I haven’t been doing any writing on writing in this blog since I forced myself off my overlong hiatus. That’s what the point of this blog was way back when; to write and, most times, to write about writing, either the world of writing or my own personal experience with it.
Plain fact of the matter is, life’s been hell this last year, even worse, in my eyes anyway, than the previous two or three. Not going to go into detail or anything so you won’t have to wade through a pity-river rant here. Suffice it to say that I’m adhering to that old adage, if you’re going through hell, keep going.
The one intolerable thing about this last year is that I’ve been unable to write. It’s not so much a block, more like quicksand. The idea bank certainly hasn’t failed me but for reasons I can’t, or don’t wish to, get into here, I haven’t been able to translate those ideas into a story. Every time I try I find myself sinking beneath the weight of a lot of things that never bothered me before and the harder I struggle against it, the deeper I sink. Bottom line, I’ve lost the ability to write for myself first but I’ll explore that whole morass in another post.
This inability to write hit critical mass about a month ago and I decided to give this blog a try again. My idea was this is, more or less, non-fiction, I’m not really looking to impress anyone, I control what I want to write about and how I write it, I have no idea if anyone is actually reading what I write and, though I care about that to be sure, it doesn’t seem as important as someone reading my fiction. Not sure that makes any sense but who cares.
It also occurred to me that writing in the blog might, A) get me back in the habit and, B) help me to sneak up on my fiction. Weird, yeah, but whatever works and nothing else has thus far.
So where am I going with all this?
Well, first, I read a novella recently, or more accurately, had it read to me by the author. I’m a big fan of audio books as what I currently do to pay the rent doesn’t leave me with a lot of time to read and I can’t live without books.
The author is Alan Bennett and I’ve been given to understand that he something of a famous playwright and author. Sorry to say I never heard of him but, considering the direction my taste in reading generally leads me, that’s not saying much.
The Novella in question is titled The Uncommon Reader and it is a most charming little story about the joy of reading. The ‘uncommon reader’ in the story is the Queen of England and it revolves around how she accidentally becomes a reader and the subsequent changes that come about because of this. The author’s obvious talent and feel for the story and that dry British wit and humor I love so much makes for a wry and entertaining little tale that will keep you turning the page (or changing disks) right up to the very last words. The Uncommon Reader was one of those rare stories I wished wouldn’t end and Alan Bennett does an excellent job of reading it.
The second item is a bit more perplexing.
I’ve never read Lawrence Block. No particular reason and he’s too prolific for me to have missed noticing him. Reading him just never happened until recently.
Small Town is a beautifully written, complex story that, from my understanding, Mr. Block was working on when the Twin Towers came down. Not sure where the story was going before 9/11 but the course Mr. Block put it on afterward makes it one of the most compelling and haunting stories I’ve read in a long while.
The story takes place in – where else? – New York, the “small town” of the title, roughly a year after the tragedy. It is, in one sense, a murder mystery but it goes way beyond that in many ways. And one of the ways in which it does is the antagonist.
I’ve always had a fondness for the antagonist, both in what I read and in what I write. In general, if there is one main character in most genre novels that comes off as flat or cliched, it’s the antagonist. Not sure why this is but that’s been my experience so finding an antagonist such as the one in Small Town has been a real joy, and a real study of a master writer at work.
So why am I perplexed?
I am by no means a prude. Sex in stories, right up to, and including, soft porn, doesn’t bother me so long as it’s integral to the story. Which, sad to say, it ain’t in Small Town. And believe me, this story is full of sex. Kinky sex, hetro sex, homo sex, you name it sex. Hell, I do believe there’s more sex than story. Indeed, if one performed a Reader’s Digest surgical procedure on this book, removing all the sex, you’d cut its size in half, if not more. And that’s kind of sad because the story itself is so wonderfully wrought and in no way needs all that throbbing in the nether regions, not to mention the banana.
Would I recommend Small Town despite this nit-pick? Oh yeah. You bet I would. In, well, in a New York minute.