The word “character” comes to mind when I think of Mark Twain (AKA Samuel Clemens). In his own peculiar way, this most respected of American authors was (in Southern parlance) a “hoot.” His comments about writing, and advice to writers, make interesting reading that I’d like to share.
Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please. This is excellent advice. There’s nothing worse than reading something about which the writer obviously knows nothing, and few things are more fulfilling than a cleverly twisted passage based on fact.
Use plain, simple language, short words and brief sentences. This is my third post sharing writing tips from some of America’s best writers, and this is the third time this advice has appeared. I’m noticing the trend and hope you do, too. Keep it simple.
As to the adjective: when in doubt, strike it out. Although a near cousin to the above point, Twain is another writer unimpressed with adjectives. Remember, Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn (two of American literature’s most beloved characters) had limited vocabularies.
You need not expect to get your book right the first time. Twain was a fan of the rewrite and edit. Of course, Missouri (his home state) is just west of Kentucky, where distilleries provided fine whiskey to fuel revisions.
God only exhibits thunder and lightning at intervals, so they always command attention. You thunder and lightning too much; the reader ceases to get under the bed, by and by. Although this comment can apply to adjective abuse, Twain’s well-known opinion about “sham sentimentality” also means he advised writing authentically to depict emotion through deep characterization.
Substitute damn every time you’re inclined to write very; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be. I have to admit this is my favorite piece of writing advice from Twain. Although times have changed, and editors appear to embrace profanity more than edit it, this admonition is a bugle blast to remind us that every word needs to earn its right to be on the page.
Do you remember reading Twain as a young person? (I do, but barely, and on my way to Louisa May Alcott.)
Fall is spectacular here, although six inches of snow that fell last weekend worry me. The upcoming winter may be an icy beast. But among preparations for what’s to come (Where are the snow tires? Do we have gasoline for the snow blower? Have we blown out the irrigation system?), we’re also about to “restock the larder.”
This Mountain Mama is going on a cast-and-blast.
Now, before you take PETA umbrage, let me assure you that the wild-flying pheasants, chukkar, grouse, hun, and quail I’ll be flushing with dogs aren’t mistreated little birdies. Their lives in the great outdoors have been far more authentic than those of fellow foul cooped on a chicken farm. And hiking hill and dale between hitting a feathered target flying sity miles an hour is infinitely more challenging than pushing a cart up a grocery aisle.
And then there are the steelhead.
While upland game bird hunting is something I do with Ranchman the Superhero, fishing I do for me alone. I’ll be stalking Class B steelhead (rainbow trout that have spent two years at sea, where ocean currents have made them stronger than Arnold Schwarzenegger). I caught this “fish of a thousand casts” a couple of years ago while spey-casting flies on the Deschutes, and can’t wait to see another tail dance across the river surface; feel a mighty head shake that lets me know he or she is NOT happy; and play the zip and dart of a fish trying to toss my hook before releasing it to be caught another day.
In the coming months when snow flies, roads ice, and temperatures plummet, memories like these — of upland game birds tracked by immaculately trained dogs, and fighting fish with ridiculous passion to live — will remind me why I’m here.
Knowledge is power. And I like to know who is at the top of their games, or at least whose work the American public is interested in buying. To this end, here’s the list from Forbes magazine of the highest grossing authors of 2013, as well as a little information about their publishers and genre. (Remember that publishers and genres change, so consider this information current, but far from involuble.)
EL James – $95m Random House; erotic romance
James Patterson – $91m Little, Brown & Co.; crime thrillers
Suzanne Collins – $55m Scholastic Press; YA fiction (sci-fi)
Bill O’Reilly – $28m various publishers; various genre
Danielle Steel – $26m Random House; romance
Jeff Kinney – $24m HarperCollins; children’s
Janet Evanovich – $24m St. Martin’s Press; romance, thriller
Nora Roberts – $23m Penguin Group; romance
Dan Brown – $22m Simon & Schuster; thriller, adventure, mystery, conspiracy
Stephen King – $20m Simon & Schuster; horror
Dean Koontz – $20m HarperCollins; sci-fi, but crossing genres
John Grisham – $18m Knopf Doubleday; legal thriller
David Baldacci – $15m Grand Central; thriller
Rick Riordan – $14 million Disney-Hyperion; fantasy, and detective/mystery
J.K. Rowling – $13 million Bloomsbury; fantasy
George R.R. Martin – $12 million Simon & Schuster; fantasy, horror, and sci-fi
How many of these authors have you read? Do you have a favorite? I’d love to know.[subscribe2]
For many years, I felt homeless. Thankfully not in the living-under-a-bridge sense, but disconnected to any particular spot on this globe. I suspect the reason was that I spent the school year in a big city in one state, then carted the children to a rural environment for the summers. I knew we’d move to our “summer state” eventually, so think I subconsciously avoided sinking deep roots. (And before you make assumptions, I contributed heavily to our income, although my work was portable.)
And so it went.
Last weekend, I accompanied our youngest on a grad-school visit. I enjoyed a beautiful break in the Sonoran desert and watched her conduct herself with polish, grace, and intellectual style. The time was fulfilling on many levels, although tiring because meetings, presentations, and constant immersion among high-energy people were a far cry from my mountaintop hermitage.
During the final descent on our way back, the Rocky Mountains came into view. Peaks were already dusted with snow, and patches of fiery orange and vivid yellow aspen sparkled jewel-like on the slopes. We smiled at each other, knowing we were happy to return.
“It’s good to be home,” she said.
Her comment stunned me because I realized that this was home — familiar, welcoming, embracing. “Funny. I haven’t felt at home in years,” I replied.
“Me either.” She looked out the oval window. “But this suits me. And you.”
My soundtrack since this conversation has been a favorite song, Kenny Loggins’ Please Celebrate Me Home (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RWge0KIhkoE). It reminds me of Thanksgiving and Christmas, the first pot of chili cooked all day in the double boiler, crackling aspen leaves underfoot during fall hikes. The lyrics articulate my “homecoming epiphany” on the plane.