has posted her Writer's Manifesto. And although I believe the advice Never trust anything that needs a manifesto, I had to dip my hand in. But then, she is a real, published writer, with a book out and another to come. She is my hero.
I've never been a snob about books, and will read any genre, any kind of book. That is mostly from shelving everything in a library. They passed through my hands, and I sifted through for anything that caught my eye. I cannot remember most of the books I've read, never bothered to remember authors until long after I'd read massive booktrucks worth. And yet, each one laid a layer of story onto my mind, added a facet to my life. Now, I can barely make myself read, even the ones I've read over and over. The ones I love. As I try to learn to write a novel.
The books I love, and have loved, have all had characters that I wanted to spend even more time with. Winnie the Pooh, Encyclopedia Brown, Ramona, Miss Marple, George Smiley, Cordelia Naismith, Granny Weatherwax, Bilbo Baggins, Philip Marlowe, Ford Prefect, Lord Peter Whimsey, others whose names are lost, but I would welcome them back into my life gladly. Idiots, the self obsessed, the utterly selfish, cheaters, liars, the mean and petty, are fine for conflict, but I don't want to feel obliged to like them, to spend too much time with them, not have them as the main character. I won't. Flawed, yes. Misguided or inexperienced, certainly. But if they gain no wisdom, and persist in blindness and stupidity, betrayal and greed, cruelty and violence, I want my time back. I know this is not what real life often dishes out, but this is why I want those stories, to hope on, to aspire to, to live for. I don't need shocking controversy, lurid intrigue and dangerous sex. I want humanity, and most folks doing the best they can with what they have.
The books I love have humor, even in the darkest moments. Le Carre makes me laugh out loud in the midst of disaster, "Jesus Christ only had twelve, and one of them was a double." Turns of phrase that surprize and amuse. Thick in Pratchett's fine novels, thinner, but still visible in Jane Austin, Christopher Moore's raunchy raucous humor overshadows the uneven quality of his work, for me. I love a light touch, wit and a wry peek. I consider humor to be indispensable to intelligence or sanity, and humorless authors infuriate me. I have been known to inflict such grim books with violence against walls, at high speed and with extreme prejudice.
The books I love languish in language. Eva Figes writes poetry in prose form, John Mortimer's imagery, Tolkien's experiments in linguistics. Chandler couldn't plot, but such twisty, funny verbiage, oh I forgive him much for that. I have tried to read authors with journalistic simpleness, and always feel manhandled, bored and angry at their dull cliches. I lose interest in their story, because they don't bother to search for better words to tell it with. More words, re-woven into new cloth, or spare words perfectly chosen and stark against a faint wash. It's not the style, but the intention, and attention. Lao Tsu's few words carry the whole world lightly.
The books I love teach me, challenge me, force me to see life from a different viewpoint. The Death of Attila by Cecelia Holland (one of those workhorse authors) opened my eyes to another realm. Ok, yes, there was some sex. But her very commercial historical romances caught my interest in history and the wider world. Grendel by John Gardener, all the Curdie books, Robinson Crusoe, Gabriel Garcia Marquez - all, The Trumpeter of Krakow, Bury Me Standing, Watership Down. Every book that asks more of me, expects me to think and see through other eyes, has changed how I look at the world.
The books I love end well. I read one, very enjoyable most of the way through, until the end. Which was stupid and wrong, shocking, but wrong. But then, Frank Herbert never could end a story, and Soul Catcher was my first hated book. I swore to never read another by him, and I never did. I got roped into watching the movie Dune, and I regret it to this day. On the other hand, Stephen King wrote Cujo, a plotted series of dominos that lead to the same ending, the death of a young boy, but it could not have ended any other way. I don't need a happy ending, but the right one, or at least a hopeful one. I object to authors murdering characters to get out of a bad plotline, but I have no issue with characters dying as an inevitable consequence of the story. It's a matter of internal consistency. I want most of the threads untangled, though no contrived miracles, and a few mysteries left over is the linger of a pleasant aftertaste.
What do I promise my readers? What can I promise? Less than I would like to offer.
I can endeavor to write characters that fascinate, but who are warm and human, and striving to live well. I want a light touch, a smile, a laugh, trusting my own amusement will leak through. I search for the right word, the evocative phrase, the subtlety of not spelling everything out - in triplicate, trusting to reader's intelligence. I can only offer my own experience, which is different enough from most people to qualify, I hope. I work hard to make the story whole, and end hopefully, and with a sense of rightness and completion, without gluing down every line.
I have not gotten the grasp of any of this, but I can just about touch it.
More editing in March.