Tag Archives: reading

Reading to be Write

Reading is to writing like water is to a fish. A couple years ago I realized that, somewhere around my middle thirties, all my reading had metamorphosed from fiction and poetry to research and essays. I was reading thick tomes on Ancient Egypt and the Wild West with a collector’s avidity and little focus on the writing. The irony is that my abandonment of reading fiction coincided with my eager beavering at writing fiction. I was reading to learn about the places and periods that inspired me to write.

It took me a while to realize that I was no longer in touch with the storytellers that had created a love of literature in me in the first place. A couple years back I pledged to make the time to read novels and short stories again. I decided that as a writer I need to breathe in and absorb the work of other artists; not to mimic them but to learn from and be inspired by them.

As a kid I totally absorbed the classics and many of the great writers of the last couple of centuries from Dostoevsky, to Dickens, to Hardy. I read Lord of the Rings about ten times (yes I was that geeky child) before the age of sixteen. As an adult I have had far more difficulty getting into novels. I’m still looking for good writing but I also need good stories and a lot of modern novelists of the literary variety leave me cold – yes, I’m that kind of luddite. I still believe in story and plot. It’s all style and in the head when I want something to actually happen. So from the classics of my youth I have been reading more along the lines of Stephen King and Elmore Leonard.

Much as I admire King’s storytelling ability and craftsmanship (and have tried to absorb the lessons in writing that he can deftly apply) he can be lacking in the sheer beauty of words. Elmore Leonard is the king of ‘spare’ dry bones fiction and I’m finding that isn’t what I want either. It’s highly praised by editors and other writers at this moment in time, but I consider it just one style and just one possibility and not necessarily the pinnacle of literary mastery. I recently read No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy and it was excellent – the writing both hard edged and lyrical at the same time. McCarthy is an author that inspires me to be a better writer, and to pick up more of his books.

The key to reading fiction in order to learn to write better yourself is to read more thoughtfully. It doesn’t mean you have to lose the rhythm of the story. It’s more akin to enjoying fine wine. You just don’t pour it into a jelly jar and gulp it down; you breathe in the aroma, sifting through the myriad scents, sip, roll it over your tongue, and then drink that baby all up. Feel free to mark passages that strike you. Query word choices that pull you up short and take you out of the story. Go back and read excellent bits again.

You should even feel free to mimic as a writing exercise, just remembering that all this reading and even mimicry is just a passage to finding your own style and rhythm.

So which writers inspire you? I would love to hear back from you all – so that I can find other gems and continue on my literary journey of discovery.


Research and Socializing at Pan Historia

One of the distinctive features at the Pan Historia collaborative writing site that I haven’t covered too much in my blogs is the section that we like to call the ‘Reference Library’. Back when Pan was created the theme was definitely of a library. We even used a color scheme that was vellum for interior pages and a green leather background for dust jacket style pages. Eventually the theme loosened up due to the way that the members used the site, but there are still many remnants of the library scheme remaining – like the ‘reference books’ that populate the reference section of Pan.

Reference books are a collection of bulletin boards similar in design to our ‘novels’ but devoted to the discussion of various topics, as well as the dissemination of links, books, and ideas from around the internet. They are a place to kick back with friends and talk about some of the stuff that fascinates you. For instance I am a member of Black & Blue for the discussion of true crime, crime drama, and forensics because I like to write my cop character Red King. I’m also a member of Wild West for the discussion of western history. This book is very handy. When I’m looking for info for one of my posts I might pop over there, but I often find myself posting to share something I have found that I figure will be of interest to other writers. Of course writers can also find more than just reference. We have The Writer’s Block and The Tenth Muse for discussing writing and for poetry respectively.

I recently joined in our Fleur-de-lis reference book to talk about my adventures in gardening. Theoretically I can see that on occasion, as a fiction writer, I might want to find out about a garden plant, but honestly I just joined so I could talk about my plants and hang out with other people in the community that like to garden. There are other books to talk about movies or music, or various periods in history. Our reference books round out the activities on Pan Historia in a very meaningful way: from the purely social to the scholarly, to just being a handy tool for fleshing out your fiction writing.

Not all the people that are drawn to Pan Historia as a community are fiction writers. The Reference Library is a way for them to read and discussion things that interest them, along with the games and general chit chat that is often a signature of the site’s central hub pages. It’s not really a surprise considering how many people first start browsing the internet and using it for more than email by researching a question they have or a topic they are fascinated with. The community at Pan Historia gives them a social aspect to their interests.

