This winter I visited the state where I grew up. Culture shock and jet lag were still pushing hard on me, but the local color was stronger than anything else. Third day in Oklahoma I stood in a motel lobby, listened to an oil field worker talk about his house, car and boat. Then i sat down and started writing.
I’d resisted spurs jangling in Walmart, cowboy hats and trailers filled with farm animals. But I was bitten by the characters I’d cooked up while in the motel lobby in Enid. The characters had a certain way of expressing themselves and their topic. And I had to write.
But then I met old friends and applied the rule, ‘imagine this person reading your book.’ I couldn’t. I could see me being enraptured by economic and class changes in Oklahoma; but I knew few others would care at all.
Slowly it all added up: people had much more on their minds than I had any idea of. I decided to write a love story with no large outside complications. No drug addiction, no homelessness, no alzheimer’s, no meth labs.Just intelligent writing and good grammar, high class escape.
Have you heard Schubert’s Trout Quintet? It’s been compared to a cheerful, active stream. No shadows, no sadness. That’s what I’m doing in my new book of love stories: not one unpleasant scene. No drugs, no obesity, no violence. I’ve checked and re-checked sentence structure and grammar. I found the vocabulary my audience will have. And I found the vocabulary people would easily understand. I’ve made a dozen passes through the wip, applying Strunk & White’s maxims (‘beware the unnecssary modifier,’for example.)
Writing my fiction, I utilized something that kept getting me published in travel writing for 20 years: flip everything to its bright side. Be optimistic.
In Kathmandu a few years ago I bought David Rothwell’s A to Z of English Literature. In it he discusses, rather flippantly, the shift that’s taken hold of us all. He remarks, ‘after directing traffic all day or juggling bedpans for eight hours straight, you might not be in the mood for reading Pope…’
Now I’ve come to sympathize. Lots of what I do is boring, seems a bit futile even. Imagine a single parent or even yourself with 5 more responsibilities than you have now. How much mentally challenging liiterature could you read?
More tomorrow. I really enjoy hearing from you!