LJ Idol: Round 4: The One I Love

(No, not the R. E. M. song, or even “Dedicated to the One I Love,” a doo-woppity song.)

Okay, now y’all have hit me with a topic that’s a stumper. I don’t want to do the same entry that everyone else has already.

Who do I love? I could write a paean to hubby . . . to my dog . . . but all of that has been done very well already. Sure, I got some nifty gifts and some frisky action, and I got to play ball and “bark at the passersby” as well (and you can guess which one played which game), but there wasn’t anything transcendently outstanding about it when you try to write it up. It’s really too private to write about for a contest, anyway.

O’course we all have friends and mamas and aunts we love . . . done and done.

But what about . . . God? No, especially on LJ, you cannot write about your love for God, because it’s too easy for that to become some kind of preaching or evangelism, and if not it sounds all self-righteous and puffed up or oratorical. That’s too private to write about, too.

So what’s left? Well, what is it that makes all this possible–I mean, what makes the freedon to believe as I want possible, the intellectual and physical freedom to choose these things and not arranged marriages, state churches/nonchurches, etc.? Being here in the good old U. S. A., I’d say.

I could write about love of country . . and that’s hackneyed, too, but not too private to write about. Wait, though: here you get into the very definition of “patriotic,” and people get steamed and start to argue about everything but where the Constitution is stored. No good.

What about this? My great love is always . . . the manuscript I’m working on now. I have a fondness for each of my books–ask which is my favorite, and it’s like asking a mom which of the kids is her favorite: she may have one, but she’ll never confess, and has told each one privately that he’s her fave–but anyhow, despite what my mother thinks*, I always believe that the book I’m currently working on is the best yet. I always see such potential for it. I always think it’s going to be Lit-ra-chur. Okay, I’m not quite THAT far down the delusional-flowerpath, but I always think The New Book is good enough to entertain and perhaps make some people think. And that’s enough.

(* Whenever an editor calls or I get a request from an agent, Mama says, “But is that one of your good ones? Do you like that one?” She doesn’t like fiction in the first place. Everything’s just slop and smut and junkola. But she can’t understand that if I wrote it and sent it out, that pretty much means I like it.)

“Whattaya mean, you LOVE your book? Ya think you’re Shakespeare or sumpin’?”

No, unfortunately, even I am not that crazy. And that’s not what I’m saying. I’m just saying that it takes so much time and effort and thinking and obsessing and typing and reworking to write even a BAD book that to do it, you’d better be in love with the story and the characters and the prose and the very screen it’s glowing on.

“Well, I guess ya got sumpin’ there. Shakespeare and Dickens were considered the trashy writers of their times, wudn’t they? Pap for the masses?”

Well . . . not exactly. But of course no one from then knew they’d be The Classics now. Dickens in particular was a hugely popular writer, the Big Steve King/Jo Rowling of his time. People stood on the docks in the USA waiting to get the next installment of his novels, which were serialized in periodicals. “Did Little Nell die?” they would shout as the ship pulled into the harbor. (Remember, this was pre-radio and TV!) He satisfied the general readership of his time. But he also has that special something that lets his works speak to us now. Shakespeare always throws in stuff for the “groundlings,” so that in all his plays you have low humor and comic relief and high humor and stuff for the educated . . . he wants to keep the masses happy and still make the royal court get a good experience at the play. That’s one reason he did well during his lifetime. Again, though, there’s more to it than just that, which is why his work stands above the body of work in English to be singled out as among the masterpieces. There’s something that transcends genre in the plays that are still taught and studied (some are “ranked” higher than others.)

I don’t pretend to be able to do that, though I aspire to. I mean, I’d love to write a _To Kill a Mockingbird_ or _Catcher in the Rye_ or _Grapes of Wrath_. Well, maybe not _Grapes of Wrath_, as it is just too depressing. I mean some kind of work that would transcend its genre and mean something to all different kinds of readers. _The Secret History_ (but it’s so LONG!) _Breakfast at Tiffany’s_, perhaps (it’s short!) But so far, I have not been gifted with the ability to do that.

So I do what comes to me. What my Muse sings, I take and weave into a tapestry. It may not be a symphony, but a good jazz/blues tune is worthy, too . . . or a country ballad (sometimes) . . . or a “Weird Al”/Allan Sherman twist on an old standard. It is what it is, and that’s all it gots ta be (as the wag said.)

They can’t all be classics.

