Make It Happen

It’s been two years since I decided to sit down and finally write a novel, or I should say novels.  Yes, plural.  As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been writing since I was nine years old, but up until July 1, 2012, I’d never been disciplined enough to finish a novel.  I’d tried several times.  I’d have an idea and start writing, but it would just peter out as other priorities rose to the top or I simply lost interest in the story.  I could never get over the hump for whatever reason or excuse I could muster.  Finally, I chastised myself for not making time for my dream of writing a novel and decided to do something about it.  That singular focus helped me finish not one but four novels in the space of two years.  It’s amazing what discipline and focus can do for you.

It’s not like I didn’t know that already; it was just a matter of shifting my priorities to make it happen.  My big excuse prior to finally writing a novel was that I didn’t have time.  With a day job and two kids, it’s easy to see why I wouldn’t have time to spend writing.  My weekends have a way of disappearing almost as soon as they begin and my weekdays are often long days at the office punctuated by sheer exhaustion in the evenings after the kids go to bed.  Where could I possibly find time to write without giving up something else important to me?

I found my answer in the morning.  I’ve always been a morning person anyway.  I get more done in the first two hours of every day than most people get done in the first half of their day.  I’m usually very lucid in the early morning and, fortunately, most creative then.  Don’t even ask me to be creative in the evenings because by then I’m spent.  I decided that the only way I was going to write a novel was to get up earlier and spend time writing before my day actually begins, so on July 1, 2012, I got up at 4:30 AM for the first time to start my writing journey.

I’m not going to lie.  That time of the morning is painful even for a morning person.  I’d always woken up at 5 AM, and you’d think that 30 minutes earlier wouldn’t make a difference, but it does.  I hated it at first, but I was energized to have such pristine quiet time to focus on writing.  As the days went by, I wrote more and more.   I took one of my novel ideas and within three months I had a 75,000 word novel in first draft form.  The adrenaline rush of putting the finishing touches on my first novel fed the desire to keep doing it, and after two years, I readily get up at 4:30 AM every weekday morning to write for an hour without a second thought.  It’s an essential habit now.  Most importantly, I no longer use the excuse of time for why I haven’t written a novel.

Now, it’s just a matter of getting one or all of them published.  Honestly, my efforts there could use more discipline.  I’ve sent query letters and attended a conference where I met with agents, but I haven’t had the focused effort that I’ve spent with writing itself.  My focus has been on improving my writing and getting feedback on my existing work.  I use that feedback to improve, and essentially, all of my novels are in various stages of editing, while I continue to write new things.  Nevertheless, at some point, I will have to turn my attention to getting published in a big way if I want to make it happen.  I know what it will take.  It’s just a matter of making the commitment.

Write Anything

Given my usually busy schedule, I have a set time to write every weekday from five to six in the morning.  That hour is precious to me, so you’ll often find me in my favorite chair pounding away on my keyboard until the vortex that is my day pulls me away.  By the time I sit down in my chair I’ve already had breakfast and at least two cups of coffee, so I’m ready to go.  I’m a morning person, so this time of the day is my most focused and productive.  Once I sit down, I can usually dive right into writing mode.  I’ve rarely had a problem with thinking of something to write.

That’s not to say it comes easily.  Sometimes, when I’m in the throes of a story, I find myself staring at the blinking cursor on my screen wondering where I should take the story.  Other times, I find myself simply exhausted with the story and I realize I need a break from it – not from writing but just that story at that particular moment.  One way I’ve gotten around this problem is to have several things going at once.  For example, I’m currently editing a book, working on a new one, and writing a short story.  I don’t work on them at the same time obviously, but each day I can decide which one I feel like working on.  That helps me make the most of my hour and keeps me from burning out on any particular work.

Then, there are the rare days where my mind wanders and I feel somewhat random in my writing.  I don’t feel like working on any of the irons I have in the fire.  What to do?  I usually just open up a blank Word document and just start writing whatever comes to mind.  There’s a lot of relaxation in just writing from a stream of consciousness.  Often, I find new ideas take root and turn into something bigger whether its a new novel, short story, or a blog post.  The current short story I’m working on found its genesis on one of those mornings when I simply wanted to be random.  Before I knew it I had a few pages written, and now I’m well on my way to another story for this blog.