Top it all off with an instant messaging system and you’ll never be alone or lacking in things to do or read at Pan Historia. Of course no site is ever perfect and Pan Historia is not excluded from that rule. It’s an ongoing work of social media art as far as I’m concerned and one of the things I would like to see happen is MORE in the Reference Library. Pan also has a blog section but after several years of seeing it in action I realize that blogs, being sort of solitary, are not really the most effective method of interactive at Pan. One of the things I used to include in my blog there was my gardening adventures, but it was sort of static, and static is not what I sign on to Pan for so I moved my focus to the Fleur-de-lis reference book and I’m already have more fun because I’m getting into discussions about my passions.


Book Breeding

A weird thing has happened to me. In the course of my new move, for reasons outside of my control, all of my books are now in a storage unit, packed at the back behind furniture and other assorted heavy objects. I will need, at some point, to break into this unit, with its similarity to King Tutankhamen’s tomb before it got cleared out, in order to access my copious western research as well as my all important computer techie library.

For the time being, though, I’m stuck in this weird bookless limbo that is both strangely compelling and disturbingly empty. It may cause me to succumb to the allure of the Kindle 2 or the Sony Reader that much sooner (though part of me just wants to hold out for my iPhone when my current phone contract ends). Meanwhile I have four books. I have The Audacity of Hope by our current President, two new westerns I picked up at Borders (new to me, not new to publishing – both are classics), and a western mystery, part of the Holmes on the Range series.

It’s kind of like one of those dreams where you arrive at school and you realize you forgot to get dressed that morning and now you’re in front of all your classmates completely naked. I’m not sure why being bookless feels that way, but it does. It’s both terrifying and liberating at the same time. I never intend to stop reading. I love books. I enjoy literature. I adore historical research through diverse periods. I want my art books so I can peruse the best the world has to offer right from the comfort of my own home.

But, good Galactic Bill and the Stainless Steel Rat, books are heavy sons of bitches. They weigh a ton, fill up many cartons, and then line your walls, demanding acres of bookcases (which also have to be carried). Perhaps if I was a naturally sedentary beast and never moved an inch but settled in one place, rooted like a tree (and not a tumbleweed), it wouldn’t be an issue, but I don’t see my tumbling throttling down just yet. The current apartment is a dream come true, but not an everlasting dream of contentment and retirement.

My bet is that, no matter how hard I try or even if I do get some form of e-book reader, that by the time I leave this place, whether or not I have transported books from storage to here, I will still be carting a couple hundred pounds of books out of here. Four books is quite a good start for any book breeding colony. They’re like rabbits you know.


The Electronic Book Revolution: A Personal View

This year my offspring gave me a Nintendo DS for Christmas with the little mini Zelda adventure on it.  I admit I’m having fun.  I also like the size of the contraption and the little stylus to control the action by touching the screen.  I’m enjoying it so much that last night I had an amazing thought: if I like this little gizmo so much how would it be to read a book on one?  Or something similar as I have no idea what a Kindle or Sony Reader looks like or any other electronic book reader.

Now if you knew me and mine you would know incredibly revolutionary this thought is.  I may have been one of the first people on the planet to own a computer, but I only succumbed to either a laptop or a cell phone this last couple of years, and only this morning did I become the proud owner of an iPod for the first time in my life.  It was an anniversary gift.

I love books.  I love the weight, the texture, the feel, the scent of them.  I love the way that the black ink print looks on the creamy or yellowing pages.  I love paper.  I love the musty used bookstore smell of old paperbacks.  I love the artwork on the cover and I love to handle books and I love the look of a wall full of bookshelves full of books.

Replacing all that with a little handheld electronic device?  Can I enjoy this?  Will it satisfy my aesthetic sensibilities and my sensual pleasure in reading?  More importantly how tangible is it?  If I were to publish my novel would I feel like I have a book out if it was just puffs of ethereal pixels that I can’t even see?

When I consider all these things, my Luddite self battling with my geek self, I remember that the vast majority of my authorial outpourings have always been published electronically and these days I do the majority of my reading online.  Where is the difference?  Furthermore how many trees could I save and how much easier to move without fifty cartons of books to hump around?  Could I just reserve for my book collection art books and reference?  The old beautifully bound book of poetry?  Perhaps paper books become works of art in of themselves and the rest can fit on my electronic reader.

Of course the wheels of change can move quickly, or it might be a while before I take the plunge, but the thought is there and the journey begun.