BOOK & BLOG
October 10, 2009
Books of the Week:
What a great reading week I’ve had. Even when Kelley Armstrong writes about characters that aren’t my favorites in her world, I enjoy her books. When she’s writing about Elena, the only female werewolf, I love her books. Elena finally reveals her thoughts about a pivotal event in the wonderful Bitten, Armstrong’s first book set in Elena’s world: the fact that Clay took Elena’s future away from her when he turned her into a werewolf. I’ve been waiting to hear about that, and it made the character seem even more complex. The action in Frostbitten is set in Alaska. Clay and Elena are sent to Alaska to check into a number of werewolf matters by Jeremy, their leader. Of course, a simple task turns incredibly complicated when they discover rogue wolves invading the territory, missing American pack members, and a number of unexplained human deaths. This is as good or better than Armstrong’s other books in the Women of the Underworld series, and that’s saying a good deal.
Tanya Huff has long been a favorite writer of mine. Huff writes a wide variety of fiction, which is one of the attributes I most admire in a writer. Her “Blood” books were wonderful (and the basis for the lamentably short-lived TV show), her Valor books are excellent though not completely my favorites . . . and that’s just the beginning of the long list of books that Huff has published. She wrote three books that will be on my shelves forever: Summon the Keeper, The Second Summoning, and The Long Hot Summoning. This trilogy is absolutely delightful, and I can guarantee if you can find copies of these books, you’ll feel the same way. Her newest book, The Enchantment Emporium, is in the same vein as the Summoning books. Alysha Gale, member of a mysterious magical family, gets a letter from her grandmother that implies Gran is dead. She leaves her junk shop in Calgary to Allie, and since she’s at loose ends Allie leaves immediately to find out what’s happened to her grandmother. I don’t want to ruin any of the story for you, so I won’t elaborate. The Gales are an amazing family, the aunties will strike fear into your heart, and the characters Allie meets are both charming and terrifying.
I’m sure a lot of you have read Barry Eisler’s previous novels about the assassin John Rain they’ve become instant classics in the thriller/hardboiled genre. Fault Line is a standalone book about another assassin, Ben Treven, who hasn’t spoken to his sole surviving family member, brother Alex, in ten years. But when Alex finds himself in a situation he can’t handle, Ben is the only person who can help him. Alex is an attorney handling a patent (which you would think was a safe occupation), but the product the patent will cover turns out to be explosive. Everyone connected with the computer program starts to die. During his efforts to keep Alex alive, Ben and Alex begin to come to a better understanding of each other, and Sarah Hosseini, an Iranian-American lawyer at Alex’s firm, comes to her own understanding with her background. I don’t think Eisler can write a boring book, and it’s evident he can’t write a bad one.
People ask me all the time about the “craft of writing” and about being a writer. I’m going to try to compress my thoughts about this into a blog, because my ideas about what I do have been evolving for years. After being a writer for 27 years, I hope I know a little about what I’ve been doing . . . though I’m constantly aware there’s much more to learn. Blogs are all about opinions. Here are mine.
Writers are born. If the essential stuff isn’t in you, you’re not going to make it as a fiction writer. For some people, the ability doesn’t reveal itself early. For some people, it takes years of experimentation and learning to coax that spark into a flame. But I don’t believe you can create it simply because you want it. I would love to be a great singer. I would absolutely thrill to it. But I don’t have the voice. I never will.
Most people who want to be writers let themselves get bogged down in the details and difficulties of becoming published. Granted, these are intricate and onerous, and growing more so every year. But it’s a forest-trees situation. You will never, never be published unless you write a good book. Again, most people don’t write that good first book on their first try, the same way most singers can’t belt out an aria at their first voice lesson. So writing that good book will surely take persistence and patience and dedication.
Would-be writers ask me how to find their own voices. That, too, is a matter of experimentation and experience. It’s the rare aspiring writer who finds a voice on his or her first try. As you grow and mature and experience and observe your own life and the lives of others, your voice will solidify within you. There are reasons so few published writers are very young. It’s not the creativity which is lacking, it’s the voice.
I’m constantly asked, “Where do you GET your inspiration?” as if I had a magic spell to conjure it up, or as if I could go to the store and buy some. Inspiration comes to me because I am a writer. It’s an integral part of being a writer. The creative flow of ideas which constitutes inspiration can be sparked by anything, can appear out of nothing, can be tweaked by a news article, a quip on a sitcom, an overheard snatch of conversation. The inspiration comes in using these things as ingredients for creating something new, something your own. Most inspiration arises from the basic question, “What if?”
I don’t have all the answers to the questions beginning writers want to ask me. I began being published before query letters, before the available number of publishing houses shrank and editors were hugely burdened, before the era of chain bookstores. You know, though, that are many websites online that give advice about the business of writing and becoming published. This was not available when I was coming up through the ranks. It’s a wonderful resource for an aspiring writer, and I always think less of people who say they want to be published if I can tell they haven’t made the slightest effort to explore what’s freely available to them.
Writing is a job. Do I have fun? Sure. Some days are wonderful: the ideas flow, wonderful plot twists pop into my mind, and my fingers fly on the keyboard. I get to kill a fairy, go to a bar, and burn down a house without ever leaving my desk. But some days I have to drag myself into my office. Some days I have to throw away everything I wrote the day before. Some days the business of being a writer takes so much time I can’t actually do the work that put me in this enviable position which I reached after more than two decades of slogging. I’m not complaining, mind you. I’m just saying that even the best job in the world has off moments.
If this is your dream, go for it. Be aware of the sobering facts of the writing industry before you quit your day job, and be prepared for a long apprenticeship. This is a difficult and at times heartbreaking business. But -- after all -- I made it. I wish you the best of luck.
© 2009 Charlaine Harris