On the other hand, many times I just end up with scraps of stuff in my files that served mainly as a creative outlet but didn’t turn into anything substantial.  That’s fine too.  I think it’s important to just write during my designated hour each day whether or not it works out.  Writing, like any craft, requires exercise to get better.  You always have to stretch yourself if you ever want to grow as a writer, much like a runner has to push the limits if she wants to get faster or go further.

On those days when I’m feeling less than enamored with my current work, I just write anything.  Get myself out there and run the fast mile to see what happens.  It’s better than staring at that damn cursor as the time ticks away.

Tendrils of Emotion

I recently finished reading The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein and thoroughly enjoyed the book.  As a lover of dogs and a doting father, I have a natural predisposition to revel in stories about dogs and fatherhood, both of which are the center of gravity in Racing.  The ending of the book left me in tears even though I knew what would ultimately happen to the Enzo, the protagonist and narrator who happens to be a dog.  The book connected with me on an emotional level that is both difficult and paramount for an author to do if she wants to engage her reader and pull him into the story.  Difficult but necessary.

All of this left me wondering how an author connects with her readers on an intense emotional level.  Some may read Racing and find it’s just another story to them.  They may dislike dogs or refuse to suspend their reality filter long enough to dive into an story narrated by a dog that has achieved a level of intelligence capable enough to construct a story about the world around him.  The truth is an author cannot possibly please all potential readers.  Even great literary classics don’t connect with everyone.  I loved Animal Farm, but could barely read 1984.  I think Of Mice and Men is much better than The Grapes of Wrath.  Orwell and Steinbeck are considered great authors but even they couldn’t please everyone or connect with them at that emotional level.

To give a more recent example, I read The Goldfinch a few weeks ago.  Tartt’s gorgeous prose paints a picture that would leave most capable authors impressed.  She is a masterful writer whose exquisite knowledge of her subjects and careful attention to detail puts the reader right in the middle of whatever scene she’s concocted.  Reading Tartt is like eating a wonderful yet formal meal prepared by a world-renowned chef in an equally enthralling restaurant with a grand panoramic view of a golden sunset over the shimmering Pacific.  At the end I felt fulfilled and content, a satisfaction that comes with a full belly and a full mind, but I didn’t exactly feel emotionally connected to the characters or the story.  Certainly, they were interesting and vividly portrayed, but I shed no tears of their plight despite the fact that the plot was inherently sad.

Contrast that with Stein’s book.  He’s no slouch when it comes to beautiful writing.  I personally took note of many great lines in the book, but his writing is much more efficient and barebones than Tartt’s.  In this case, less is more.  The words on the page had more punch per square inch emotionally than did the seemingly superfluous words in Goldfinch.  Tartt relies on her beautiful prose and meticulous detail to convey her story, while Stein provides just enough structure to build the arc of the story and translate the emotion of it all.  Reading Racing was akin to enjoying a nice, warm cup of coffee next to a warm fire on a cold, winter day, comforting and enjoyable.

So which approach is better?  Tartt’s mastery of the written word or Stein’s engaging emotion?  I can’t say either is the “best” in the true sense of a contest between two contrasting styles, but I can say that it’s important to know your audience and what you hope to achieve with your story.  Do you want to prove the depth of your literary bearing or do you want to appeal to the emotions of your readers?  I don’t think you can do both.  I don’t think you can serve two masters at once.   If anything reading these two books close together has taught me the importance of focusing on my purpose in each of my stories.  Both of these books are good, but they are appealing in different ways and they had a dramatically different effect on me as a reader.  As a student of the written word, I consider it another lesson in the art of writing, and that’s one reason I read so much.  You can never learn enough.

 

Redemption

I first attempted writing a novel back in 1997.  I got about 50 thousand words into it and stopped.  I trashed most of it and started again and this has happened multiple times over the years.  I just couldn’t get the story right.  The protagonist of this story, who is also the narrator, is a complete asshole in the beginning.  He’s profane, misogynistic, crude, and wholly unlikeable.  The opening chapter, which is below, is probably a case study in what not to do to endear your characters to your readers because it pisses off most people, but my point in being so over-the-top with the opening is that I wanted to show that everyone, yes even this guy, has some redemptive qualities, and during the course of this story, the protagonist becomes a more sympathetic character.  The problem with it is that I didn’t pull off the transition to my satisfaction.  One day I plan to go back to this story and smooth out the very rough edges.  I think the story is still a good one, but I need to make the main character less hateful.

