Another piece that I will toss to the circular file once I save it to the blog because I have an in with its friendly editor. It’s not bad, but as I type it up, I’ m noting that it’s a bit forced. I did a lot of experimenting in the good old days. I’m not writing as much fiction as non-fiction now, but it wasn’t a waste of thought. Even non-fiction needs to make the story and the characters involved interesting.
I’ve been a reader a great deal longer than I’ve wanted to write. I haven’t always known I wanted to write, but I’ve always wanted to read.
I’ve enjoyed fairy tales. And how comforting they were. No matter how gory and violent, you could generally read on knowing that the good guys would win in the end and that unlike real life, justice could always be counted on to prevail.
I could always count on children’s literature too. The Famous Five, The Secret Seven, Black Beauty, Anne of Green Gables worked to a certain formula; bad guys, adventure and a happy ending.
Then there were The Classics. That’s what they’re called because we don’t know where exactly to pigeonhole them. Victor Hugo, Jane Austin, Charles Dickens, Jonathan Swift opened a window for me to style, social commentary and the human condition and historical documentary.
They wrote personal stories set against their own contemporary or recent historical background. Their work influenced and entertained theirs and later generations. The reader is informed about social conditions and entertained. Above all, entertained. Sometimes on a personal level, justice and the good guys still win out. You could go away with an understanding of the suffering of the poorer classes, or the foibles of the upper middle classes, but you wouldn’t have the moral shoved down your throat. It said what it said and allowed you to work it out for yourself.
Genre fiction too, is like the fairy tale experience; the good yarn, the happy ending, the story. Sure, language and characterisation and a social message are sometime sacrificed, but having grown up on a diet of tales, I think I’d prefer the story to the language if I can’t have both. But that’s not always the case. Harlan Ellison wrote a better story about a nagging Jewish mother ghost than Wooden Allen ever will or could. His fiction is sharp, incisive and imaginative and his non-fiction uncompromising in its defence of his craft. The intelligentsia, because of his witty turn of phrase has deemed Raymond Chandler’s work worthy of getting a literary star.
But there’s a 20th century construct called ‘the plot is sketchy but it’s well written and a wonderful character study.’ Personally I don’t see the point. As an aspiring writer talking to her colleagues, I know that it’s trite to say that I love the taste, the scent and the texture of words. But I love it that Zola used only 26 letters to get Dreyfuss acquitted and I love it that ‘moonlight and love songs are never out of date.’ But I don’t see the point of playing with language and characterisation at the expense of plot and story. There are exceptions. There are always exceptions. I love Dorothy Parker’s very personal diatribe on the human condition. It’s a very telling and entertaining if you’re in a particular mood. And Ephraim Kishon’s gentle satires are on anything and everything universal. Most are timeless and boundaryless.
I’m not qualified to talk about contemporary literature. Friends shove a book my way now and gain and I try, but I think today’s work is too conscientiously literary for my taste. Perhaps I’m not interested in the South American condition, perhaps it’s because there are too many literary allusions, metaphors and myths and symbols packed in them for my liking.
So, what the hell influences my writing? I don’t know, but I think for me it’s more about trying to get inspiration than being influenced. I get it wherever I can. I have the cover of a Phillip Jose Farmer novel (Phillip typing surrounde4d by his characters) propped on my desk to remind me that I want interesting characters. I have a print of Bob Dylan on the wall just above my computer because life and art should be about lyric sound and social causes. I read Harry Harrison because he ‘learned (6) new languages, lived in new cultures, responded to new realities, ideas, experiences.’ And because believes that Life becomes art; art becomes life. One shapes the other always, forcefully and immutably.’ I think that because my life has shaped me so immutably I’m not likely to travel or to learn six new languages, but I’m trying to open myself up to new experiences and revisit old ones to learn from them.
I re-read Dickens to crack the code of the plot, sub-plot and characterisation I rea-read Oscar Wilde for his original prose and listen to the wit of Noel Coward’s songs. I don’t know how much good it will all do me, but I might as well be inspired by the best.