Monday, September 26, 2011


I just finished reading Tabloid City by Pete Hamill and I like it. It's a pretty good book. I see that it's received some bad reviews, but I don't pay so much attention to reviews of other people's work.

I read Hamill when I need a little Hamill. Whether fiction or nonfiction, it's always gritty, fast-paced and nostalgic. Overly sentimental? Sure, but that's Hamill. He lives in a world that doesn't exist anymore and it happens to be a world that interests me. So I read him and will continue to despite the reviews.

I don't compare Hamill to other writers the way I don't compare Woody Allen to other filmmakers. His movies are so uniquely "Woody Allen" that they should only be measured against others in his oeuvre, if I may use that word. I watch his films because of the look, the dialogue and the characters. The same is true with Wes Anderson.

It's all voice. It's style. And these writers and directors have their very own. Some - many - may think of them as one-trick ponies, but it's what they're good at, it's what is comfortable and it's that comfort and mastery of their own voice that shines through and keeps me coming back.

Rodrigo Fresan (Historia Argentina, The Velocity of Things, Kensington Gardens), in the book of essays, The Secret Miracle, The Novelist's Handbook, says of style:

I'll go further: maybe that is what style is in the end. Maybe, now that I think about it, a writer's style is nothing more than the ghost of his shortcomings rather than the reality of his virtues. I'll try to explain myself. You end up resigning yourself to what you can do, and throwing aside what you'll never be good at, and so others perceive as achievements what in reality are the dregs within reach, with luck, each time ennobled and purified. What a writer does and what he wanted to do are two different things, and, as time passes, what he does solidifies into the only thing he can do well, what he does like no one else.

Voice is difficult to come by in writing - it takes many hours and many, many sentences written and rewritten - but once found, it feels like the ground below has opened, allowing you to free fall into the story you wish to tell. As exhilarating as it is to hear that voice, that style, in your mind as you work through a character or a plot, it is just as frightening to have someone edit that work for fear of the voice disappearing or being diminished. I think we become as protective of pacing and rhythm as of a favorite character, and think that no one else will take the care to hear it the way we will.

Even in revision of myself I worry that I'm plucking out words or moving punctuation in such a way that waters down the way I meant a certain passage to be read in the very first instance of putting it on paper. With one manuscript in the ether, and while awaiting word on its (hopefully) safe landing, I have turned my attention to the revision of another, the first I finished in 2010. I spent the weekend with several parts where the main character types his thoughts and those thoughts are what we read. I break from my voice and jump abruptly from third into first person, which isn't so comfortable for me. As in dialogue, the trick is to make what he types come across in a way that only he would say it, and that's not so easy. Not for me. In re-reading it, I realized it was simply my voice in italics. So I shortened some sentences and moved some punctuation around. Threw in a few words I might not normally use. I'll go back later and read it all over again. I'll try to take myself out of it and search the dregs for what remains, try to ennoble and purify it.

Hopefully the new copy will be as exciting to me as the original was two years ago when I first wrote it. And hopefully a voice will be heard and carry through, and that pony will be one readers want to ride again and again.