Why am I even posting this?  The purpose of this blog is to serve as scratch pad of sorts.  A place to experiment and play with unfinished work.  Sometimes a dialog results that helps me think about things differently, and I think there’s value in that.  Almost all the work I post here is raw and unfinished, and much of it may never see the light of day in terms of publication.  I haven’t seen many blogs that share that side of the writing process so I hope that my blog is somewhat unique in that way.

I will warn you that the following is profane, misogynistic, and crude (as noted above).  Will Burris is a tormented young man with a twisted view of the world he rails against.  He’s returning home for the funeral of his older sister and to a family that is less than welcoming.  It’s a story of love, loss, and race in the small town of Walden, Georgia.  Will’s only reason for returning to his hometown is to say goodbye to his sister, but old friends and adversaries greet him at every turn, and he finds himself forced to reconcile his past with his future.  It’s a story of redemption at the basest level.

BECCA

It’s a beautiful spring day in Atlanta as my plane begins its descent into the city’s bustling airport. The sky is so blue that I can see for miles along the horizon, and I imagine that the crisp, cool air that will greet me on this early spring morning will remind me of growing up here. Spring was always my favorite time of the year when I was a young boy. I loved the way Mother Nature rolled over, stretched, and slowly emerged from her winter slumber and greeted everyone with the sweet smell of honeysuckle. It’s enough to make one sentimental, but I’m not the sentimental type.

“Ladies and gentlemen, the captain has turned on the seatbelt sign indicating our initial descent into Atlanta. At this time, please bring your seat backs to the upright position…,” coaxes Darlene, the flight attendant with the annoying southern drawl.

“Damn, I wish she would shut the fuck up,” I mutter to myself. I have spent the greater part of the flight listening to this woman drone on and on in her hee-haw vernacular about approved electronic devices and how to buckle the damn seat belt. If anyone cannot figure out how to buckle the goddamned seat belt, they shouldn’t be flying.

I peer up the aisle at her as she continues her spiel. I’m in row two, so I can see her clearly. She glances my way and notices my irritated stare. She pauses momentarily, smiles weakly, and turns away quickly. For the first time, I examine her closely and I have her pegged right away. The thick make-up, the over-sprayed hair, and the cheap perfume all conspire to define her. She’s one of those gold-digging dim-wits who probably became a flight attendant in hopes of landing a pilot for a husband. She’s probably on husband number three, maybe four. She’s easy, so she always has a man at arm’s length. Over the years, she’s been hardened by reality, but she fancies herself as wise. Given the accent, she likely grew up in a trailer park in Alabama and now thinks she has escaped her white trash roots. “Not a chance, lady. I can see right through you,” I think to myself.

The chatty flight attendant finally takes her seat for the landing and except for the brief welcome to Atlanta, I don’t hear from her again. She is nowhere to be found as I leave the plane and walk up the jet way. Good riddance.

I make my way through the busy concourse and up toward baggage claim. Just as I remember, baggage service is slow and I wait impatiently muttering under my breath about the lazy baggage handlers and their unionized, entitlement mentality. “Goddamned baggage handlers,” I say aloud to myself. The old lady next to me glances back but hurriedly returns her stare to the vacant baggage carousel. I look at her and notice that she has a dog-eared bible under her arm.

“Welcome back to the bible belt,” I think. Every old fuck in the world down here believes in hell and brimstone. Of course they do. They are on their last leg sucking the resources of the country dry and they want to ensure they go to heaven. Rotting in the ground is going to be a huge disappointment for this old bitch.

The carousel buzzer goes off and the belt shimmers to life. A few minutes later, luggage emerges from the cave below and crashes down onto the flimsy aluminum railing that encircles carousel. Luckily for me, my suitcase is one of the first ones to hit the belt. I grab my case, extend the handle, and dart off to the rental car tram.

The ride to the rental car is uneventful and fortunately so. I’m not in the best of moods. In fact, I’m downright cantankerous. The flight from New York felt longer than I remember and despite the first class seat, I couldn’t get comfortable. That damned flight attendant didn’t help matters. Who names their kid Darlene anyway? Sounds like some hooker I might have met in Dallas. The moment she introduced herself to the passengers I knew I was going to hate her.

