Someone I just met the other day asked me what it was like to live “the writing life.” I tried not to laugh out loud. He made it sound like I must be holed up in a sleazy hotel room someplace “on the road,” with a portable typewriter, slugging scotch out of the bottle and raving about my childhood traumas. The answer is, it’s a beautiful thing to be able to challenge your imagination every day, pushing it further, forcing it to perform. It’s also scary, because your paycheck depends upon your ability to do this, and the imagination is a notoriously uncooperative thing. Then, of course, there’s the issue or marketing oneself, which I used to think was a thing you could hire someone else to do, but no. I can’t hire someone else to write my blogs can I? When my writing is the very thing that defines my work? So, I entered the world of blogging and I found that I liked it. It’s my warm up every morning. Sometimes, it’s my cool down at night, too. So the marketing life has turned out to be a pretty interesting addition to the writing life. The best part about it is having an audience and being able to reach out to them.
Let’s talk about suspense. A lot of memoir writers I consult with, as well as my ghostwriting clients, are interested in building suspense into their memoirs. Who wouldn’t want to? Suspense is the very thing that makes a book a real page-turner. Suspense makes a beach read what it is, makes a mystery novel mysterious, and makes you turn down invitations to parties so you can stay home and finish that incredible science fiction book. A lot of people think writers build suspense by creating a lot of plot complications, but that is not actually how it’s done. The level of suspense in a book depends entirely upon what’s at stake. For instance, post apocalyptic science fiction is going through a supposed “golden age” right now. So let’s ask ourselves–after the apocalypse, what’s at stake? Only the fate of the entire human race. Well, that’s about as high as stakes can get.
I binge-watched the entire third season of Orange is the New Black. If you don’t know, it’s a TV series on Netflix about a women’s prison. Kind of a dramedy. The first couple of seasons were fun, but typical TV fodder–stories about peoples’ lives–their betrayals, loves, and ways of finding meaning in life. But in this season it seems like the writers doubled down and really went for it, making a serious statement about the for-profit prison industry in America. To me, this is the kind of writing that exemplifies why storytelling is important. Stories, told well, can make a statement without ever outright saying, “Here is what’s wrong with the world.”
Went to a really interesting book signing tonight, by David Gessner, who is on tour with a book called All the Wild that Remains: Edward Abbey, Wallace Stegner, and The American West. He spoke really intelligently about the environmental movement as seen through the eyes of two premier novelists who were also, in very different ways, emblematic of the quest to save wildness.