For the last month I’ve been cleaning out my files and tossing out papers. It’s taken me this long because I do the inevitable—I stop to read each one. And, of course, now that the plumber is here we have to take a few minutes to talk about what each of us is reading. I’m reading Red Dawn: Best New England Crime Stories (2016) and he’s reading the history of John Adams. We discussed a quote from Thomas Hutchinson, the governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, on how hard it is to govern those who don’t want to be. Hmm. Sounds familiar.
One pile of loose papers is the accumulation of numerous workshops and presentations from conferences over the years. There’s quite a range: selected pages from “The Seven Decisions That Create a Novel” and several others on the topic of structure. For a high-brow version, I turn to “Ageless Wisdom and the Hero’s Journey in Story and Myth,” but the information floats along the same path.
For my practical problems I kept an article from The Third Degree on “Fifty ways to catch your killer.”
While writing it’s good to keep in mind some basic rules, and a two-part article in the Guardian lists the “ten rules for writing fiction” given by each of several writers. The writers include Elmore Leonard, Margaret Atwood, Hilary Mantel, and Joyce Carol Oates.
But I am nothing if not optimistic, and also in the pile of dusty handouts is one called “Keeping Track—Submissions.” The article includes a short list of social media sites to send announcements to. The list ends with “Add anyone/anyplace you can think of to this list.” Helpful, in its way. Nancy Cohen provided an excellent “Promotion Checklist” in Nancy’s Notes from Florida back in 2012.
I also have a blog post by Kyle Wiens from the Harvard Business Review titled “I Won’t Hire People Who Use Poor Grammar. Here’s Why.” I love the opening line: “If you think an apostrophe was one of the 12 disciples of Jesus, you will never work for me.”
In “The Best Book Reviews Money Can Buy,” by David Streitfeld, I found this quote from The New Yorker writer Joseph Mitchell. In 1964, he wrote, “If there was anything the human race had a sufficiency of, a sufficiency and a surfeit, it was books.” I must have kept the article just for that quote. Still, that didn’t stop me from buying more books, especially those maligned by others. Anis Shivani posts a list of “The 15 Most Overrated Contemporary American Writers” in 2010, and of course I made a list and made sure to read at least one book by each writer. Some of my favorites here are Michael Cunningham, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Amy Tan.
And because I need a laugh when I’m stuck in the middle of a story, I kept this: “Tom’s Glossary of Book Publishing Terms,” by Thomas Christensen. This little gem offers definitions such as this one: “Advance: A secret code signalling to the marketing department whether or not to promote a title.” There’s more. “Plagiarism: Research,” or “Trade Paperbacks: What readers do instead of purchasing new books.”
Near the bottom of the pile is a copy of the kind of article I used to keep when I was still a graduate student. “Creative Writers and Day-Dreaming,” in The Complete Works of Sigmund Freud,” translated by James Strachey (first delivered as a lecture in 1907). Freud is trying to understand why not everyone who daydreams can be a writer, and to identify the essential element in the creative person. He gets lost in talking about fantasies, and writers emerge as essentially unknowable. But he tried hard.
I kept one article solely because I love what it has to say about an author I also love. Under a color drawing of George Orwell holding a copy of The Shining hidden inside Tolstoy’s War and Peace, with a stack of books beside him on the floor, is this caption: “Orwell had a weakness for escapist fiction, for ‘good bad books.’ “ What can I say? I love Orwell’s books.
By the time I finished this post my plumber had finished his task and I gladly gave him a check. I also gave him two mysteries to read. All in all, a very productive and pleasant morning. I close out with a comic strip. (Yes, I save jokes too.)