Thursday, March 3, 2016

To Write, You've Got to READ

When I’m lying in bed reading, you might think I’m slacking off. However, as a writer, I’ve become a professional reader, as well. If I don’t read, how can I learn what to do and what not to do?

As I read, I notice how some writers drop in description of the landscape, or their characters’ surroundings. I notice the questions they ask of others, and the emotions they experience. I notice whether things are overwritten—for example, I recently purchased a book that was so folksy-cutesy I could not read it. The writer had overdone it by far.

By the same token, I also must give credit to writers who hit just the right note. I think Anne Hillerman did this in her book Spider Woman’s Daughter. I worked with Anne briefly, as a reporter at The Santa Fe New Mexican. I’m sorry to say I didn’t really get to know her. She wrote editorials at the time, and I was a beat reporter.

What’s clear in Spider Woman’s Daughter is that Anne did a great deal of research. I’m sure this involved a careful rereading of her father Tony Hillerman’s books, especially A Thief of Time, which she references at the end of the book. Also, she had to know a good deal about the physical features of the Navajo landscape: its towns, its highways, its government offices, its restaurants.

Sickos get a lot of time to read.
I also found a certain lyrical quality to the language Anne used in describing the landscape, and I picked up on the ironies that only someone who has been a local can know about Santa Fe, and more.

The last week or so, I’ve been forced
to lie in bed and read a bit more than usual, while suffering a sinus infection. However, just because I’m flat on my back doesn’t mean I’m not busy working toward the completion of my own first novel. I’ve reviewed my police procedure manual, but I’m also studying the technique of another favorite writer, and sometimes, right before I drift off to sleep, writing my next chapter in my head. When I'm over the crud, I hope to write down that next chapter—if not on actual paper, into the computer, where black and white is infinitely more editable.