Friday, October 24, 2008


I know some of you are probably saying right now, "Gee, why don't you wait two more days, make it a whole month since you've posted anything?" I know. I have no excuse but my own laziness. Funny thing is, though, I went to a choir retreat just last weekend, where I found an applicable gem regarding my problem of late. The guest speaker for this retreat was Mark Condon, a recorded praise and worship artist out of Columbus, Ohio. He was specifically talking to members of our choir; but, of course, like most things I'm applying it in my own world of writing. Here is what he said:

"Routine places perfection within the grasp of mediocrity."

The other night I told my wife I needed to get back to a better routine. "I haven't written anything for the last several days," I said. So, this morning I set the alarm clock to pop off a little earlier, took a shower, put on some coffee, and sat down at the computer. We all know (and this is something I have failed to do lately) the business of writing begins first and foremost with sitting your butt in the chair. Clearly, I need to get back to the basics.

Oh, and speaking of butts, my daughter came home from the pumpkin patch the other day. Suffice it to say, my wife and I had a little fun with the selection. Here's a photo:

Meet Jane the Plumber-Pumpkin. I actually suggested to wrap a bra around the pumpkin instead of a pair of panties. My wife told me to shut up. Ah, such is the life of warped minds. We can take any innocent thing and distort it for our own amusement.

But I digress.

All hasn't been lost the last few weeks. In my absence, I've finished reading two books and started a third. One of the finished books was Wild Fire by Nelson DeMille; the other was No Country For Old Men by Cormac McCarthy. One of the criticisms I've heard about McCarthy's book, and the movie, was that the title didn't seem to fit. I can't disagree more. The title completes the story. In fact, without the title a reader, or viewer, can easily lose what the story is about. We've all heard or read that when it comes to writing, you are supposed to show and not tell. This book is a perfect example of that principle. Through the story arc of Chigurh and Llewelyn Moss, the author shows us why Sherriff Bell makes his choice by the end of the book. For those who have seen the movie and were left confused, I suggest you read the book. For those who have never seen the movie or read the book, I strongly recommend you add this one to your reading pile.

After completing McCarthy's book, I picked up Steinbeck's East of Eden, which is what I'm currently reading. By the end of the first chapter, I was skeptical. I've got to read six hundred pages of this? By the third chapter, however, I was hooked. Two hundred pages later, I'm still hooked.

I remember reading somewhere that a reader will forgive a lot if the story is good. Unfortunately, I can't remember where I picked that up, and who wrote it; so, I won't dishonor anyone by stating where I think it came from. Whatever the case, the point is an absolute truism. Take McCarthy, for example. The first time I read one of his novels, All The Pretty Horses, I almost through the book down and screamed, "How can a publishing house market a book by someone who won't even use proper punctuation?" By the end of the book, however, I was spellbound. What an incredible piece of fiction! The same can be said of No Country For Old Men. McCarthy can be difficult to read at times. The lack of punctuation forces a reader to work a little more, and without all the quotation marks it is easy to lose track of who is saying what. But his stories are well done and worth anyone's time.

Steinbeck, for me, falls into this same category. There's a lot of telling in East of Eden, and some of the narrative seems unimportant--like Steinbeck wanted to impress his readers about his knowledge of the area--but I have overlooked all of that. The shadows of criticism scamper away in the light of the powerful story Steinbeck offers.

This is not to imply that a writer can shrug off the rules of protocol--grammar and punctuation--and act as if a publisher or an editor worth anything should be able to see the artist underneath all the faults. Writers like McCarthy are rare. The point, however, is that readers will show you a ton of grace if your story hooks them in and captures their hearts. This, I believe, is the target of every writer. We can talk grammar and punctuation and rules until the day we die. If a storyline runs into the ditch, it will not matter how diligently you kept to the straight and narrow of grammar and punctuation. There are plenty of books I have put down because the story hobbled around like an old dog. Unlike that old dog, however, I have little compassion for a book that already has one foot in the grave within the first fifty pages.

Just some food for thought, I guess.


  1. Nice to see you back... and great photot of that pumpkin. Pin that pic by your desk, a good reminder... Title is everything. For me, sometimes it is the title that inspires the story.

    Loved East of Eden. Must reread. Peace, Linda

  2. Stephen, you kill me. The old dog analogy was a pip.

    I'd add one thing to your enthusiastic cheerleading for storyline: character. If you haven't created a sympathetic character, your storyline doesn't matter a diddly damn.

    Just my two cents...

  3. Hey Stephen, I memed you. For the heck of it. Wanna play? Peace, Linda