Old Moon

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Best Mysteries

Psychological suspense is a favorite escape genre for me. I've just finished rereading Elizabeth George's A Place for Hiding. It's very long, the plot so intricate it reminds me of crochet—impossible to follow all the threads closely enough to see the pattern if you look too closely. All the major characters in this story come from childhood trauma, as do the secondary characters.

Other writers who follow similar themes like Ruth Rendell, for instance, surprise me by their ability to dream up such horrors without giving the sense of "horror" I think of when I watch movie trailers. The grimmest parts of the suffering of these authors' characters are emotional; the scars borne by their creations are psychic. The stories are therefore fascinating, in part because it's possible to sympathize even with the villains at least some of the time.

But I have to ask myself where those ideas come from. Is there a darker corner of these authors' souls than most of us recognize in ourselves? I confess to much more interest in these artfully layered personalities than I can find in pure thrillers where the protagonist is usually called on for physical bravery, special technical know-how, and cunning, and not much more.

I find it incredible that the most profitable movies and many of the most-watched TV shows involve enormous amounts of shock and melodrama in the form of blood, thunderous explosions, impossible chases, and the tiniest threads of coincidence to hold the stories together until the (usually foolishly upbeat) endings. I haven't the stomach for them and find them specious. I can't resist the intricate character studies of modern mystery masters (and mistresses) that make some of the old standbys like Agatha Christie or Rex Stout, with their two-dimensional heroes, seem not really worth my time. Those mystery writers of the thirties don't seem just tame, they're unconvincing. I'm addicted to some of our newer practioners of what are really novels that happen to be mysteries like Ms. George, P. D. James, the best of Tony Hillerman—especially when I want to get away from a world that seems too much with us.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Why Do You Write?

Frequently a writing contest shows up that asks the question, "Why do you write?" Many an author has answered that question, some seriously and some not so seriously. It strikes many as a foolish question and others as a profound one. I'd guess there are not numberless answers. They might begin with the personal and range all the way to messianic motives. Each answer would give a reader some idea of the personality and aspirations of the answerer, but I bet there would be a limited number of headings under which those answers would fall. Would anyone reading this be willing to help with a survey? Just post a comment?

I write because I can't help it. The better question would be why can't I help it?

First, I need to find out what I know; second, I need to discover what I don't know; third, I need to note what I must not forget. I am an indifferent amateur painter and the other visual arts are beyond my talents altogether; I can't perform music. I find I can put words on paper. They can do what nothing else can.

With a poor memory and perhaps a little too much emotion, the act of writing helps to suggest the perspective I need to cope with what is happening or what has happened to me, and to suggest how one experience might be useful to others. Utility is not quite all there is to that. Love for rhythm and cadence and image-making, and the opportunity to cause a chuckle or the frisson of recognition are involved.

Writing is the corollary to reading. All the words that have instructed and inspired and comforted and exhilarated me through all the years of a long life convince me that if I could find the readers, even I could add to that legacy. I can't resist the temptation to try.
I care about how words can conjure and reveal; I respect the fact that if you think (as opposed to dream or imagine) you need words. They matter.

Most people want to live a life that matters. After my children, words seem to be my best opportunity to accomplish that, on however small a scale.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Happy Accident

It's obvious, but now and then we tend to forget that the reason a cliche is a cliche is because it's so true. I feel like a walking cliche some days. You never know what you're going to find out by accident, and yesterday I proved it yet again.

Someone on whose blog I had posted a comment replied with a comment that didn't make sense, and thereby hangs my tale (see what I mean about cliches?)

His reply was to my friend and free publicist, Glenda Beall. I followed a link and came upon a nugget of pure gold: The Way I See It. It's to be hoped that most who read these remarks are either writers themselves or interested in writers and writing. I'm delighted to have stumbled over this super spot so filled with more links and thoughtful takes on what I love to capitalize:
The Writing Life. Go there and enjoy an experienced writer, teacher, poet, and person.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Rushing In

Maybe I'm too late, but I hope not. For most of my life, poetry has been something that other people wrote. Reading it lost some of its appeal as leisure became more scarce. To read poetry fairly takes so much more time than to read prose. There was a time in middle age when I took to writing it--without much faith. Now, with no one I know interested in such things, this seems like the place to let it out for air. Well, maybe not.

When tossing words out into the ether this way, I'm surprised when I get any response at all, but even more surprised at what elicits one. Comments show up on material that strikes me as too personal to be of interest to others, though its revelation provides some kind of catharsis for me.

After meeting three poets online who saw fit to send me kind and encouraging replies to some Hilltop Notes posts, I can hardly believe that the poems I've had the temerity to show have drawn neither comment nor disdain.

Cool Plums Weblog has been posting wonderful lectures on Robert Frost, who must be one of the most widely loved and respected writers of the twentieth or any century. I blame this whiny post in part on the inspiring reading of what shows up there. It has to be one of the most wonderful places to go back to school that one could find anywhere. And if there's a scintilla of verse in your bloodstream, Frost must make you write -- and hope.