Calculated Cuts

For some reason I can’t quite remember, I decided to count all my books. Of course, it was only ever going to be a rough estimate. I’m convinced the books move around when they so desire, just like the Rollright Stones, so you never get a true accounting. Still, I gave it my best shot. It was upward of 2000 on the first and second floors, but not counting the attic. In this book count, I didn’t count the electronic books. There are a few thousand more of those.

Now some of these belong to my husband who has a formidable science fiction collection. His collection includes many classics and some books that are truly awful. I, on the other hands, have a lot of mysteries. I’ve given away many of the ones I’ve already read, and some that are part of a series, I’ve borrowed from the library. When I used to fly a lot for work, I’d buy a book in a series, read it on the plane and at the hotel, then leave it behind for someone else.

It occurred to me during this exercise of counting books that a lot of the ones in my house I had never read, and some I had only scanned. So for the new year and here around my 70th birthday, I have decided it’s time to start making my way through the paper books at least, then consider giving away any that aren’t necessary references. So far I’m on my seventh gardening book.

I had no idea I had so many gardening books. I’m learning a lot, and kind of wonder why I hadn’t read these sooner. It could have saved me a lot of time, effort, and failure. One of the books that has really impressed me is Pruning Made Easy. These books have taught me that pruning isn’t just keeping the size of your plants under control, it’s increasing their productivity. You gotta cut to be kind. And you know where this is going, don’t you? Yep, editing writing has much the same effect. Not just cutting down on the hyperbole but making everything more direct and concise.

Now, I have to qualify this cutting down with the qualifier: I have been known to write like a scientist–just the facts without description, discussion, explanation, and all the other stuff that makes reading a story interesting. The trick in both pruning and editing is not to cut the good stuff or too much, but just the stuff that needs to be cut. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: a good editor is worth their weight in whatever you’re willing to pay. The same can be said for a good tree surgeon.

So I’ve been pruning my blueberries (I was wondering why their yield had dropped so much), and anything else that can be pruned this time of year. I’ve been offering my services to a friend as a proof reader (he pays in barbecue). I’ve been doing some writing that I am editing as I go and again after it rests for a bit. I’m doing some indoor gardening and lots and lots of reading.

After the gardening books, on to the horse books. That may not be until well into spring. Did I mention I have a lot of gardening books?

Image: Tools by Marilyn Evans

Reading at The Writer’s Place

On Friday, August 17th, starting at 7 p.m., I will be joining a couple of other writer’s to do readings from our current and future works. I’m looking forward to this because The Writer’s Place has done so much to support writer’s in the K.C. area.

The Writer’s Place, 3607 Pennsylvania, Kansas City, MO 64111

www.writersplace.org

 

Reading and Writing

I went to the library recently to grab a few audio books to amuse me while I made a long car trip. While I was there, a saw a woman teaching another woman how to read. The progress was slow and painful, but it was happening. I thought what a wonderful thing that was, both on the part of the teacher and of the learner, to give the gift of reading to someone who doesn’t have it, and to learn to read and experience all the worlds that reading opens.

When I mentioned this incident on Facebook, a friend quipped, if you have audio books why bother to learn to read? Of course, not being able to read closes so many doors, but having audio books is a pretty wonderful thing, too–I can “read” without having to take my eyes off the highway, learn something interesting as I travel, be entertained instead of bored, pass the time in good company, and get through books I might not have time to otherwise.

My love affair with reading started when I was on a camping trip when I was about five years old. Before turning out the lantern, my dad was settling down in his sleeping bag to read as he did every night, at home or away. My brother, Paul, was reading his preferred literature, a comic book. I had nothing. I borrowed a comic book from Paul so I could read, too (even though I couldn’t read yet), and I was hooked for life. I still try to read every night before I go to sleep, and as often as I can manage in between.

Like so many people, I love that image of the man standing on top of a ladder in a library, books under his arms and one between his knees, completely engrossed in yet another book. This picture captures what reading is like for me and others like me–we know what it is to be hijacked by a book. For some of us, reading is a passion, but also a practice for our craft. Stephen King has said that those who don’t have time to read will have neither the time nor the tools to write. I suppose a great many people who read imagine they can write, but reading and writing are very different things. Still, it would be hard to write and write well if one didn’t read, and if you weren’t just a little bit in love with the written word.

When I got where I was going on that long car trip, I handed out a couple of my cards that have information about my book. This often happens when I’m asked, “What are you doing now that you’re retired?” One of the people I gave a card to, a relative, is a librarian, and said he would like to order a copy for his library. I said if he did, I would come and sign it. I wondered as I drove home what would be appropriate to write in the book to be shared in a library in a small town. I thought about all the wonders of reading and how much I have loved it, especially when I lived in a small town. I decided a good inscription might be, “Read every day, and you will always have adventure.”

Image: Captain Jack and Molydinum Wu helping us read. By Jonathan Hutchins.

 

 

Quite a Character

I recently finished another book by one of my favorite authors, C. J. Box. I first encountered his books at a gift shop in Yellowstone National Park, a wild and beautiful place where the action in his stories takes place from time to time.

C. J. Box has written a series of mysteries with a protagonist named Joe Pickett, a Wyoming game warden with a loving family, a dedication to his job, and a talent for destroying pickup trucks. Box has also written some stand alone mysteries. I say mysteries, but they are suspense novels as well, packed with action, wilderness locations, and great characters.

One of the things I love most about Box’s writing is his masterful way of introducing characters. I have to admit this is something I’ve struggled with, because I’m never fully comfortable telling what a character looks like right off the bat. I’m not sure why that is, except maybe it always seems a little artificial to me. But readers want to know who they are dealing with, and how will they know unless the author tells them?  Why not give them what they want?

When Box introduces a new character, you not only know what the person looks like, you know what kind of person they are likely to be and how they are likely to act as the story unfolds. Reading Box is a master class in character description. For example, when a man walks into a ranger station in Yellowstone to confess to killing four people, the ranger sees “a big man, a soft man with a sunburn already blooming on his freckled cheeks from just that morning, with ill-fitting, brand-new outdoor clothes that still bore folds from the packaging, his blood-flecked hands curled in his lap like he wanted nothing to do with them.” That right there is the way I’d love to be able to write.

It’s been said over and over, but it bears repeating: reading good writers makes you a better writer.

Keep writing, Mr. Box. I’ll keep reading.