NVDT Writerly Thoughts – Books

For the next week or so I will try to regain my rhythm from the last six weeks of chaos. And what better topic than books? I fell behind in reviews both random and owed. I can spend time getting caught up with opinion and observation on those and other things while devoting a few minutes a day to fixing what’s in the can.

The books in the photo are the variety I dislike taking to Half Price Books. I shouldn’t, because they fetch more revenue than run of the mill fiction. But in truth, as I have come to learn, they could be of enormous value to anyone who wants to be an “author”. That points directly back to what I have learned about the Indie species and their 8 million books a year (like the 8 million songs a year on pick your streaming). That is the want to be, or by golly I am because I have a cover authors who, without much background or training throw money and effort at what can be an unrewarding, often hostile hobby. Which leads, loosely, into-

I recently read a pair of reviews from the prolific and industrious Robbie at Roberta Writes. One was about some dysfunctional sisters, the other sounded more like fun than psychobabble. I mentioned to her that the sisters book reminded me of Eudora Welty’s “Why I Live at the P.O.”, a work widely anthologized in prominent English texts for (many) years. By an author who won the Pulitzer and runs with the likes of Faulkner, Kate Chopin, Flannery O’Connor. Robbie’s comment was she’d never heard of Welty or the story but would look them up. This on the heels of words about Virginia Woolfe that were on the shady side of superficial (no offense intended). It left me thinking. Holy shit, Virginia Woolfe is like Mozart or Beethoven. And that’s where the last two books on the right would make a huge difference for all the chartered accountants, software and hardware and nuclear engineers, rocket scientists and volleyball coaches and ballroom dancers and medical assistants and geothermal mineral hustlers and rig hands out there who write from a shallow well of exposure. Which isn’t a condemnation, merely an observation. I couldn’t do most any professional gig that didn’t involve audio or niche marketing.

But I’ve read and been beaten with these books since elementary school. Which is when a lot of folks won an award for writing something. Like my daughter who got published in a national anthology of grade school bards for her poem “Goodbye Eight”. It’s pretty cool for an eight-year-old. However, had she not improved she’d never have made it through law school. I say that not to denigrate early acknowledgements, but to put them in perspective. You know, how come, if we were such brilliant kids, there’s not a Pulitzer among us?

That’s why I hate to drop these books off when I’d much rather give them to someone who could use them. Because I know when I cringe at the output of all these “authors” with stars in the eyes and a cacophony of bad writing habits, when I read published short stories with more holes than Swiss Cheese and half a dozen voice changes or is so stiff and formulaic as to resemble stone masonry, that the “author” is not to blame. Nor are these authors bad, stupid people or hopelessly misguided. They are underexposed. If you want to fix race cars you have to learn how to take them apart and put them back together and work. If you want to write a good story, read a thousand. Read them analytically. Study them like a mechanic, not a worshipper. That’s what the sort of books in the picture teach. Like how Woolf collapses time in Mrs. Dalloway or uses musicality in her short stories. I mean disemboweling art is a prerequisite to understanding it.

I had a professor once say to a room full of us aspiring creative correspondents of the human condition, who all squirmed under the reading load of “lit-tra-choore” that the reason we had to read and write and then read and then write was because no matter how clever we thought we were… dig this…”Ladies and gentlemen, it is because you currently approach the process of ‘authorship’ from a broad base of ignorance and an overabundance of conceit.”

To the 8 million new “authors” a year out there, read. Then read academic criticism, which really isn’t criticism. Here’s a great take on short story writing, tone, construction, and Virginia Woolfe. Not only did she work at it, she elevated it. This is how it’s done. By an artist, and someone who understands mechanics on a higher level. https://journals.openedition.org/jsse/690

We can’t all be Virginia Woolfe. Nor should we feel like failures if we aren’t. But we should learn to broaden our base of ignorance and give the story its best shot, regardless of style or genre.

Oops, here’s a PS to all those who think they’ve invented genre bending and world building by taking a little from here and a little from there and invented something “new”. The mechanics for doing exactly that, (along with a LOT of other stuff) with examples, are laid out in the Norton Field Guide. In fact, while I folded clothes on Saturday I watched an example of how that blending and bending can make money and be terrible at the same time. Cowboys and automobiles. The Three Mesquiteers. Jeezus. John Wyne, on horseback, chasing cattle rustlers in trucks. Now would I have known to call that without having expanded my broad base of ignorance? Hell no, I’d have been happy as pig in poop after I dropped my nickel at the cinema.

Go write something. Unlike me, be sure to write something worth reading!


Published by

Phil Huston


10 thoughts on “NVDT Writerly Thoughts – Books”

    1. God didn’t leave anything out. You have taken an innate ability with a story and learned by doing and listening to get your voice under control to the benefit of the stories. And you’ve always known how a scene goes. You would have benefitted early on from someone giving you the “Use a template” speech. As in put this up against something in print. Not for content but mechanics (!!!!!) 🤣 You get the hard part, which is story and logic, from years of transcribing and arranging medical pros mumblings.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I used to read a book a week for most of my adult life. Then something happened to me around the time of the pandemic lockdowns, and I completely lost my concentration for reading. I don’t think I have finished a book I started since early 2020, and can’t seem to shake the malaise.
    So I write stories instead.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve done a rollercoaster ride of reading, as regards length and content and am back with short to mid length works. Since I buy books on the cheap and can resell them I have also gotten in a habit of if the author has shit mechanics that kick me off the page I toss it in the cardboard box of losers and carry on. I also think a lot of it is content dependent. There’s so much “me, too!” Even in traditional publishing.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Since everyone is being quiet, I’m taking this opportunity to ask what assoil is. I feel like I should have noticed that by now, but since I didn’t, I’ll call this “dipping my toes in expanding my ignorance”. Not that I was enduring a short supply. 🤡

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Technically, I think it’s about apologizing, atoning for behavior or performing a biased or half assed investigation. The sign I used is from the Assoil and Gas Limited petroleum company owned by the descendants of a forward thinking, possibly despotic Nigerian Chief. But both fit. Like, “Sorry you got so butt hurt. Rub a little Assoil on it and you’ll feel better.”

      Liked by 2 people

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.