Archive for August 27, 2013

BEFORE YOU GO: Running & Writing & Books (2 Quick Excerpts)

Over the past year I’ve twice crossed paths with a near-legendary editor, the much respected Christy Ottaviano. She works at Macmillan and, no, Christy can’t be blamed for any of my books. I follow her page on Facebook and just generally have a good feeling about her as a person. She seems nice.

On Monday, Christy wrote this:

I’ve been running all my adult life. I used to do it primarily for exercise, now I find I do it mostly for the peace of mind it gives me. My love of running has gotten more intense with age, perhaps because it is one of the few times during the day when I feel free of technology and the pressures of work and home. When I think of all the places I’ve visited or lived over the years, what’s imprinted in my mind in addition to the hotels, apartments, and houses are the various running routes I’ve repeatedly trekked — Cleveland Circle Reservoir in Boston; Henry and Clinton Streets in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, and now the small neighboring town on the water near where I live in Connecticut. In our busy lives, we are all running from here to there, so it’s rather ironic to me that running is exactly what I do to take my mind off all the running around. How does this post connect to writers? In all my time publishing books, I’ve only had the pleasure to edit one novel where the protagonist is a runner. Is that because running appeals to a more solitary adult sensibility? Probably, but it’s a fact that there are more teen runners now than ever before so young adults are happily embracing the activity. Maybe there’s a way to put their passion for the sport in your stories. For all the writers out there — just some food for thought…

I replied that the main character in BEFORE YOU GO is a runner.

Here’s two brief excerpts — brief, because we don’t wish to bore anyone here at jamespreller dot com! — excerpts, because we (the intrepid staff here at jamespreller dot com!) don’t want anybody to think I’m making up this running thing. Of course, you might say I make things up for a living. But I’m not making it up about having made something up about running. I really did make it up!

What? Nevermind!

First excerpt, pp. 104-105:

Jude hit the snooze button three times before rising. He felt sour, his mouth stale and parched, his teeth wearing sweaters after a night of too much rum and coke and heartache. The house was silent. Jude shambled into the bathroom for a long, reviving shower. It helped. Failing to find a fresh work shirt, Jude fished the cleanest dirty shirt from the hamper. Sniffed it, frowned: pretty ripe. The shirt matched his mood. Mad at the world.

In the kitchen, Jude gulped a tall glass of orange juice. A note on the counter informed him that his father had gone out for a long, slow run. His father ran to get away from it all, yet despite all the hours logged and miles slogged, he always returned to the same place; the road never rose to lift him to some new, shimmering elsewhere.

Jude considered himself a different kind of runner entirely. First of all, his father jogged; Jude ran. Big diff. His father was one of those old guys who stopped after his run, winded and panting, two fingers on his neck, counting the beats of his pulse while he stared at the watch on his wrist. Goofy shit, if you asked Jude. A lot of times, Jude headed out in just a pair of shorts. No shirt, no shoes, a barefoot runner in the burbs. Nobody could say nothing, because Jude was faster than them all.


Second excerpt, pp. 163-164, after an argument with his mother:

And he ran. Barefoot. Ran without hope, without destination . . . ran to burn off the anger, ran as if he were chased. He started out too fast, puffing hard like a sprinter, churning through the changeless sprawl, the suburban streets named after Civil War generals, Sherman and Grant, Thomas and Meade. Then came the streets with the names of colleges, Princeton and Adelphi, Yale and Amherst. Finally his gait evened out, the strides became long and powerful, his breathing regulated. Becalmed. He stopped for a moment, flicked a thumb across his iPod, found Arcade Fire, and turned it up loud. You don’t know how it feels, he thought. How it feels to be me.

Some Photos from Our Vacation in Ireland

We just enjoyed a dream vacation in Ireland and now, Dear Faithful Reader, sit back while I show you more than 700 photographs . . .

Wait, no. Just kidding!

It really was a special trip — a place I love in a very deep way, the literature, the music, the lanscape, the people, the beer — and I was so glad for my wife, Lisa, and our children to experience it.

A few shots:

My reading is usually thematic — I go on little jags, basically — and it’s been Ire-centric of late. Some highlights . . .

