That is the word writer Graham Greene used to refer to his books. And essentially that’s what a book is, an entertainment for the mind. At least we’re hopeful it will be when we first start in. Because your mind is a marvelous creation. When properly stimulated, it can produce the most intense, personally satisfying entertainments of all. Ellen Glasgow, a writer from Richmond, Virginia said:
I suppose I am a born novelist, for the things I imagine are more vital and vivid to me than the things I remember.
Entering the 21st Century, the written word is at a slight disadvantage to other forms of mass media. Books don’t flicker as we walk through a room and catch our eye with constantly changing images ilke television. Books don’t blare out of car windows and overwhelm us with sound like music often does.
Books actually require something of us — the use of our imagination. Books require us to be proactive, to actually sit down in a quiet, separate, space or even on a crowded bus, and do something — read. The reward for making this extra effort can be wondrous, because once those words and characters are loose in your head, they combine with and stimulate your inner thoughts and feelings to produce an unparalleled, and highly personal, entertainment experience.
Now don’t get me wrong. There are good books and there are bad books, just like there are movies you love and movies you hate. The challenge for the writer is to put something on paper that will captivate the reader and keep them turning the pages. Elmore Leonard said it best:
I try to leave out the parts that people skip.
I have written three books. All of them murder mysteries. My first two stories were based in New York City and involved a young detective, employed by an older attorney, who mingled in the theater world. Several reviewers observed that both “One Cried Murder” and “Exit Marks the Spot” reminded them of Nero Wolfe’s Archie Goodwin running around the city back in the 1930s. I would hope so because I lived there for almost 10 years before coming back south and my psychiatrist has observed that those first two books were my effort to work through my separation from a city that I loved. Graham Greene (the guy pictured above) would have agreed.
Writing is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose or paint can manage to escape the madness, the melancholia, the panic fear which is inherent in the human condition.
My third book, “Dead Last” is set in the world of NASCAR and revolves around the efforts of a gin drinking, ex-racer trying to make his way outside the track as a private dick—that’s not a porn term just how Raymond Chandler would have said it. I’ve made a few bucks from my work but hardly enough to afford a new Aston Martin. Money is not why I write. It’s a consideration. No more than that. Though I have given John Steinbeck’s words some thought:
The profession of book writing makes horse racing seem like a solid, stable business.
And just to show how little things change over time, I’ll quote the 19th Century French writer, Jules Renard, who, evidently, never had any friends who were actors or dancers.
Writing is the only profession where no one considers you ridiculous if you earn no money.
Mixing sports, racing even, with murder is not new. Nothing is new. It’s all mutation. I took my lead for “Deard Last” from an early influence of mine, the English writer Dick Francis. For those who don’t know his work, Francis was a former steeplechase jockey, who combined horse racing with murder to produce about 30 novels over a period of forty-some-old-years. It was a subject he knew well and he was able to relate those experiences with a true sense of participation, of being there. Erskine Caldwell said:
I think you must remember that a writer is a simple minded person to begin with and go from there. He’s not a great mind, he’s not a great thinker, he’s not a good philosopher, he’s a storyteller.
My personal belief is the best way to improve your storytelling ability is to write every day. And until recently, the best place to hone those skills was at a newspaper. Unfortunately, journalism has taken it on the chin from the internet and social media so that today it is a mere shadow of its former self. But what working at a paper taught me was to write about topics I wasn’t really interested in and to do that on a daily basis. The catch is to make those stories, all stories, interesting to the reader. An expatriate in Paris from 1903 until her death in 1946, Gertrude Stein put it simply when she said:
To write is to write is to write is to write is to write is to write is to write is to write.
The American science fiction writer, Ray Bradbury, was a little more expansive, saying:
You have to write and put away or burn a lot of material before you are comfortable in this medium. You might as well start now and get the necessary work done. For I believe that eventually quantity will make for quality.
So, now that you’ve put in your time with the local rag, and you’ve gotten pretty good at telling stories about heroes, villains and even making the obituary column readable, how exactly do you get your head around pouring out 80,000 words to create a great American novel? Well, I’ll tell you how I went about it in the next blog: Entertainments for Your Mind 2. Now, how’s that for a Hollywood take on literature? Creative, huh?
Before I go, a few words of shameless commerce. Digital downloads of One Cried Murder and Exit Marks the Spot are available at amazon.com/author/dcwall for $2.99 each. I thank you in advance for supporting my work. I appreciate it more than you can know. Best, dcwall.