Category Archives: Writing about reading

Stephen King’s “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft”

I just finished listening to the audiobook version of Stephen King’s “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.” If you haven’t read it, I suggest you get the audio version, because he took the time to narrate it himself. Stephen King’s narration of his own words makes them even more powerful. I don’t often wish I could thank an author for giving me the gift of his work, but this is one of those times. It made me type the following letter, which I might or might not print out and ship off. I’m still undecided.

Stephen King
Bangor, ME 04401

Dear Mr. King:

I’m writing to thank you. I hesitated at first, thinking about how much correspondence you must receive and how sometimes it must become tiresome. Then I pictured myself in the future I covet, as a writer who has done something to touch a fellow writer, reading the letter of gratitude. I couldn’t deny you the pleasure. Or perhaps I’m feeling charitable because I watched the Orioles beat the Red Sox last night.

I’m glad you pulled “On Writing” out of the trunk, but not as glad as I am you took the time to narrate it yourself. I’ve developed the habit of listening to writers talk to me about craft as I drive, but I couldn’t banish your book to my car. I had to keep listening to your words. I walked around with earphones on until you finished talking.

Every once in a while, I would chuckle, and my wife would wonder if I was losing my mind.

“What the heck are you laughing at?”
“Stephen King cracked me up talking about a copy error.”
“You’re such a nerd.”
“Yeah. Isn’t it great?”

“On Writing” is more than a mere memoir or manual. Through your words, you gave me, and the rest of the writing world, a call to action: Life is short—write your ass off. It seems trite when I distill it to a bumper sticker catchphrase, but the way you did it moved me and woke me up to that truth. I’m not the same me as I was before I listened to you speaking those words, and I’m grateful.

I’ve only recently begun assembling my personal collection of rejection letters after completing a novel manuscript somewhere near my own minimum standards. Your words will keep me going for as long as it takes. Thank you.

C.S. Trimmier

I Dream of Dostoyevsky

I don’t often dream of meeting authors, but last night I did.

A young Fyodor Dostoyevsky featured in my dreams last night. Apparently he was having some sort of trouble. I invited him to come into my house, which was on the parade route in New Orleans. We talked in general and had a good time. It occurred to me that maybe I should ask him if he would sign a couple of books for me.

Of course I could not find my copies of anything he wrote, since I had just moved and hadn’t organized anything, but part of the reason I bought the house was because it was a block away from two good independent book stores. I made my way through the crowd and came back with some fresh copies, figuring mine were crappy condition paperbacks anyway. I joked about helping him sell through a few more copies, as if he cared, and we all laughed. I guess everybody knew he was dead, including him.

I have no idea what any of this means, other than I have books on my mind (and Mardi Gras). I would like to think that maybe, somewhere out there, Fyodor Dostoyevsky is reading my work and smiling.

Reading to Write

While I’ve been going through the exercise of making a chapter outline and synopsis of my first novel manuscript, I’ve also returned to what was probably my first love: reading fiction.

It isn’t as if I haven’t been reading fiction at all; it is more like I haven’t been particularly selective about the fiction I have been reading. I have gotten my fiction fix from audiobooks a lot of the time, which for some reason I don’t actually count as “reading” even though the researchers seem to count it as such. I’ve been consuming tons of non-fiction over the past decade or two, especially about the commercial and craft aspects of writing. Unfortunately I sacrificed a lot of the time I once spent reading fiction in order to fit that in. So much of the writing about writing suggests that writers should read, read, read, not just write. It makes perfect sense.

Know your genre… so they say.

I write dystopian thrillers in a near-future world beset by environmental degradation and political oppression.  So, as you might guess, I’ve always been a fan of 1984 and Fahrenheit 451 and those sorts of classics. I decided to go find some new stuff along those lines. I picked up the Divergent series by Veronica Roth and tore into it. I finished the first two and am well into the third. I saw that they released a movie version of the first one, which always hits me with mixed emotions. I watched the trailer and recognized everything in it as from the book, so maybe it won’t be all that bad.

So, in reading Veronica Roth, I’ve recognized little subtle bits in her writing that bug me about my own writing, a tiny bit of stiffness (which is not an intentional pun, but ends up being one if you have read the books) where dialogue or narrative could be a bit more natural or true-to-voice. Every time I go through my manuscript, I find a little spot that could be better done. I suppose it is impossible to catch everything. Knowing that she has achieved such commercial success perhaps without catching every tiny little spot that she might have improved gives me hope.

Also, as a writer, from time to time I can see her struggling with the limitations of the first person point of view. I started writing my manuscript in first person to begin with and I got talked out of it. I’m glad that I did. Now that I’m writing in third person, I find first person so limiting. In her third book of the series, Allegiant, she continues writing in the first person, but begins switching the point of view character. This makes for difficult reading sometimes. She does clearly label each chapter with the POV character’s name, but I can’t help getting confused about who “I” is from time to time. This is especially true when it is getting late and I am in bed. I have to go looking back just to make sure I know who “I” is. It is a little distracting, and confirmation to me that I made the right choice for the POV in my manuscript, especially since I have always intended for it to be the first of a series. I would be willing to bet coffee and a bagel that Veronica Roth started writing in first person and later wished that she hadn’t because she got stuck with it after the publication of Divergent, thus the POV-hopping in Allegiant.

No changing horses in mid-stream for me.

Thanks for showing me that, Veronica Roth, and for bringing me into that world. You did a kick-ass job with the books. I’ve enjoyed them. I hope you are satisfied with the film version.

And so I read on…