Goosebumps books by R L Stine were my favourites during childhood. Vivid worlds of sadistic, possessed ventriliquist’s dummies, summer camps where everything goes horribly wrong and amusement parks in which the terror is quite real leapt from medium sized print within books of no more than a couple of hundred pages. Having obviously matured by my late-20s, I’ve tried to re-read some of these old friends, and technically could, but gave up. Not just because I already read them, but because I could never enjoy them so much as an adult even if reading them for the first time.
Christopher Pike was a popular teen author I found in plentiful supply at the library as a temporary glue between Goosebumps and the like and my first love within the adult fiction world: crime. In The Starlight Crystal, Pike had a young woman hurtled into space away from everyone she cared for, other than her father who was captaining the ship, such as a man she’d met and fallen in love with only days before departure. Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, accurately or not, had every day for her at the fringes of our solar system pass in their hundreds and thousands on earth. Yet she and he still maintained doomed lovers’ correspondence, in a perfect indulgence of teenage angst. It remains one of my two all time favourites.
Intensity is both the name and nature of a book by deservedly renowned crime writer Dean Koontz. It follows the story of a young woman who is fated by accidental means to cross paths with and be the undoing of a beast of a man who has kept a girl in his basement for years with a view to ‘ripening’ her. Possible partial spoiler alert there. I ravenously consumed so much crime fiction I almost regret it, now, due to excess and obsession. Then I came across fantasy.
Appropriately, it was the genius J R R Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings which got me started in this alternate universe that extended light years beyond, above and beneath Middle Earth. Once The Hobbit (the other favourite) and The Silmarillion’s tired pages were rested I managed book seven – of about 14 – of Robert Jordan’s excessively, endlessly epic Wheel of Time series, then a couple of others until I realised what crime and fantasy fiction had in common: a formula which when detected rendered its stories bland and if not predictable then unsurprising.
Since then it’s been mostly about the classics: 1984, Brave New World, Catcher in the Rye, Sometimes a Great Notion, Love in the Time of Cholera, The King is Dead, The Great Gatsby, All Quiet on the Western Front, A Time to Love and a Time to Die, For the Term of His Natural Life, To Kill a Mockingbird. Plus a couple of recommendeds. And I won’t tire you with the over double more.
Now my point with the preceding paragraphs is not to boast. This amount of reading would require sacrifices (mostly social) even the best multitasking (mostly female 😉 ) reader would struggle to avoid.
My point isn’t to say you can’t possibly write well if you don’t like to read. A screenwriting tutor of mine once asked the class who among us read, and two or three did not raise their hands (and I’ll be damned if something as abstract to success in Australia as learning to write scripts was a compulsory university course). Of course they must have read something, if not fiction, and known how to read otherwise they would not have graduated high school. So I, at least, gave them the benefit of the doubt and they probably gained better marks than me (not bloody likely).
My point is exactly what the title says, with a reason I’ll use to explain, and an amendment.
The reason is all the books I mentioned. Their authors were professionals, perhaps of varying degrees of success achieved at differing lengths of time and suffering, but they were all paid for their writing nonetheless. They were humans, and probably made mistakes for which they had editors or rolled up their sleeves and checked their own work for basic errors of grammar, spelling and punctuation.This means if your income or social life depends in whatever way upon your ability to communicate, effectively, to the right people, in writing, but you can’t do that (even with time to edit), you need to eliminate as much as possible of your lifestyle’s dependency on a need to write. The solution generally involves picking up the phone (or learning to write). This is vital because people who can write will both lose respect for you and have little idea what you’re on about. Seriously. For example doing something like using a lower case “i” when referring to onesself is not a case of exhibiting humility, and is instead as much of a turn off as talking about one’s mum during sex.
Briefly, on the amendment: if everyone you know professionally and socially can’t write, then everything I’ve written doesn’t matter.
I mean drug addicts hang out together and that always ends well, doesn’t it?