As I get into my rental car I remember to turn on my cell phone. No messages. Shit, doesn’t anyone call me anymore? You’d think the office would at least need something from me. It is a workday after all. “Fuck ‘em,” I think to myself.

I scan my contact list on my phone. I don’t have many girlfriends in there, but I do have quite a few escorts listed. I don’t have time for dating anyway, and when I meet a woman, I need to get what I want and get back to business. Prostitution should be legal. Hell, both sides get what they want and no one has to get married or divorced and there is not any emotional bullshit. For some people, relationships shouldn’t be necessary.

I flip through the list to the Fs. Foster. Edward Foster. Eddie. Eddie works at my company’s office here in Atlanta. I’ve met him many times when he’s come to New York for business meetings or training. He’s one hell of drinker and knows where to get the best pussy. I think I’ll give him a call, so I punch the call icon next to his name. I’m sure he’s up for lunch.

“May I speak to Eddie, please?” I say politely to his assistant once she answers the phone.

“May I ask who’s calling?” she asks.

“Will Burris from New York,” I reply in my best business voice.

“Thank you, Mr. Burris,” she returns. She sounds hot. I’ll have to ask Eddie about her. He’s probably already fucked her or at least day-dreamed about it. He’ll fuck anything.

“Will! What the fuck are you doing?” Eddie screams as he answers the line. “I haven’t seen you since we went out drinking last year and you left with that hottie in Central Park.”

“That cost me some serious dough,” I reply exaggerating the circumstances quite a bit. I didn’t actually go back to my place with the bitch. I paid her two hundred bucks and she gave me a blowjob in some nearby alley. I was so drunk, I didn’t care. “I’m in Atlanta. Do you have time for lunch?”

“Sure. What’d you have in mind?”

“Is the Platinum Club still over there in Midtown?”

“You bet! They have a free lunch buffet and some of the best pussy in town.”

“Heh, that sounds good. Why don’t I meet you there at Noon?” I say looking at my watch and notice that it’s almost 11:20 AM. I’m sure I can make it there by then.

“Sure thing. I may be a little late, but go ahead and get a table for us. It will be great to catch up with you and see how things are going.”

“Whatever. I just need to see some hot tits. It’s been a while.”

“Lover boy having some problems, huh?” Eddie laughs.

“Fuck you,” I return sarcastically drawing out the “uck” in mock irritation. Eddie and I are always competing on who gets laid the most and in what manner. I lie most of the time, but Eddie doesn’t seem to mind. Hell, I bet he’s lying too. No way has that short, ugly fuck gets half the women he claims. After a few more macho taunts, we say goodbye and I leave the rental car facility to head up to Midtown. I haven’t been there in years, but the Platinum Club, or the “Plat” as it’s known, is an Atlanta institution. I hope it is still as good as it used to be.

Traffic grinds to a halt as I get near downtown. Goddamned city has a fucking fourteen lane freeway through the middle of it and it still gets congested. I try to relax, but my patience fades quickly. Some dumbass in a minivan cuts me off and immediately slams on his brakes. I hit the brakes hard and the tires squeal. My middle finger comes up reflexively as I honk my horn. The minivan driver returns the favor and yells something out his window. I ignore him. I’m not going to get killed by some hell-on-wheels hick in a minivan today.

Despite the traffic, I manage to get to the Plat just in time for my meeting with Eddie. I hand the valet my key and walk quickly to door anxious to get inside and check out the ladies. As I enter the club it all comes back to me. It’s like I had never left. Other than some slight renovations to upgrade the look, the layout is the same as it was when I was here ten years ago. To the left is the hostess stand before the door to the main room that has a large central stage and catwalk and the four satellite stages that circumscribe the room. Straight ahead is the stairway that leads to the VIP rooms on the second level. These rooms encircled the main room from the second floor. Privacy glass encases these rooms so that the VIPs can see the action from above, but it does not allow the crowd to see the action in the VIP rooms.

The last time I was here, Eddie and I went to the VIP rooms with Russell Duncan, the former Senior Vice President of my company. Russ was a hell-raiser in his younger years, but when he hit his mid-thirties he decided it was time to settle down. He married a beautiful model straight from the catwalk in Paris, settled into a posh apartment in Manhattan, and had two equally beautiful kids. But Russ wasn’t much for settling down. His wife kept him on a short leash, and every time we traveled out of town, he wanted to get shit-faced and fuck anything with a heartbeat.

