I Edit For Authors. I Write For Readers.

I’m a writer who loves to write. Yet writing can also be so frustrating as to cause one to stop writing for long periods.

How so? you ask.

If a writer is not clear on why they wrote a certain piece, why they let a certain sentiment float from their pen into an inky, judgmental world, this will come through in their writing and they–and their sentiment–are likely to be lost in this world, lost in the drone of so many voices saying so little, so many pages telling us not much.

There are so many stories I began writing whose main thesis never congealed into a cohesive narrative, and so they will never see the light of day, nor the dark of night. They will forever be known only to me, the writer who, in frustration, called a halt to them.

As I edit books and work with authors to fashion the best books we can, my chief thought is always, Does this sentence or that sentence serve the story? If it doesn’t, I recommend the sentence be excised. The most beautiful writing can’t save a sentence that, while beautiful in style, says essentially nothing of substance. All such sentences do say:  Look at me and the big words I know! Praise be to big-word knowers!

As well as being clear on what they’re writing, authors should be clear as to who they’re writing for.

Some authors write to be lauded by reviewers. They don’t want readers so much as to be talked about in the same breath as David Foster Wallace, Michael Cunningham, or the great F. Scott Fitzgerald.

The great irony of this fact is how Fitzgerald hungered for readers for his Gatsby. Readers he could not find until he’d left the world for good.

Other authors write for readers. They still want good reviews, don’t get me wrong, but they hope their good reviews come from the readers who take time out of their busy days and nights–their hectic lives–to carve out a place for their book. And hopefully said book will lodge forever in the reader’s memory, to be thought on and reread again and again.

I know I am firmly in the latter group. I edit for authors. I write for readers.

 

 

 

 

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Why Writing Is A Form Of Escape

Some people read books to escape. I have to assume this is why Fifty Shades Of Grey was published at all. Really? That’s your form of escape? Oh, well, to each their own, I suppose. Personally, I had a teacher named Mr. Grey in junior high, so that’s the first thing I think of when someone mentions that title. He looked like Waldo from the Where’s Waldo books. So much so that his resemblance was highlighted in the school’s yearbook.

If you read books to escape, dear reader, than we can also assume that at least some writers write them to escape. I’m in this group, and proud of it! Of course, the reason I write stories is so that my readers can enjoy them, but a not-bad side benefit is the trip I get to take into the mind and body of a new character. What can this character do that I can’t? What does he or she know that I don’t?

That being said, as I live and cope with specific physical and visual challenges, I will sometimes elect to tell the story of a character not unlike myself, as I feel such stories are severely under-told in the book world. Then the question becomes: Where does my resemblance to this character end and their own story and personality begin to shine through?

But what about poetry? Is poetry an escape hatch of its own? I love poetry. For me, a poem can distill a writer’s point down to its essence and communicate it better than a 350-page opus, in some cases.

I may not always be able to fashion a newspaper-column’s-worth of content on this blog (Let’s be honest; that’s just not going to happen all the time.) but I will try my best to offer you at least a thought for the day, and sometimes I’ll have a poem for you. What do you say? If I do that, will you come back and read it? I hope so!

Okay, well, with our new pact agreed to, let’s start today, shall we?

Today, I have two poems for you. This won’t be the way things usually go here. (See above.) Two poems equals a lot of work. But they’re two of my favorites, written following the respective passing(s) of both my grandmothers. If I was escaping anything in writing them, it was the current time at which they were composed. I wanted to travel back to a period less complicated, before my loved ones began leaving this mortal coil.

Maybe that’s part of the reason why I love time-travel stories so much. Who among us doesn’t long for some idealized past?

First a poem for my dad’s mom, who left us in 2009. (Admittedly, this poem’s title lacks creativity.)

Grandma’s Poem

                                               

It is only well after one’s tumultuous birth

When emerges the truth of life’s natural dearth.

At first the education is cursory,

Comes courtesy of the elderly neighbor down the street.

A sirens-whaling emergency.

He was the old man that—with plastered-on smiles–

My parents forced me to meet;

I shook his hand in the eight o’clock summer twilight,

A dusk replete with fireflies and lingering heat.

The old man’s traveled thousands of miles, I think.

But, when it strikes,

Few in my immediate circle weep at the loss.

He was someone the community treated

With a neighborly friendly-frost,

Cordial, yet removed.

A great-uncle goes next.

Closer to home, and

Dad reflects.

As we listen to the eulogy,

There’s a man in a casket,

Whose soul is somewhere else;

A reality check.

My grandmother watched Alzheimer’s take its unmerciful hold.

Saw her sister succumb, and death took her home.

When she asked me—

At the end of a motor-home sojourn—

“What was the toughest part of the trip?”

I should have given it more thought,

But I let the wrong answer slip.

She considered my response for a momentary spell,

Then taught me a lesson I learned well.

The toughest part for her,

She returned,

Looking oddly both serene and morose, and

Discounting my reply as juvenile;

I wouldn’t understand until time ran out for someone I cherished,

Their ultimate demise

A product of God’s larger scheme,

Was saying good-bye to her sister, Jean.

Even with previous forays into funerals,

I never thought death would take the unfazable.

The apocryphally irascible.

But six years ago,

Cancer burst a faith-hewn bubble, and

My spiritual journey began anew.

Aunt Thelma followed,

Joined Jean and Andy,

And her soul mate,

Uncle Lee.

