Monday, July 27, 2020

We Are What We Read

I’m nearly at the end of teaching my Creative Writing class and it’s been as much of a learning experience for me as it has for them.   We started out as eight strangers and by the end, we know a lot about each other.

In each class, I assign a writing prompt such as create a character and put that character in an action scene. This week’s writing prompt is to write a scene of romance primarily using dialogue. Next week’s assignment, and our final one, will be to write the first few pages of your book and the last few pages of your book.

All of the members of this class are good writers.  Some are outstanding.

One of the classmates uses the writing prompts to add to his folksy short story about a boy losing his bike.  One of the writers is extraordinary at humor.  One has a remarkable ability to describe scenes.  One is a thriller addict and it comes out in his writing.

Three of the students are millennials and I hesitate to pigeonhole any demographic, but I’ve noticed that when they read their work aloud, they do it from their phones using Google-Docs. And all three of them write about medieval fantasy worlds of assassins, magic, and fierce warriors.

When asked about the subject matter, I discovered that Dungeons & Dragons has made an impressive comeback.  I’d thought that the game had died out in the eighties.  I was wrong.

I was impressed when one of the other students asked them if they’d read The Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit and they replied that they had.

It wasn’t the first time I’d gotten an inkling that younger folks interested in writing enjoyed that genre.  I spoke to a middle school class about writing and asked them what kind of interests they had.  It was the medieval fantasy genre but also, and not surprising, science fiction and superheroes.

I thought back to what genres interested me when I was much younger.  Back in the seventies, pulp science fiction and horror magazines filled with strange and wonderful short stories held my fascination.  I began writing my own and submitting them.

Not one of them sold.

However, I did get a really positive personal letter from Ben Bova, the publisher of Omni.

I kept writing short stories and finally got one published in a glossy men’s magazine called Cavalier. A tawdry publication, but the one that first published Stephen King’s short stories.

Mine was called Fast Dancing Detroit Style and it was about a killer who picks up a hitchhiker in the Nevada desert who turns out to be a ghost.

It wasn’t much later that I picked up my first Travis McGee mystery.  I was hooked.  I discovered that I love mysteries.  But that's not what I started writing, not yet.

As a fledgling writer I took a few detours, trying my hand at a historical novel (awful), a horror novel (even worse), and a flat out thriller (my own wife wouldn’t read it).

No, I was exclusively reading mysteries:  Sue Grafton, Raymond Chandler, Walter Mosely, Ed McBain, Lawrence Block, and Mickey Spillane, as well as many, many others.  Mysteries are my niche.  I enjoy reading them and I enjoy writing them.

The point of this rambling blog?  We are what we read.  Or perhaps what movies we watch and games we play.

Stay safe.  Stay healthy.

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