Monday, November 03, 2008

This is an order: Pick up a book and READ damnit!

Vicki here. I gave a talk last week at the Belleville Public Library on the topic of Ten Best Things About Being a Mystery Writer. If you didn’t make it, don’t worry, you weren’t alone. One (1) kind soul showed up.

What’s worse than having no one show up to hear you speak? One person coming. If no one comes, you can go home, if one person is in the audience you have to talk.

Anyway, reading Charles’s entry from Friday reminded me of one of the ten best things about being a mystery writer.

You have to be a reader.

You’re sitting in your pyjamas at noon, cup of tea at elbow, stereo playing in the background, reading. If someone tells you to get up off your lazy a** and get to work, you reply that you are working, can’t they tell?

My colleague, the author Betty Webb ( gives classes on creative writing and tells her students: “If they are not reading at least 5 books a month, their future as a writer is dim.” One of my favourite how-to-write books is On Writing by Stephen King. King says if you want to be a writer you have to do two things: You have to read and you have to write.

Can I give an example of this principle? Thank you for asking. I’ve read an enormous number of books in my life and I still read a lot. I’ve also written several books and had them published. You’d think I’d know how to do it by now. Last night I was reading Voices by Arnaldur Indridason. (Translated from the Icelandic, the Detective Erlendur novels are just fantastic – very dark and gritty without being violent, the story is all in the characters). About half-way in a couple of minor characters stroll across the stage, so to speak. I blinked at the way he described them, and had to read it a couple of times in order to appreciate it.

He was old and frail and in a wheelchair; and she followed behind, short and slim, with a thin, hooked nose and tough, piercing eyes that scoured the lobby. And on for several more sentences.

I ran to my desk and re-read something I’d written earlier that day. A minor character is described along the lines of “she had blond hair and blue eyes.”

You get the idea. I have some work to do.

I’ll admit that there are people who truly have no time in their life to read. These people probably have no time to write either. But everyone’s life changes as time passes and jobs get easier and kids grow up and the dog and the husband learn to feed themselves.

Think you still don’t have time to read? Let me ask you this? Did you watch TV last night*? Then you have time to read.

*Okay, last night it was okay to put the book to one side and watch TV, this election stuff is rather important.


Donis Casey said...

I've a couple of those one person events. I think of it as a character building exercise. I give them the whole dog and pony act, by damn. I expect it's even worse for them, since they now cannot slip discreetly away and may in fact be guilted into buying a book.

Vicki Delany said...

This guy didn't even buy a book. He was, and we all know what that means, thinking of writing a book.