. . . that long black period from your birth to the day you discovered reading.
Adair Lara: “You Know You’re a Writer When”
To start this off, let me just say that I love books. I love the look of them. I love the feel of them and the smell of them. (did you know booksellers say that Harlequins smell slightly of vanilla?) I love holding them and sorting them. I am surrounded by books. They are overflowing my book cases. They are stacked on the table, and floor, around both my recliner in the living room and the reading chair in my bedroom. I have them on my Kindle and on my phone. Sometimes I even read them.
Who am I kidding? I read them all the time. I have a sort of a rule that I won’t read more than two books on any given day, but that mainly refers to novellas. I will occasionally read two novellas in one day, but I try to pace myself. I rarely read an entire novel in one day, except for certain authors. I will usually finish an Amanda Quick novel in less than a day, but that’s not hard as her books are printed with a lot of extra space on the pages. I suspect that a three-hundred page A. Q. novel could be printed on two-hundred pages if they filled up all that white space.
Oh, I also usually read a J. D. Robb novel in less than a day, but that’s because I skip of lot of what’s in them. I know about Dallas’s nightmares and Roark’s nightmarish childhood and don’t need to share those experiences in every book. I got it, okay, let’s move on to the story. Oh, and I also just kinda skim the sex scenes – there are almost always two of them per novel and usually make up about two chapters. I will hold my thoughts on sex scenes in general for a later date, it’s enough to say right now that the J. D. R. books can be finished much more quickly without all the angst and orgasms.
While I have always been a reader I don’t have any recollections of being read to as a small child. I do remember that my mother got me a subscription for Donald Duck comic books, which I received either once a month or once a week – I don’t recall the frequency. When I was four years old I was very jealous of my cousin who was a year older and was in kindergarten. I would sneak up to the school at the end of our block, and watch the class through the window. But we moved to Oklahoma that summer and they did not have kindergarten so I couldn’t start school until the first grade. I think that was when I started getting the comic books in the mail, and learned to read from them. (A few years later my mother got a subscription to Playboy for my older brother. Pretty sure she was hoping he’d teach himself to become interested in girls instead of boys by reading them, or at least looking at the pictures. It didn’t work. Reading is a powerful tool, but not that powerful. I, however, appreciated the pictures.)
I have never read books to become a smarter person or a more thoughtful person or a better person, I read because I like the stories. While I appreciate good writing, I’ll take a good story every time. I am not going to spend my time plodding through “Crime and Punishment,” or even “Moby Dick,” to search for deeper truths when there’s a hot romance with a happy ending waiting to be read. I’m in it for the entertainment. If I happen to run across a deeper truth, well, that’s just a bonus.
Over the sixty-some years since Donald (the duck, not the one in Washington) taught me to read I have gone through genre phases, reading mostly books from a couple of genres until I either got tired of them or something else caught my interest. I didn’t stay in the comic book phase all that long as I discovered books that had more writing and fewer pictures (although Classics Illustrated comics did get me through several English classes without having to spend my time plowing through things like “Les Miserables” or “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” when there were more interesting stories to read). For years I read mysteries which I got started on with the Ellery Queen, Jr. books. Remember those? I would be surprised if anyone else did remember them. They were written by the same guys who wrote the Ellery Queen books, but featured a young boy named Djuna. Apparently he started his literary existence as a houseboy for the Queen family, but in his own books he seemed to always be traveling somewhere. It seldom occurred to me to wonder how a kid that young would be moving all over the country, bumping into and solving mysteries, with little or no adult supervision. Sounded like the perfect existence to me at the time. Hell, it still does.
Somewhere along the line I started on the Nero Wolf books – and am pretty sure I’ve read all of them. Talk about suspending disbelief. Archie Goodwin stayed a thirty-something smart-ass from the mid nineteen-thirties to the mid nineteen-sixties, eating fancy food and going dancing with the same hot girlfriend while helping his boss solve mysteries. Again, the perfect existence. Rex Stout, the creator of Nero Wolf, claimed that he wrote only one draft of every book without knowing how they were going to come out until Nero explained everything in the last chapter. Not a recommended, or even believable, writing regimen.
I alternated the mysteries with science fiction, more and more so as the fifties segued into the sixties. Didn’t we all. Reading “Stranger in a Strange Land” and “Lord of the Rings” was almost a required rite of passage. To quote a J. D. Robb character, “You want fiction? Go with science fiction. You know it’s bullshit going in.”
Science fiction is often referred in to as ‘sf’ and Isaac Asimov opined that should stand for ‘speculative fiction.’ Sorry Ike, that’s redundant. All fiction is speculative. Every author is saying, “If these people existed in these situations, here is what I speculate would happen.” In other words remember, “It’s [all] bullshit going in.”
Enough for now. Sorry about all the boring personal history. I’ll try to stick with opinions as this goes on.
Over the years I’ve written a lot of short stories and last year I started writing a novel, just to prove to myself I could – sort of a bucket list thing. I am not trying to write the Great American Novel. I’m writing something that I would enjoy reading, you know, fluffy crap with a little sex and a happy ending. I was taking a Creative Writing class at the time I started it and used that as an incentive to write regularly. I was writing nearly a thousand words a day then, happily zipping along – until the class ended. Since then I’ve been lucky to average a thousand words a week. As an incentive, in every blog I will report my progress, at least word-count-wise. Right now it is sitting at approximately 56,789 words. Stay tuned for the next report.