Friday, May 19, 2017

Had I But Known

No, I'm not referring to the subgenre of crime fiction/romantic suspense in which the protagonist informs the reader, "Had I but known the dangers that lurked beyond the gates of that Gothic manor…" I did gobble those books up like candy when I was an adolescent, but I'm referring here to my HIBK as a writer.

I'm in the midst of reading student papers as commencement weekend looms – beginning tonight with a graduation ceremony. But last night, during our first real storm of the spring, I took a couple of hours out to read a book that I'm using for research. As I read, my mind drifted to a thought inspired by a phrase the author had used. And – as I have many times since I became a writer – I regretted that I didn't know that I would eventually write and publish. I knew I felt like a writer and wanted to write. But I thought I would be a veterinarian, and I didn't anticipate a career beyond that. I was a Biology major during my freshman year. I later double-majored in Psychology and English, but I have never caught up. I have always read, but even as an English major (who took the required courses), I was drawn to some eras and some writers. Having read Shakespeare in high school, I plunged with delight into three quarters of his plays and sonnets. But I have yet to make my way beyond the first few pages of Moby Dick. I know the plot – as I do other books that I have struggled to read – but I have not read the book. And I want to. On the other hand, I have read Thomas Hardy.

Then there's the music. I'm learning about jazz as the backdrop for the historical thriller I'm working on. But opera still eludes me. I somehow managed not to learn about music in a systematic fashion.

My point is that if I had known I was going to be a writer, I would have made a list of the things I might need or like to know. I would have joined the Girl Scouts. I'd like to know how to start a camp fire or find my way in the woods. I'd like to be able to name the trees and plants. I'd also like to know how to swim and speak several languages. I'd like to know how to milk a cow and grow a rutabaga.

I'd still like to learn karate and be a whiz at first aid. I'd like to be able to make a martini or a really good cup of coffee.

But I'm not giving up. I don't have to restrict myself to what I need to know. I can still learn what I want to know. I've already bought the seeds, and this year I will try again to learn to garden. Maybe I'll also work my way through The Adventurous Boy's Handbook that I can see on a book shelf. This summer, during my breaks from writing, I'll try again to get beyond Melville's gorgeous first paragraph.

What would you have tried to learn more about if you had known you were going to become a writer?


Rick Blechta said...

Fear not, Frankie, Moby Dick as are all other Melville novels is a tough one to read. I forced my way through it, but I had a my trusty dictionary at my elbow at all times, and twice encountered words that I couldn't find any definition for. Forster is much the same.

As for the story itself, in its essence it's a brilliant thing, but the way Melville created it makes it like slogging through mud, and that in itself makes it rather unrewarding to wade through.

Rick Blechta said...

Here are two commas (, ,) that I left out of the comment above. Alas, I pressed publish before I'd proofread it — and there is no going back.

Donis Casey said...

Had I but known, Frankie, I would have paid a lot more attention in my youth to what was going on in my own head. By the way, I enjoyed your article About Eleanor in the Edgar Awards annual.

Sybil Johnson said...

I'm not sure there's anything in particular I would have learned. Maybe I would have paid more attention to how books I enjoyed were constructed.

Frankie Y. Bailey said...


I'm constantly hitting Send and then seeing errors.

I'm glad to hear it isn't just me when it comes to Moby Dick. I may try the books on tape version. That way I can do something else while being read to. Maybe I'll listen while I driving to Bouchercon.

Frankie Y. Bailey said...

Thanks, Donis. You've reminded me that my copy of the annual came in the mail. I want to read the other articles.

Frankie Y. Bailey said...


I agree with you about reading with more attention. Now, I'd like to go back and re-read those books, focusing on structure. The only problem is there's always a new book that I feel I should read because it's getting so much attention. There aren't enough hours in the day -- even during summer.