruelty toward a friend seems sad.
We writers, all of us, feel jealous of a fellow writer’s success, unless we’ve owned similar success beforehand. Go ahead and try to deny this fact, but offer your denial to another writer, not to me; I won’t believe you, no matter your insistence. Yes, we join in with the applause, and yes again, we smile for the non-existent cameras, but in our hearts we feel a rush of blood that asks, “Why not me? When will I be recognized for my talent?”
I just now bit into a slice of toast, topped with melted cheese and fresh tomatoes and splashed with Tabasco Sauce. A slop of tomato slid to the floor at my feet. I picked up the slop and ate it, because I still felt hungry and I’m not proud where food’s concerned. I hope this comment adds color to this otherwise self-absorbed bit of literary rumination.
After I die, don’t bother bringing pasta to the party. Instead, bring toast and cheese, and a book I wrote and published, one of the many volumes that won prizes and inspired the envious applause of my fans.
Advice, Advice and more . . . Advice
I picked a copy of To Kill A Mockingbird from a dusty corner of one of the bookshelves inside my study because of a fellow writer’s advice. I’m drawn inside the beginning stages of writing a story — seems it will become a book, not a short story, if I ever complete the work — called Steaming Toward Wildwood. I brought a short piece of that story to a meeting of a local writers’ critique group I recently joined. I enjoy the company of these fellow writers. Matter of fact, I crave the conversation among friends who share a relish for the written word.
One member of the group, a talented scribe in my opinion, said to me about my story, “I wonder what this might sound like if written from the viewpoint of the main character, the child. I mean, you’ve got this omniscient narrator telling the tale right now.”
I listened, I nodded, I smiled. Writers are supposed to smile in the face of constructive criticism. My old skin is tough. I learn by way of listening.
But dammit, I thought, the story *is* written from the child’s point of view.
At home, I took another look. And I was right. And I was wrong. The narrator is not omniscient, but the narrator’s voice is my voice, not that of a young child. I’ll later have to lick my wounds and change the story. Because I want to change it that way, that is. Not because my colleague advised me to change it.
And so to take advice, or not to take advice, that is the question. Or better yet, the question more involves the how, when and why of taking advice.
No matter what one writer says to another, a different writer will inevitably offer an opposing, contradictory opinion. In the end, and in the beginning, and in the in-between, the story, my story, is mine.
Tricky situation, that.
Whether or not I change this particular tale, and if so, then in what manner, I gained. I’m re-reading a gorgeous book because I nibbled on fruit and sipped at a cup of coffee, and I read and listened to other writers reading.
If you’re of a mind these days to read a book on “how to write,” and I hate reading most such books, I recommend (I’m full of recommendations today, aren’t I?) Janet Burroway’s Writing Fiction, A Guide to Narrative Craft. Why make such a recommendation? Because Burroway’s book is readable and enjoyable. It’s not your customary textbook. One can dip in and out today, then dip in again — at a different time and at a different place — and have some fun by way of the reading.
A week or so ago, I attended a local writers’ conference. Most conferences I’ve in the past attended bored and angered me, because they seemed to be little more than advertisements for established writers’ books, and a way to make money by making speeches to wannabe writers.
But this particular conference was different. Local people organized the bash, and did an exemplary job of planning the festivities. Local people, after all, must face each other locally; so folks were friendly and accepting of variety. The workshops I attended both inspired and instigated.
One workshop leader made reference to Burroway’s book. I grew curious, because this workshop leader was a curious sort of person and an established writer, as well.
So I ordered the book. If you look for the same book, do not pay the hefty, sixty-five-dollar price for a new copy. Sixty-five bucks is an excessive price. Instead, I picked up a used copy at powells.com, and the copy is in great shape. I buy a lot of books from powells.com.
One more bit of self-absorbed news before I sign off: On the advice of a friend and fellow writer, yesterday I purchased a portable digital recorder. I plan this weekend to record myself reading a bit of one of my stories. I’ll try to plant the mp3 file on this site (not sure the blogging software will allow such a plant, but I’ll attempt the job).
Thanks for reading.