My favorite book on writing is On Writing by the master, Stephen King. Printed on the dust jacket on the inside flap is a quote from the book “If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time or the tools to write.” I often abbreviate this is as “You’re not writing if you’re not reading.” When my wife gives me that wordless look that says “why are you reading when you could be writing”, I explain with even greater brevity. “Reading is writing.” I read King’s book in 2000 when it was published, then again in 2005 when I decided for the dozenth time that Dammit, I am a writer and I am going to prove it! There’s a lot more to it than that, but I’ll save that story for some day when I’m famous. I read On Writing again a year ago when I told my daughter to read it, and I’m reading it again now.
I am always amazed when I run into another writer and we get on the subject of what they are working on… and I ask, so have you read <insert a few well known appropriate genre authors here>? And they answer no. Not only no, but they don’t spent much time reading at all. (After all, they are too busy writing.) This happens far more than you would expect. I’m not that guy. Take my advice, or Mr Stephen King’s advice, and read your face off if you think you have a chance at being successful with your writing. Be versed on your genre, as well as step outside it for a taste. Know what’s good, what sells, what’s current, and maybe even what stinks. A book like On Writing may teach you the why of that.
I suppose having a blog and actually posting words on it would automatically qualify me as a writer. But what I am, or, what I want to be, is a novelist. I could have walked up to you at any time in the last twenty seven years and said “I am writing a book” and it would have been absolutely true. I’ve started and put non-trivial effort into four in that time. I have never finished a first draft. Life: work, responsibility, money, family, NFL Football, wine-making, cooking, Madden, movies, shows, honey do lists, home projects, books, health, court. There’s a long list of excuses why nothing is “done”.
So why am I writing a post about writing? Because I am inspired. I have recently finished reading three books, all good for different reasons. One took me a year to complete (or a lifetime), the next two, two days each. I have recently attended the Southern California Writers Conference (29). Finally, have been struggling for months to find my next employment and I needed to feel I was making progress on something while spinning my wheels on that. These three things have given me the fuel, created the opportunity, and drove home the desire to complete the one novel I believe has the best chance. So what about the three books?
The Martian, by Andy Weir is hands-down the best book I’ve read in years. It is Andy’s first book. Is written in a combination of 1st and third person omniscient. The voice of the main character (Mark) is prevalent, and he’s one clever, funny, and cocky bastard. Andy is mean to Mark from the word go, and he never lets you get comfortable with any of his success. Great story, near perfect pacing, and an incredible amount of information that I guarantee you don’t know is woven artfully into the flow. The transitions into 3rd person to the other characters orbiting the story are smooth, and all together the book is one that I could not put down, even to sleep. How Andy is going to top The Martian with any future work is beyond my ken, but I look forward to seeing him try.
Ready Player One, by Earnest Kline was another page turner, though for different reasons. Are you an 80’s child or fan of the period? Are you a gamer? I can honestly say I’ve never read a book before that took me down the memory arcade lane of my childhood the way Klines book does, all from a setting in a science fiction future dystopia. Klines book is not strong on character, has an uneven pace with a fairly slow start, doesn’t have a strong voice, and has a few jarring POV issues. If that sounds bad, perhaps it is because I read it immediately after Weir. Why then did I love it? He overcomes all that. I couldn’t wait to read the next reference to a game, TV show, or movie I know (and sometimes love) as I was whisked through the story. This book is an overdose, in the best way, of those things. For god’s sake he made RUSH a relevant plot point! Though Kline has a non-blank writing resume, Ready Player One is his first novel. This gives me hope.
The Last Dark, by Stephen R Donaldson was the end to a story he’s been writing since I was ten years old. There was an independent book store called Ted Marks’ on Market Street in Corning when I was in 8th grade. I remember pulling a brand new paperback of Lord Foul’s Bane off the shelf and thinking “I’ll try this” and paid $3.99 for it. The (1st, 2nd, Last) Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever span my life from then until now. Donaldson is the most literary Fantasy author I know. I had the dictionary out A LOT reading that first series, and in The Last Dark I think he still got me with a word or two, a full education and a thousand books later. Did you know good metaphors have existed in fantasy that long? I stole one to use in my novel. In college, I re-read the 1st chronicles and did a “close read” paper on The Illearth War to define the term my professor coined “anti-egostic castle building” in writing. Donaldson’s characters are real, extremely flawed people. The Last Dark wasn’t my favorite book, It felt a little repetitious a couple of times and had some pacing issues. It took me half the book to fully re-engage with the story. Part of that may be that he went to the George Martin “school for writing fast” in getting his books out and therefore my aging memory took longer to come up with “what has gone before” with all the characters. But for and end to all things in the land, I walked away satiated with a lifetime of fulfilled imagination. Thank you Mr Donaldson you’re one of my favorites.
When a book makes me feel inspired to write, it’s a huge win. These books were greatly entertaining and In case I wasn’t clear before, these are all recommendations. Although with The Last Dark you have to start 9 books earlier. Please support the writers and buy them whether they are printed on dead trees or in electronic pixels. I understand that both The Martian and Ready Player One are being made into films. Nice. I hope they do justice to what made the books so enjoyable. And please don’t cast Tom Cruise in them even if its his studio that’s bought the rights!