Literary Crushes – Who is Yours?

Enough time has gone by, that I’m treating myself to another Scott Spencer novel, although this time I am not quite so enamored. The title is “Willing”, and it is about a man who goes on a sex tour to a few relatively obscure foreign countries, and is paid a rather handsome sum to write a book about it. I’m guessing that such an assignment might not be unappealing to a number of male writers.

I think, to read Mr. Spencer, one must not be sexually squeamish, as there is something in every one to send a few shock waves. But the way he talks about such things, so naturally, I can’t help but get a picture of the kind of person Mr. Spencer might be. I’m guessing, the quiet, introspective type, much like Jonathon Franzen, that the outward persona does not match the man inside.

My author friend Benison O’Reilly coined a term (at least I think she is responsible for it, so I am giving her due honors here), “literary crush” and mine is on Mr. Spencer. Hers is on Mr. Franzen. But that is not to say I haven’t had literary crushes on women too, and two of them are Anne Tyler and Elizabeth Berg, who write in a way in which I could only hope to come close.

I would have to use the term “envious” when it comes to these three authors. It’s what I would want for myself, to write in such a way. Recently, I read an interesting post which examined the difference between “jealousy” and “envy”. Jealousy is when you want what another person has and you attack it in a negative way, the I-am-just-as-good-as-that-writer so poor me, why am I consistently ignored and kicked around? Envy is when you see what good things others have done, and want the same for yourself, but in a positive way, it allows you to strive for more, for better writing, for lovelier sentences, for better hooks and dialogue and characters, by seeing the good in others.

Back to Willing, Mr. Spencer breaks a lot of rules with this one. There is not one quotation mark in the whole novel. The dialogue is intermixed with the narrative. We are told in the How To books to put each person’s dialogue in a separate paragraph. Nope, he doesn’t do that either. So we have dialogue, which we aren’t always sure really is dialogue, and two or more people speaking in the same paragraph, so we aren’t always sure who is doing the talking. But somehow it works. There are pages with hardly any whitespace, another faux pas. Lack of whitespace makes readers weary, shorter paragraphs and single lines mix it up visually and the reader is less intimidated by droning on and on, so they say.

I am only two thirds through the book, and I have only found a couple of sexual reference that might be construed as troubling, even though one would think there would be more, given the subject. But I have found (so far) six editing errors, five which were duplicate words or wrongly phrased such that I knew it was   unintentional, and one punctuation error. I always feel a little compensated when I find errors in the works of “real authors” (if I dare use that term), as if – see, we are all fallible!

So, even if this is not my favorite of his novels, the writing is still all there, superb, funny, gripping descriptions of characters (of which there are a great number). Take this description of himself, on the first page, written in first person POV:

Physically, I was of the type no longer commonly minted, a large serious face, a little heavier than necessary, broad shoulders, sturdy legs, hair and eyes the color of a lunch bag.

Gives you a pretty good idea, right? I especially loved the reference to a lunch bag.

Or this description of someone encountered at one of the stops:

One was a heavyset guy with a shaved head who looked like the world’s most enormous baby, with a nose like a knuckle and dark little eyes the size of watermelon seeds.

The book is crammed with stuff like this. On every page, there are great thoughts and descriptions. This author understands people, he gets it so right. Humorous, witty, and insightful.

And yes, I am envious.

Anne Tyler Did Not Give Up

Today I’m writing about one of my favorite authors, Anne Tyler. Ms. Tyler is, in my opinion, a Master of Quirk. Quirky characters, quirky families, quirky situations. I picked up If Morning Ever Comes, several times at the library and always returned it to the shelf. But I finally decided to try it, even though I thought the title seemed unlike her others, it almost sounded romance-y. If Morning Ever Comes. Bah.

It wasn’t like her other novels at all. I couldn’t keep the sisters straight at the beginning, and was no better off at the end. The “feisty” grandmother didn’t connect with me, the mother was aloof and a mystery and not clearly developed and the main character was boring. He might be the most boring guy who ever lived, and his dialogue was less than stellar. He says “Well” a lot. Nothing more. Just, well.

The most minute details are discussed, even the location of where one of the sisters left her napkin. I’m guessing it was a cloth napkin, and, mystery solved, she left it on the porch. As if anyone would care about that. It wasn’t a long book, I’m guessing under 100,000 words, and most of it was devoted to describing boring and trivial events.

I could scarcely read the main guy’s name, Ben Joe, without cringing (wasn’t one of the Walton sons named Ben Joe? No I guess that was Jim Bob.) Apparently, Ben Joe figured that the household couldn’t function properly without him and so, when his oldest sister, who was married and lived in some Midwestern state, Iowa maybe, with a daughter, left her husband and returned to the old family homestead, he decided, being the only male member, he needed to make the trip back home from college to attend to things.

He shows up, and things get more trivial from there, details about who sits where, and these descriptions lack imagination. And forget about Show Don’t Tell. I finished the book because I wanted to blog about it, and for no other reason. I went on Amazon and looked at reviews of this book, and found that other people disliked it as much as I did. I read comments like, “I really love Anne Tyler, but this book was not like her usual, it was just boring.”

And then I discovered that it was her first book, written in 1964 and Ms. Tyler later disavowed it, saying she didn’t understand how it got published in the first place. Maybe some editor saw something in her prose, some glimmer of great things to come. And maybe the fact that she sold the first one, gave Ms. Tyler the enthusiasm to go forward, write more stories, which got better and better, as time went on.

So the moral of the blog is… Authors, Don’t Give Up.

Keep on writing. Sure maybe the first one isn’t going to make anyone’s best seller list, and maybe looking back on first attempts, you might think, I kinda wish now I hadn’t put that out there. But the skill of writing is a learned one, just as everything else. Of course, it helps to have a bit of talent, and a sense of humor, and maybe a few ideas that no one has thought of, but no one can put a string of words together in quite the same way you can.

Everyone has different histories, different environments, different families and friends and events that happen to them. All of that goes into writing too, as one of my friends put it, and I’m not quoting directly, but words to the effect that “An author’s fiction is his own unique perspective on life.”

So, get discouraged if you must, but don’t give up.

I’m not going to.