During one of his visits, we ended up at the Plat one night after an incredibly long day in Atlanta negotiating a big deal for the company, and Russ wanted to blow off some steam. I thought we’d just get a table and enjoy the view, but Russ pulled out a wad of cash and had the hostess take us to one of the VIP rooms. Russ always loved to play the money man, and when he was getting wasted he was at his best. He hit the liquor the moment we reached our seats, and after a few hours, we were all drunk and several thousand dollars poorer.

I don’t remember much from that night other than the first hour or so. I do know I spent a lot of money. I think I may have gotten a blow job, but I could have dreamed it for all I know. Unfortunately, that night was the beginning of the end for Russ. He woke up the next morning with two of the strippers in his hotel bed. One of them ended up pregnant with his child, and he ended up with Chlamydia. Six months later, his wife left him and moved back to Paris with his two kids. Russ was devastated and began to drink himself out of a job. He left the company to “pursue other interests” about a year later, and I never heard from him again. A few months later, I had his job. Success is a beautiful thing.

“Will!” Eddie yells behind me interrupting my thoughts. I turn to greet him and he hugs me before I can extend my hand.

“How the fuck are you?” I ask incredulously.

“I’m doing great especially now that I’m having lunch here,” he replies with his best macho swagger and broad smile. “Believe it or not, I haven’t been here in about a year.”

“I don’t believe you,” I retort. Eddie is as hard-up as they come. He couldn’t refrain from pursuing pussy if his life depended on it. Fortunately, our company doesn’t monitor network activity because Eddie routinely takes porn breaks in his office. He brags about it and occasionally sends me links in email. I had to tell him to send that shit to my personal email because no pussy is worth getting fired.

“Believe it,” he says confidently as he sits at the table with me. He unbuttons his jacket and surveys the room with that big toothy grin of his.

Before we can continue this exchange, a waitress interrupts us to take our drink order. “Are you two having lunch with us today,” she asks.

“Are you on the menu?” Eddie asks coyly. Eddie has had a thing for cheesy come-ons. As long as I’ve known him, he’s always made me wince with his cheesy lines. No wonder he has to pay to get laid.   The waitress giggles uncomfortably and informs him that she is in fact not on the menu. He gasps in mock disbelief trying to continue the charade as if he’s making progress.

“We’ll have the buffet,” I interrupt hoping to put an end to this shameless banter. Eddie gazes impatiently at me as the waitress walks away.

“She’s hot!” he says. “I’d pop that.”

“You’d pop anything. Hell, you’d probably pop your sister if you weren’t related.”

“True, but at least I’ll admit it,” Eddie glares insinuating that I’m in the same sorry state. He’s wrong. I spend good money for classy women and I don’t accept just anything.

“Should I remind you about Laurie Baker?” I ask referring to one of his worse encounters with an ugly, and dare I say, fat woman. Laurie was a young intern at one of the companies we acquired in Dallas years ago. Eddie and I had been assigned to do the due diligence, so we met in Dallas to begin our work. From the moment we arrived, Laurie, for whatever godforsaken reason, was smitten with Eddie, and he played it up piling on the cheesy lines and flirting with her shamelessly. He would throw her a bone and turn around and ridicule her to me in the same breath. He likened it to teasing a vicious dog on a short leash. Unfortunately for Eddie, he had a few too many at the close party for the acquisition and ended up sleeping with Laurie in his hotel room. I ragged him for months about that one.

“Please don’t,” he replies sounding mildly irritated and waving his hand at me as if he were shooing a fly.

“That’s what I thought.”

“Why are you in town? I thought you were working on the deal in Chicago,” Eddie asks shifting the subject quickly.

“I’m not here for work. I’m visiting my family,” I respond.

“You…are visiting your family? What the hell happened? Did someone die?” he asks in disbelief.

“No…I just need to visit my sister one last time,” I lie half-heartedly looking for a way to change the subject.

“One last time? Why now?” he asks. Before I can ask him to drop the subject, the waitress shows up with our drinks and Eddie immediately shifts to undressing her with his eyes. He flashes a smile at her and asks her if she dances too. She just giggles and says she doesn’t. As she walks away, she makes sure Eddie gets an eye full of her ass in the tight shorts. Eddie almost falls out of his chair.

“You are so hard-up,” I say teasing Eddie for his not-so-subtle attempt to be cool and not desperate at the same time.

