Admiration for attention to detail: From Elvis to Sting
This is my fourth of 35 posts in the 5-Week Author Blog Challenge, all of them on the topic of writing, publishing, and book marketing. I went back and skimmed what I wrote in answer to a similar prompt for the 2012 Author Blog Challenge. As I imagined, my thoughts are in a different place today. I hope you’ll stick around through all 35 posts. And if you want to take part, come on in – the water is great! You can register here.
Day 4 writing prompt:
Who are your writing role models? Whose writing has most influenced you? Who are your writing mentors?
One of my earliest assignments for a fiction class in college involved writing description. A fraternity guy named Hunter received a low grade for handing in his third paper about surfing. Blonde, tan, and good-looking in that frat guy/surfer way, all he could do was shake his head because he just couldn’t understand why the TA wanted him to stretch and write about something – anything – else. Another guy wrote in detail about a one-night stand. I still recall his depiction of noticing the girl’s underarm stubble as she slept the next morning. Interestingly, I don’t remember what I wrote about.
The paper I remember most, however, was by another coed, about my age. She wrote the most glorious description I had read to that point by anyone other than a seasoned author of classics about … the traveling Elvis museum. She detailed the steps up into the RV-cum-museum. She wove word pictures about the glass cases and the trinkets and memorabilia they contained. She described the kitschy gift shop with its gaudy gadgets and t-shirts and velvet paintings. And most memorable of all, she captured snapshots of the visitors – people of every age, ethnicity, and economic background. It seemed no one was immune to the draw of all things The King. I don’t have a clue what this gal’s name was, or what’s happened to her since. Only that she was 19 or 20, and I was 19 or 20, and in a million years, I don’t think I could ever master her gift for description.
Perhaps because my strength has always lain in nonfiction writing, the writers I admire most are those who write wonderful fiction. Sue Miller’s first book, The Good Mother, is still a favorite, as is Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth. Both of these authors are masters of details that bring fictional characters to life. Miller describes a harried woman cutting her leg shaving one rushed morning, while Follett notes how the townfolk crane their necks until they hurt, looking up at the stone masons at work on a grand cathedral. In Gold Coast, Nelson DeMille captures perfectly the slow shifts in his main character, John Sutter, a Wall Street attorney who finds himself defending a mafia don. And one image from the classics I will never forget is the turtle on its back, legs waving wildly in the air in Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath.
Fantastic writing is not solely the domain of fiction authors, however. Besides being an amazing lyricist, it turns out that Sting can also write quite beautiful prose. His memoir, Broken Music, is one of the most gorgeously inspired books I’ve ever encountered. Another nonfiction book I’ve recommended often is From Beginning to End: The Rituals of Our Lives, by Robert Fulghum. This one challenges you to question conformity on all levels and may – at least subconsciously – have played a role in why I chose to wear a green gown for my St. Patrick’s Day wedding. Of course, there’s also the grab-you-by-the-throat-and-throw-you-against-a-wall motivation to be found in Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art. If procrastination, or its first cousin perfectionism, is hounding you, this book will help you turn the corner and leave it in the dust.
Lastly, in terms of inspiring authors, is a fellow I “met” during the 2012 Author Blog Challenge, Robert “Chazz” Chute. This guy is a writer! And an author! He’s prolific, talented, and so willing to share his knowledge. If you like mysteries and thrillers, read his books. If you want to learn how to write, design, market, and create a fan base, read his blog.
Well, this post kind of overlaps with tomorrow’s prompt … about what we both love and hate to read … but it also conveys my heartfelt gratitude and colossal admiration for the really great descriptive writers who can also challenge the hell out of me. Tune in tomorrow. I promise it will be at least mildly interesting…
And for the record, I’d love your feedback on my Author Blog Challenge posts! And, of course, would really love to have you support all of the bloggers in the Challenge. Find their links here.
Here’s to continuing to hone and improve your writing skills!
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