As for other matters, we are still conducting further research . . .

REPOST: Elmore Leonard’s Rules for Writing

I learned this morning that Elmore Leonard passed away, so my thoughts immediately returned to his wonderful “Rules for Writing” which I blogged about some years back. Here’s that post once again. Thank you for the lessons, Mr. Leonard.

As part of a series called “Writers on Writing,” published in The New York TimesElmore Leonard penned a thought-provoking article that first saw print on July 16, 2001. Every once in a while I remember that it exists and go back to reread Leonard’s observations.

I’m sympathetic to Elmore Leonard’s basic vision. I mean to say, I think I could hang out with the guy. When he talks about writing, I tend to nod my head. Grateful, reaffirmed, inspired. He explains in the opening paragraph, “These are rules I’ve picked up along the way to help me remain invisible when I’m writing a book, to help me show rather than tell what’s taking place in the story.”

A long time ago I decided that ego was the enemy of good writing. Thing is, that’s a tough dragon to slay. These days, I most admire writers who get out of the way (another way of saying, “remain invisible”) — who strive to eliminate any trace of “look at me, I’m so darned clever!” from their writing. (That tends to be the exact opposite of what we are taught to appreciate in college English courses, so most of my adult writing life has been about trying to unlearn aspects of my college education.)

Regarding Leonard: I like his everyday guyness, his plainspeak, his pragmatism, his unpretentiousness. Unfortunately, and oddly, I’ve never really gotten into his books. Maybe I’ve tried the wrong ones, or not tried hard enough. The thing is, I want to like his books more than I actually do. It may be worth noting that so many of his books have been made into movies precisely because he is such a “show, don’t tell” styled writer. Or maybe it’s because he’s okay with sex and violence.

Though I encourage readers to go back to the full article (linked above), I’ll only post the ten rules along with an indispensable additional comment or two from Leonard (in the article, he provides more background on each rule). Enjoy. And remember, when it comes to writing, there are no rules. But guidelines can be instructive.

1. Never open a book with weather.

2. Avoid prologues

3. Never use a verb other than ”said” to carry dialogue.

Writes Leonard: “The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in.”

4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb ”said” . . .

Says Leonard: “To use an adverb this way (or almost any way) is a mortal sin.” For what it’s worth, there are a ton of adverbs used exactly this way in the Harry Potter books.

5. Keep your exclamation points under control.

6. Never use the words ”suddenly” or ”all hell broke loose.”

7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.

8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.

9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.

And here comes my personal favorite:

10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

Leonard comments: “Think of what you skip reading a novel: thick paragraphs of prose you can see have too many words in them. What the writer is doing, he’s writing, perpetrating hooptedoodle, perhaps taking another shot at the weather, or has gone into the character’s head, and the reader either knows what the guy’s thinking or doesn’t care. I’ll bet you don’t skip dialogue.

My most important rule is one that sums up the 10.

If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.”

I love that phrase, “perpetrating hooptedoodle.”

NOTE: For more posts that touch on the writing process, click on the “writing process” icon on the right sidebar, beneath “CATEGORIES.” I’m trying to do more of this kind of thing on this blog, in the hopes that it might sell books, urm, be helpful to teachers, or to writers of any age!

ANOTHER NOTE: I lifted that sound, urm, from the legendary graphic novel, The Watchmen (soon to be a major motion picture). A character in there says it a lot, just a variation on “um,” but I like it.

OVERHEARD: “What’s In the Box?” (I Love My Daughter, Part 283)

With my 14-year-old boy in the car, we run a couple of errands. First to the Farmer’s Market because we are obsessed with Jimmy Makes Pizza. Next to the library, return some things. Then to pick up Maggie, age 12, at her friend’s house.

Okay, so that’s the scene. I am in the driver’s seat (literally, but alas, not always figuratively), Gavin is in front seat. In the back, there’s a pizza box.

It looks something like this:

Maggie gets into the car, settles in, lays her lacrosse stick across the floor, and asks:

“What’s in the box?”

Gavin glances at me, blood on his tongue, but says nothing. (I tell myself to compliment my son later for this rare show of restraint.)

“Pizza,” I tell her, and drive on.

Love that girl.