“Fuck you, Will,” he says without looking at me. “I like to appreciate a beautiful woman and I let my appreciation show.”

“You should just take your dick out of your pants and bang it against the table,” I suggest. “You just might be more successful at getting laid if you are more discreet about it.”

Eddie glares over at me, smiles, and let’s out a laugh in disbelief. “You’re one sick fucker, Will.”

“To sick fuckers,” I say raising my glass in a cheer. Our glasses clink and we both take a couple of long swallows of our beers. By the time we finish our first drink, we realize we ordered the buffet and make our way to the buffet line. Our food is stale and overcooked, but we don’t seem to mind as we finish our lunch and enjoy the scenery. We watch the women dance on the main stage and the various stages surrounding the main stage, and we cheer when our favorite dancer for the moment finishes her act. Occasionally, we wander up to the stage and tip the dancers hoping to get close to their large breasts, nice asses, or whatever part of them we are enthralled with at the moment.

About an hour and a half into our lunch, Eddie decides he just has to get a table dance from the stripper known as Candy. As she finishes her act and works her way across the floor, Eddie leaps from his chair and catches up to her. I watch as they agree upon the transaction. She touches his arm, giggles, and makes him feel like the man of the hour. Eddie is smiling and looking confident. Since Eddie is not a good looking or desirable man, this is probably the only time he feels confident around women – when he’s flashing his cash.

Candy takes Eddie’s hand and leads him over to the couches where these “table dances” take place. I can still see Eddie because our table is along the edge of the main room just off the entrance to the couch area. Although they are called table dances, these dances are more like a bump-and-grind. The girls get totally naked and grind on your dick like you are getting laid with your clothes on. The really good ones will let you suck on their tits and grab their ass. The couch area is dark with just a faint hint of purple neon lights. Eddie’s couch is just under one of these purple lights so I can see him relatively well. He and Candy chat as they wait for the next song to begin. You’d think they were a couple the way they are carrying on, but like all transactions, when the money changes hands everyone goes their separate ways.

The song begins and Candy quickly drops her top and teases her way out of her thong as Eddie grabs her like a high school boy getting laid for the first time. He has this goofy look on his face as she grinds on his lap. After a few seconds of this, Eddie grabs her hips and pretends to fuck her hard by pulling her into his lap. She plays along and twists and moans grabbing her breasts and licking her nipples.

It is at this moment that I realize who Eddie reminds me of most of all – Ron Jeremy. Ron Jeremy is that short, fat, ugly porn star who seems to be in every porn flick made in the past 20 years. He’s been in so many porn flicks and fucked so many women – both hot and not – that he’s achieved a cult icon status. There’s even a documentary about his life. Eddie looks just like him except he has neatly-cropped short hair that is greased back with hair gel and a moustache that is well-trimmed to frame his mouth perfectly. He also wears expensive suits that scream money, but when you look like Eddie, you have to advertise that you’re rich if you ever want to get laid.

In the moment that I think about the similarities between Ron and Eddie, Eddie reappears at the table still wearing that goofy grin and smelling of cheap perfume. “That was awesome, man!” he says in his best macho voice.

“Looks like you enjoyed yourself,” I say snidely trying not to bring up the Ron Jeremy comparison. Eddie and I tolerate each other, but we aren’t mean to each other beyond the usual male bravado. “I need to get going if I’m going to get to my friend’s house before it gets too late.”

“Yeah, sure. I need to get back to work anyway. Thanks for meeting me for lunch. It was fun as always,” Eddie says gathering his jacket and following me to the exit. We exchange what little pleasantries we can muster, shake hands, and go our separate ways once the valet brings my car around to me. I get in and head down the street for the freeway. I have a two-hour drive ahead of me.

Luckily, the freeway is no longer congested as the downtown denizens have returned to their offices after lunch to finish their day and await yet another rush hour crunch. I stomp the gas on the rental car as I merge into traffic on I-75/85 north heading out of Atlanta and eventually veer onto I-85 as it takes me further from the city. I can see the skyline in my rearview mirror getting smaller and the traffic getting thinner as I get further from the city. I settle into my seat and begin to relax.

