"Read, read, read. Read everything—trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the most. Read! You'll absorb it. Then write. If it is good, you'll find out. If it's not, throw it out the window. -- William Faulkner
I love to write. I love being a writer. There is a school of thought that in order to be a better writer, one must read, and read a lot. I have recently felt like I had no time to read, I was having enough trouble just finding the time to try to work on the revisions of the book (or was that just a good excuse).
Over the last couple of weeks, however, I have read, quite a bit actually. My to-read stack was growing, threatening to spill over and bury me under the masses of books I keep buying and meaning to get to next. I had told myself that I would finally read some of the books by women who are also members of She Writes, as well as some by other favorite authors.
For those of you that write, I wonder, have you ever had that feeling while reading, that thought, “oh my god, I could never write this well, or this smart, funny or heart wrenching a story?” I have, in fact more than a few times recently.
Part of that I am certain is just my own insecurities finding new excuses to think about giving up before having to measure up.
I find it amazing though, that at those exact same moments that the thought that I cannot do it flits through my brain and settles somewhere in amongst the gray matter, there is also an adrenaline rush, a quickening of my heart as I know I want nothing else than to sit down and write. There is a slight tickling at the back of my brain, tiny sparks and glimpses of a story, a plot, a place, a character flash into the front of my brain, for just that second and I can’t wait to put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard.
So what have I been reading? I started on the plane ride to Philadelphia with Meg Waite Clayton's “The Wednesday Sisters”. Meg is a fellow She Writer and I had read a short synopsis of her book about five female friends who as neighbors meet each other at a local park where they all take their young children and through the years form not only a great friendship but also an amazing writing group. I didn’t realize until I started reading that the book takes place in the San Francisco Bay Area, specifically Palo Alto and the surrounding areas mostly during the 60’s and 70’s. I grew up in Mountain View during the 60’s and 70’s so there was so much in the book that I could relate to, I could see and hear the Bay Area of my childhood and teenaged years.
I love that, being able to picture the scene because I know where it really is. Moreover, I love when a story that takes me away also talks about one of my favorite subjects the craft of writing.
The book was beautiful, funny, sad, joyful and hopeful. I highly recommend it.
Last year I had read a book by Michelle Richmond called “Year of Fog”. I was spellbound when I read it. It is the story of the abduction of a 6-year-old girl in San Francisco while in the care of her father’s girlfriend. Again, many of the places in the book were places I had been or seen. Add to that the story that dealt with a crime, with memory, with relationships during tragedy … definitely right up my alley. It became one of my favorite books.
While in Philadelphia last week, I read another of Richmond’s books “Dream of the Blue Room”. This one was completely different than Year of Fog but I still found myself drawn in by Richmond’s writing, her characters and of course the story of a young girl’s murder and her best friend’s journey to fulfill a promise to the girl’s mother. I don’t want to give too much away but be prepared for a beautiful journey to China and a trip down the Yangtze River if you read this one.
I finished this evening a third of Richmond’s books, this one “No One You Know”. Again set mostly in San Francisco, this one is the story of two sisters, one of which is murdered. No one is ever arrested for her murder but a former English professor of the surviving sister writes a book about the case, a non-fiction true crime book. He names the alleged murderer, at least whom he believes murdered the girl based upon mostly circumstantial evidence. The purported murderer is never arrested or charged but his life is forever ruined after being named a murderer by the author. I was already a Richmond fan but there were things about this one that really hit home for me.
Not only was the story riveting but also this book struck some chords with me with some similarities to some incidents that I write about in my own memoir. Not the same incidents of course, but similarities in what can happen when a person or group of people decide that they know how a crime was committed, or who committed it and then look for evidence to support their beliefs, to the exclusion of any other evidence. Things are reported as fact and in many cases become fact, at least in most people’s minds.
Maybe I am biased, I like Richmond’s writing voice and have enjoyed every one of her books immensely. Nevertheless, anyone who is a fan of crime mysteries and good stories about people and relationships should check out Michelle Richmond’s books.
I sit with my fingers poised over the keyboard, excited to be writing, wanting to capture those flashes of character, dialogue, setting, that have been peppering my brain. As I sit though I hear that voice, the one that is certain I could never tell a story so well, or give voice to a character and richness to a setting like all those authors do.
I guess I’ll never know until I try.