Well, it’s that day of the week again (Thursday), when I write yet another blog post for the entertainment, and occasionally the edification, of those who want to read it. As I did two weeks ago, I’m breaking up my author’s notes, interspersing them with less specific ramblings on my current, past, and planned writings. Next week, I’ll continue my author’s note series, with a note on Son of Man. Once I’ve caught up with the notes up to and including my latest published story, I plan to start periodically posting sample first chapters of my published works, as teasers to get readers interested—or, alternatively, to let them know for certain that they are uninterested—in the books and stories from which they’ll be excerpted. This should be fun, I think, and will certainly be less work for me on those weeks when I post them.
Right now—so to speak—I’m near the completion of preparing to publish Hole for a Heart. We at Chronic Publications are still struggling over the final form of the cover design for the story, though the basic design is already confirmed. As those of you who have read it when it was available here know, it’s a dark story (how atypical for me, right?), but I like it a lot. Thankfully, that’s more or less universal about my stories, and I can’t stress enough how thankful I am for the fact. Of course, there are flaws in all of my works, and my earlier ones are less polished than those that follow, but I still enjoy thinking about them, and occasionally rereading them. This almost always leads me to find errors that were missed in the editing process, as well as stylistic issues that I would now have changed…hopefully to improve upon them. In the long run, I may create second editions of some books, especially the earlier ones, but that process requires time, of which commodity I am in short supply. As is often the case (and as I think I’ve mentioned before) I frequently find myself quoting Andrew Marvell to myself: “If we had world enough, and time…”
As is the usual case lately, I’ve been having difficulty finding new fiction that grips me enough to read, and I find this terribly depressing (it’s not the fault of the books). Likewise, because I lost essentially everything I owned seven years ago tomorrow, I don’t have physical copies of all the hundreds of books that I’ve read and reread over the course of my life hitherto—for entertainment, inspiration, and edification. Over time, I’m gradually trying to re-accumulate at least some of them, mainly in Kindle format, because that way I can carry my library with me wherever I go. But even with e-book versions, to reproduce my previous library would cost a great deal of money, so it’s a piecemeal process at best. I’m also always looking for new recommendations, and the other day on his Facebook page, Stephen King gave one for a book called The Chalk Man, by C. J. Tudor. I looked up the book on Amazon—it’s available on Kindle—and it does look good. I also like the author’s name, not that such a thing is of great importance. Still, I can’t help playing word games, and inevitably thought of the fact that if you combined the surnames of the recommendee and the recommender, you’d get the phrase “Tudor King.”
Such are the processes that take place in my mind.
In any case, that book will likely be the next fiction book I purchase, and I’ll try to remember to let you all know how it is, once I’ve read it.
I do find myself able to read nonfiction, and I also use Audible, listening to a great deal of nonfiction on my commute to and from work. Lately, I’ve been in Steven Pinker mode, a fact at least partially triggered by the recent release of his newest book, Enlightenment Now. I’m currently visually reading one of his earlier works, The Stuff of Thought, about language and the human mind, and listening to his second most recent book, The Better Angels of Our Nature. Once that’s done, Enlightenment Now already awaits on my Audible app, and I look forward to it eagerly.
I couldn’t easily exaggerate Pinker’s value as a thinker and writer. His books are not short, and neither are they diffuse. He packs a great deal of information and ideas into them, but his writing style and style of thought are exceptional and engaging. If you want a taste of the enthusiasm and fun he brings to his work, and engenders in those who come to it, watch the following video of his presentation on The Stuff of Thought at Google. His discussion on the nature of swearing—with numerous examples explained and explored—is both hilarious and thought provoking.
As I think I’ve said before, reading about ideas and concepts, even rather difficult ones, isn’t merely a way for me to pass my time between reading and writing fiction. Even if it didn’t have any other value (it does), such exploration strengthens the mind’s muscles and makes it more fit and able to perform every task to which one puts it, including the writing of fiction. Also, I think it improves one’s skill at narrative. When an author can take a dense and complex subject and write about it in prose that’s both gripping and clear, that style of writing is surely one from which a writer of fiction can learn many lessons. Some stories are good enough that they can be carried along simply by the power of the plot, even if the prose is awkward, but when one can add to such stories a structure made of language both beautiful and elegant, well…that’s a spicy meatball!
I’m about a hundred years too young to consider comparing myself to someone like Pinker, or to other great writers of fiction and nonfiction alike, but that just means that I can learn a great deal from them in the meantime. In fact, a writer/reader’s marginal rate of return is probably greatest long before he or she begins to be in the same league as the one who wrote what he or she is reading. So, I can heartily recommend that writers read books by those who are far better writers than themselves, and as often as possible.
But, also, do read some of my books in between. I’ll do my best to keep raising my standards.