Wednesday, May 04, 2016
Reading and Writing
Hill Towns by Anne Rivers Siddons.
Marital midlife crisis played out against the beauties and dregs of Italy. Truly a wonderfully detailed travelogue, dense with images of Rome, Venice, Florence, Tuscany...
Siddons uses words like an artist uses paint, and the results are stunning. The main character's name is Cat -- how could I not enthusiastically partake of this book's delights?
While the reader is meant to savor the word pictures, I found myself skimming segments in order to get to the action. Wading through the pretty lettuce to get to the tomato I glimpsed every now and then, to use a silly metaphor. Gorgeous scenery does not a story make. The characters are unique, well-described, properly flawed, yet I couldn't immerse myself in their travails. Their travels, yes; oh, silly pun.
Things do happen, the main characters change, but I was left with an empty "is that all there is?" feeling?
What did this book teach me about writing?
--My experience reading this book was uniquely mine. It spent months on the NY Times bestseller list, so many, perhaps most readers loved it. I need to remember people get different things out of books.
--I haven't the talent for writing beautiful vivid imagery that Ms. Siddons has. My descriptions consist of a few items that would catch one's first glimpse, then I rely on the reader's imagination to fill in the rest. I find, with other writers as well, that when I stop reading to admire the writing I am pulled away from the story. Also, as an unknown I can't add pages of details at a time when publishers prefer less, not more.
--While I have read and loved literary works, I've never attempted to write one. Symbolism and metaphors abound in Hill Towns. The story itself is a well-crafted metaphor, something I could not plan in advance. My rare symbols and metaphors happen by chance (as the lettuce one above) and are usually not seen as such till much later. I write genre. Sure genre can be literary, but literary cannot, I think, be genre. Clear as mud, right?
--My stories can't meander about leaving the (genre) reader wondering when the pace will pick up. Several times I set this book down and was in no hurry to pick it up again. I want my readers to keep turning those pages.
--Backstory. The first third or so of this book is backstory, relevant to the main theme, so it needs to be there in some form. In my (genre) novels relevant backstory, which I thought was necessary to show in depth, becomes a few sentences told by one character to another, or a brief memory.
Learn as much by writing as by reading.
If you don't have the time to read, you don't have the time or the tools to write.