For the first time since I looked out the window of the airplane upon my arrival, I remember that it is a beautiful March day. The sky remains a deep blue and the warm air wraps everything like a light blanket. Just as I had thought, I can smell the honeysuckle in the air, and it brings back memories from many years ago. I remember growing up here. In fact, this was the only place I had known until I went away to college just before I turned 18. At the time, I thought this place was both hell and the most beautiful place on earth, and March was the time of the year when you could finally get outside and enjoy the world as it came to life.

March was Becca’s favorite month too. Rebecca Mae Burris is my older sister. When I was a toddler I couldn’t say “Rebecca”, so I just said “Becca”. Her abbreviated name became such a habit that everyone in the family picked it up. Even her friends called her Becca. Eventually, it became her name and no one except her family and her closest friends even acknowledged that her real name was Rebecca.

The memories almost make me recoil like one would react if a startling image appeared suddenly, so I turn on the radio and scan the FM band for a local radio station. A good song always washes away anything that makes me uncomfortable. After a few seconds, I find an 80s station and hear Starship’s “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now”. Yet another memory resurfaces, but this time it’s all good. I lost my virginity to this song.

“Missy Moreland, where are you now?” I think to myself as the song plays on the radio. I glance at the horizon and fade into fond memories of my first time and Missy’s beautiful face. I’m sure I’m smiling at this point, and my day seems to have gotten a lot better. If it weren’t for this two-hour drive, I’d be absolutely chipper. It is such a beautiful day. I haven’t visited my hometown in ten years, and I couldn’t have picked a better day to come back – at least in terms of the weather.

“Too bad I’m coming home for a funeral,” I think forlornly. “Too goddamned bad…”

Mind the Gap

I recently finished Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, and while I thoroughly enjoyed the book, it didn’t quite make my Top 10 of all time books.  The book is beautifully written, and Ms. Tartt has proven that she is a master of gorgeous, flowing prose.  Her style reminded me very much of my favorite book of all time, Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts.  Both authors employ flourishing language in their stories that put the reader smack in the middle of the action they portray and give the reader such vivid detail that even the least imaginative among us can conjure up the setting of each scene and the nuances of each unique character, but Goldfinch reminded me of one important aspect of storytelling: Mind the Gap.

mindthegap

Great storytellers know the importance of the gap in any story.  The gap is the detail that is not provided, the parts of the story left to the reader’s imagination.  Sometimes the most powerful elements of the story are all in the reader’s mind.  The storyteller simply provides the setting, the characters, and the fuel to the story, and the reader does the rest.

For example, my brother-in-law is a superb storyteller.  He instinctively knows just the right amount of detail to provide in any story he tells to great comedic effect.  He always gets it right, the timing, the details, the pause, etc.  Another person less gifted could tell the same story and it would fall flat because they didn’t mind the gaps.  Too much detail, awkward timing, and nonexistent pauses would surely kill the essence of the story.

The same is true in writing.  I think of writing very much like drawing a picture except when you draw a picture you want it to be complete in every sense of the word – shaded in all the important places or the right colors used.  In writing, you don’t want to shade or color every single part of the story.  You want to leave some areas open for interpretation to allow the reader to fill in the gaps.  That’s what gives the reader the satisfaction of reading the story.  They can make of it what they want.  Getting this right is extremely difficult but very rewarding.

Such gaps are also why two people can read the same story and come away with different perspectives on it.  My wife and I are very different readers.  She loves thrillers and supernatural stories about vampires, while I tend to love stories that focus on the human experience.  We are both voracious readers, and we’ve read the same books on more than one occasion.  Each time we discuss the books, we have different interpretations of the stories and what makes them good or bad because we fill in the gaps differently.  In fact, she didn’t like Shantaram even though it’s my favorite book.  The gaps of that story simply didn’t tickle her imagination like they did mine.

All of this gets me back to The Goldfinch.  Ms. Tartt’s powerful novel, although beautifully written, sometimes tries to fill in all the details.  Theo, the protagonist and narrator of the story, goes into great detail about many things, often to the point of exhaustion.  I love the prose, but even someone who likes to turn words over and enjoy the feel of them and the meaning they convey can get a little exhausted with the endless details.  Sure, the settings and characters described were clearly drawn for me, but I could have gotten the sense of them with fewer details.  That’s what my imagination is for.  Roberts is very similar to Tartt in his love of flowery prose, but he stopped short of going too far and that’s why I loved Shantaram and simply liked Goldfinch very much.  It’s all in the gaps.