Now here again we sit,

In pews reserved for worship,

Except when the populace of God’s kingdom has an arrival to hail.

This time it’s a mechanically-inclined woman who loved to sail.

She waits on E. dock

To return to His flock.

The party’s already in full swing

As she climbs aboard the Yacht.

Or maybe the parties will come later and

Her passing takes place under a more subdued atmosphere.

Papa’s happy because his mechanic and the love of his life are both finally here.

“It’s time to put the boat in the water, Shirl,” he’ll say.

“But the engine’s been acting up.

Can you take a look at it, ol’ girl?

Want some coffee?

I made ya a cup.”

She’ll tinker and fiddle and get the boat running.

And as they get out on the water the view exceeds stunning.

They sail for a light in which multitudes wait

To say their hellos,

Play cards, or Scrabble,

Or camp by a lake.

“We’ve missed you,” they say in a chorus so clear

The intonation can be heard in every earthbound tear.

All who miss Grandma, G.G., or Shirl

Know she’s a fairly self-sufficient old bird.

She’ll let you know she’s there;

There’s no doubt in my mind she’ll make herself heard.

If you listen long enough

In a room filled with quiet,

Turning your mind off to all worldly romps and riots,

She might say:

“I’m finally free of pain and a foggy mind.

Do not mistake this for a sad time.

It’s a day to celebrate,

And not with boxed wine.

Heck, get the good stuff.

My life is worthy of a toast

And a good hearty singing of ‘Auld Lang Zyne’.”

And now my mom’s mom, who followed in 2010.

Losing Your Voice

           

“Hi, sweetheart,” I can hear you say.

I am on a recovery mission.

Attempting to rescue that phrase.

Three syllables that assured

So much more.

“My door’s always open,” it meant.

“No matter where you go,

Who you meet,

Or what you do,

I’ll love you.”

Movies gone gray with the passing years

You heartily revered,

And I was taught how to love them, too.

When our fine, four-fendered friend

Began to fly,

I cheered.

Then there’s Charlie Kane.

Touched by long-ago pain,

A Rosebud of regret.

The simplicities that make up childhood,

The incidental moments spent laughing,

Are worth the pain

That must be withstood

When the “Hi, sweethearts” are gone

For good

And there can be no more idle chatting.

I’m beginning to forget

What it sounded like.

To have you there on the other end

Of the line.

Your chortles came easily,

Accompanied,

Oftentimes before stories

Had found their strides,

By an “ohoooo geeeeez.”

A treasured response.

Now hearing it once more,

Just once—

I’m not so greedy—

Is all I want.

instead I am faced with a Heavenly taunt

That mocks the thought of free will

Or choice.

We didn’t choose to say good-bye.

Yet I’m here today to admit

I’m losing your voice.

I do hope you’ll return here again and again, dear reader, and that in my words you can also see clearly my heart beating away. Being able to escape into writing whenever I want, being granted the chance to offer you a thoughtful morsel when it might strike me to do so, is one of the ways in which I feel most alive.

A Father’s Day Realization

“You’re so brave.”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that phrase. There’s nothing to do when someone says it besides smile, blush, and say an awkward, too-quiet: “Thanks.” Because I don’t feel all that brave. I live my life. That’s what I do. I live my life, letting the days pile up behind each other, just as everyone else does, and hopefully in those days I’ve done and said things that will make the world a bit better for everyone else.

I am someone who may not see himself as all that “brave”, but I do embrace my creativity. And for this creativity I have always needed an outlet. I found mine early. Writing.

In elementary school, a teacher told my dad, “Derek will be published someday.”

My dad, a writer himself, took this to heart and told me what the teacher had said. I never wrote because he wrote. I wrote because I had to. But the fact that he wrote also let us bond on that level.

For years, writing gave me reason. It was the thing that made all my struggles worthwhile. If I could eventually turn all of them into stories that let people see the world anew through my not-so-good eyes, then they wouldn’t really have been struggles after all, would they? Tests, maybe, but not struggles.

Many years passed. I was twenty-six by the time I began a novel I described as: “My story, fictionalized and embellished, but hopefully real.” I had never written a novel before, favoring short stories and poetry instead, and doubted if I could manage it.

Well, I did.

But after working as hard as I possibly could to turn it out, I let someone else decide it wasn’t any good before it had the chance to be anything. “Why are you writing?” this person said. “It’s not like it’s going to go anywhere. You should get a real job.” You’re not making any money from writing, so stop, they meant.

I let myself believe that this one measuring stick, cash, was a judge of talent. I sunk deep down into myself. And I stopped writing. Because what was the point, anyway?

It has taken me to this very day to drag myself up out of my scared-gopher hole. (Did you know us writers live in gopher holes?) To say to myself with conviction, “That person didn’t know what they were talking about!” (There are some people who get some kind of joy out of seeing others languish; I’ve never understood it, and I never will). But I did it. I’m writing again, working on a couple new pieces, and wishing my father, a fellow writer and one of the best people I know, luck at finding a publisher who believes in him the way all writers should believe in themselves. I wish that for him on this Father’s Day, his 33rd.

If you want to call me brave, that’s fine. But call me brave not for living my life, because we all do that. Call me brave because I recognized my talent and, when challenged–and through much reflection–I finally refused to let someone who didn’t see it convince me it wasn’t there to be seen.

For that, I’m brave.