Fiction Writing and Other Oddities

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer

I may have mentioned that Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer are doing a wonderful writing class online as a blog. I really recommend reading through it and subscribing to the blog. You can't go wrong if for nothing else than sheer enjoyment. There is just so much material there and they are a riot--very fun to read. I'm looking forward to getting their first collaborative effort: Don't Look Down. It should arrive any day now from I bought myself a treat as a psychological boost after doing our taxes last weekend and finding out that we owe a lot--and the depressing realization that after the election, the taxes will only shoot higher. (Darn. I'm totally bummed out again--where the heck is that package from

Anyway, the thing I like about Crusie and hope I will like about the Mayer and Crusie team is that even if the plot is outlandish, the characters seem very warm, very likeable and very real. The heroine isn't some gorgeous, thin creature with no personality and no quirks and the guy has his own set of weirdnesses. I like that, which is probably why I can't get onboard with other authors like J.D. Robb or James Patterson. Now don't get me wrong--both of those last authors are great--at least I'm told they are. And they are certainly prolific and extremely popular. I've just never been able to get past the first chapter of either of them (or any of the other various personas adopted by them--I don't know what it is, but I can't read them and there is nothing I can do about it. Sorry.).

Crusie is a strange one for me to like because she mostly writes romance, although she sometimes throws in a little suspense or murder as a sop to those of us who feel that no book is complete without some sort of mayhem. It's Crusie's funny, quirky characters, though, that really grab me. And her sarcasm, of course. Let's not forget that. I'm deeply into sarcasm and misanthropic characters.

For folks who have read my blogs, they will remember me spending several nights fussing over descriptions. Worrying and fretting about what makes descriptions work--or not work--for me as a reader (and as a writer). Stuff like that. For me, Cruise's descriptions work because they are totally in character--or in the character of the characters. If the scene is in the hero's point of view, anything he describes, including the heroine, is described as he sees it--in his words. Nothing fancy or poetic, unless he happens to be a poetic kind of guy. Although for the record, none of her heroes has been a poetic kind of guy--at least not in any of the books I've read. Same for descriptions in the heroine's point of view. They are realistic and they are in keeping with the heroine's personality. (Although to be honest, I think the heroines are thinly disguised versions of Jennifer Crusie, which is okay by me because I like her and I like her heroines. What's not to like? Oh, and I liked Bob Mayer when I met him, too, so I fully expect to like his heroes, which I also expect will be lightly disguised versions of him. It's all good.)

And somewhere lost in the preceding paragraph, my folks, was the key. Although I seem to have temporarily lost it in the muck.

So...whatever. I've been reading another book, The Egyptologist by Arthur Phillips, and he somehow manages to write entire sections in the character of the, uh, characters. The tale is mostly told in what you might consider first person, as journal entries first from Ralph Trilipush (the Egyptologist) and then as letters from an Australian Detective--also in first person. Somehow, the author Arthur Phillips manages to actually stay in character when writing these sections, so they have an entirely different feel, syntax and vocabulary. I don't really know how he accomplished this because it would sort of be like Claude Monet painting a picture in Van Gogh's style. Or me trying to write something, well, poetic and very literary and totally not in my voice. Anyway, unlike me, Monet could probably have done it, but he would have had to suppress his own style and work in an entirely different one. But at least he would not have had to cut his ear off, although he might have wanted to do so after forcing himself to paint in someone else's style.

Whatever. The bottom line is that is makes for extraordinary reading and totally blows me away. Crusie and Mayer manage this feat it in small patches by making sure any observations, dialog and descriptions in a character's point of view stay in that character's vocabulary and style. But to write an entire book like that the way Phillips did? Amazing.

I am in awe of what other writers do.
The thing is, though, you can't let your awe of other writers stop you from writing. Even if you are convinced you are a terrible writer, you can't just quit. Only quitters quit. The rest of us learn something new every day.

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