You may never have the inclination to read the classics. Libraries are supplanting many classics with bestsellers, due to demand from the readers. I think it’s a mistake in the long term. Libraries get rid of books that haven’t been checked out for a year, even if they’re Dickens/Austen. They order 30 copies of whatever is the flavor of the month. Why? Patrons (taxpayers) want to get whatever they want RIGHT NOW and don’t want long waiting lists to read the new books. In my youth (ah, misspent years), we would just “know” that if you wanted to read the latest Arthur Hailey or read _Shogun_ (again with showing my age), you would need to buy it or borrow from an individual . . . or wait eight months until your name came up on the library waiting list, as they only had one to ten copies. Shelf space now also goes to current CDs and DVDs without regard to the “lasting power” of the work, for the most part. This means, however, that later generations will miss out on midlist novels from the past, and that they can’t rely on getting a copy of _O Pioneers!_ (for example) from the library. Now, you could say that much of the work that’s now in the public domain is available from Project Gutenberg on the ‘net, and that’s true. Still, that means you have to have a computer and screen time for reading–or a way to print it–and this doesn’t make for the level playing field that Ben Franklin had in mind when he came up with the concept of a publicly supported lending library. I think the library staff is stuck between Scylla and Charybdis (yes, go look that up if you must *GRIN*–I know literary allusions are way out of style nowadays): They must keep patrons happy, and they would like to keep the classics, but they have only so much shelf space, and people who come to the library only to surf on the public computers or pick up the latest technothriller don’t care if the Harvard Classics are there.

That’s one reason I maintain a somewhat extensive library here at home (to the family’s dismay.) They got the library at Alexandria–they’re not getting mine. (The family always rants about me not being able to take it with me, which is irrelevant–I’m here now. When I’m God forbid gone over to the Other Side, whoever’s left can do whatever with it–I’ve already checked with the libraries I know of, and they simply DON’T WANT your good-quality “old” books unless they’re valuable first editions; they’ll put them into a library sale.)

This means that later on, generations researching our culture will be able to say, “This ancient culture began its decline when chick lit reached its summit.” **GRIN**

I made this quip on a chick lit writers’ forum the other day, and I got back a nasty remark of the form, “I’m into such a cutting mode with the current book that I only write in sound bites. How’s that for commercial?”

(I thought she had something there. If I could DO that, it would be cool. If you could make it work, it’d be on par with _Ulysses_ as experimental fiction! Instant crossover to the Literary Fiction Club.)


All authors would like to think our books will mean something to a larger audience. However . . . it doesn’t matter. Perhaps my books will be seen in the same light as–well, not alongside Dickens or Cather (who is possibly the best American woman writer of her era), but perhaps . . . as good as [fill in your favorite current pop fiction author here]’s.

And maybe they won’t. The point is that I love them. I write funny stuff, urban fantasy, screwball comedy/romantic comedy, mysteries with a humorous twist, and so forth. I love that kind of story, and since I can’t find enough of them, I write them in order to read them.

It’s enough. It has to be, dunnit?

So . . . to the current book: Keep trucking along. Reveal to me your secrets. Then I’ll put them into words. The readers may or may not get it, but we will. Have a nice day, and carry on.



Author: shalanna

Shalanna: rhymes with "Madonna" and "I wanna," and is not a soundalike with "Hosanna" or "Sha-Na-Na." Aging hippie with long hair, husband, elderly mother, and yappy Pomeranian. I've been writing since I could hold a crayon. I started with fiction, which Mama said was "lying." “Don’t tell stories,” she would admonish, in Southern vernacular. “That's all in your imagination!” When grownups said this, they were not approving. So, shamed, I stopped telling stories for a few years--rather, I stopped letting anyone read them. I'm married to a fellow computer nerd who doesn't really like hearing about writing, but who reads sf/fantasy and understands the creative drive. I'm actually a nonconformist/hippie still wearing bluejeans and drop earrings and the Alice-in-Wonderland hair with headbands and sandals. Favorite flavor is chocolate/orange, favorite color is either Dreamsicle orange (cantaloupe) or bubble-gum pink, favorite musical is either Bye Bye Birdie, Rocky Horror, or The Producers . . . wait, I also love The Music Man. Is this getting way too specific and irrelevant yet? Obvious why I don't sell a ton of flash fiction, isn't it? To define oneself, I always say, it is good to make a list. How about a booklist? Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird Frank and Ernestine Gilbreth, Cheaper by the Dozen C.S.Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (all the Narnia books) J.R.R.Tolkien,The Hobbit/LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy Gail Godwin, The Odd Woman F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby J. D. Salinger, Catcher in the Rye (before dismissing it, actually read it) George Orwell, 1984 Kurt Vonnegut, Cat's Cradle Donna Tartt, The Secret History Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn James Allen, As A Man Thinketh Mark Winegardner, Elvis Presley Boulevard James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times The Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum Winnie-the-Pooh/House at Pooh Corner, A. A. Milne Peter Pan, J. M. Barrie The KJV and NIV Bible (each translation has its glories)

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