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09:06

6a00e54ff9f2cf88340120a786bd73970b Greetings, WEbook nation. Or rather, hi again. Some of you might remember me from my former incarnation, JohnnyWEbook. That was before I left it all behind for my two great loves: writing and my girlfriend. Now I spend more time with both (sometimes too much with the former, to the consternation of the latter).

So I’m doing it, the writing life, for real, finally. After a decade as a book editor, a few stints as a freelance magazine writer, a memoir that netted me an agent and got me close to a deal at a major publisher, then a novel that lost me that agent and which I’m re-working now. I am you, him, her, us—a writer trying to get it together because doing just about anything else makes me unhappy. And that’s why I’m here on the WEbook blog, to share my thoughts and experiences. Because we’re all the same—just at different points on the journey. Like many of you I haven’t been blessed with that big break yet (read: a book deal), but I’m not giving up.

I’ll be contributing a post every two weeks or so. Each one will be (loosely) dedicated to a topic germane to the writing life—i.e., habits, pitfalls, getting published, finding your voice, expectations, etc.—but ideally they’ll only be starting points for discussion (use the comments area below; I’ll jump in from time to time if I can add something useful). Also, please feel to ask me whatever questions you want, either below or to me directly on WEbook mail (penname: JohnnyM). I’ll do my best to answer them promptly. If I don’t have the answers, I’ll find them or even interview an expert on the subject and post it here.

As for my thoughts on writing, I believe there are countless ways to skin the literary cat. The only thing that matters in the end is to write, to keep putting words on the page, the screen, a blog, napkins at a coffee shop, whatever. That’s one of my few universal beliefs about writing: you need to do it in order to get better. And it’s hard and it takes time and discipline, but it’s oh so rewarding. (Ask Corey if you don’t believe me.)

In the spirit of this, I’d like to talk about reading and its importance to writing. For me, it’s crucial to always be reading as a way to fuel my writing. Sometimes it’s a matter of simply learning new vocabulary, picking up a stylistic trick, a fresh way to open a chapter or a POV device I haven’t seen before. I don’t steal stuff outright, but I occasionally modify and mimic what I’ve seen used by established writers.

The book I’m reading now is The Savage Detectives, by Roberto Bolano. It’s a plot-less romp about a pair of Latin American poets in the seventies and eighties as they travel around the world searching for truths. It’s sort of slow-going to be honest, but as I’m currently living in a Latin American country I find it fascinating.

What are you reading and how is it affecting/inspiring you?

-JohnnyM


JMHammock1 John Meils is currently finishing a first novel, tentatively titled The Warring House. He has written for Elle, Men’s Health, and MyTango.com, among others. To learn more about him, visit johnmeils.com. John, why aren't you on Twitter?




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13 comments

  1. Where did you get this guy? Good to see you back Juan. Mejor de las suertes.
    Lark

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  2. I am reading the Glass Castle, it's crazy!

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  3. I am currently reading Dubliners by James Joyce. Not sure how I feel about the style but it is one that I haven't seen before: a series of short stories to tell an all-encompassing tale about a country.

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  4. At the moment I'm reading two books; just like I can't work on one story at a time, I find I can never stick to one book at a time.
    Violin by Anne Rice is opening my eyes to tricks in making extremely abnormal topics (like demons who double as violin masters) seem perfectly normal in real life situations. It amazes me that no matter how exceptional her fiction is, it's easily accepted as pure fact due to her style.
    Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton is teaching me the importance of establishing a believable setting and how to draw out some mystery before jumping into explanations.

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  5. Absalom, Absalom! Faulkner. This guy is the best with POV. I really couldn't stand the novel at first (I heard it has the longest sentence in fiction which is a major turn off for me). It moves like molasses and you have to sort of turn your brain off when you read it to understand it. But the way he reveals things and some of the images he gives you (i.e. a woman standing on her front porch in a ratty, horridly put together wedding dress as she looks out at her fiance standing outside the gates of her home. Then, her brother comes up and puts a bullet in the back of this guy's head. Morbidly beautiful, this all takes place in 1865, by the way). I don't know how it's inspired me...but it definitely opened me up to a different way of writing.

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  6. Speaking of POV, in the Savage Detectives, which I mentioned in the post, the story is told by about 20 different people...all in the first person. It's totally jarring at first and you have no idea who everyone one. But after a while, it becomes kind of amazing. Bolano, the author, manages to give (and maintain, the tough part) unique voices to just about each of his multiple narrators. Not insanely unique but certainly effective, especially since the entire story follows these two crazy poets and their travels around the world.

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  7. No way. Jonny WEbook back on the scene, well it doesn't get any better than that. And Jonny, I'm with you. I had a terrible vocab in high school, and somehow think mine is now decent. I credit 20 years of the New Yorker. I am no reading Eat Pray Love b/c everyone else has, and I'm finding it a bunch of pablum. Why would anyone READ this? Is there a payback in the last 10 pgs. Ugh.

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  8. glad you're back i plan to learn lots from this site and maybe you could be a part of that learning experience. good luck on your writing career and congratulations.

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  9. Over the past 3 weeks I have been reading and re-reading the emails my grandmother sends to me just every 2 to 3 days. They are inspiring me to write because I get alot of idea's from whats going on in my life and in the life of others. My grandmother mentioned it was snowing so hard people were going into the ditch on her drive into grand rapids and it inspired a winter storm scene in my book. Just simple things like that. Weird, but I have read so many books lately that I am kind of booked-out.

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  10. Heather Meloche9 April 2010 at 04:01

    When I'm really involved in a novel, I find I can't read because I do end up mimicking. Then I lose the voice that I've worked hard to find. I went through this dystopian phase (The Hunger Games, The Forest of Hands and Teeth), and for a while, all my contemporary stuff had this life-or-death dystopian edge to it. Who knew eating a sandwich could sound so dangerous! So I have to lay off when I'm embroiled in my own work. I read in between projects like a crazy woman. It helps me get inspired for the next project.
    BTW, I'm totally envious that you're in Nicaragua "living the dream." I lived and taught in Guadalajara for a while pre-children and almost took a job teaching English in Ecuador. I'll go back one day...

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  11. Yes, writing in 20 point of views is really impressive. It must be daunting from the author's point of view, trying to keep all those personalities in order.
    Again, Faulkner in As I Lay Dying writes from 15 point of views, one of which is from a dead person.
    To write from multiple point of views is impressive, and a feat worth commending just for the effort.

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  12. I've heard people say you should be reading what you're writing. Although, I've always been an avid reader, I work full time and read medical journals and grant stuff for work and write nonfiction related to that. By the time I get home, I want to write fiction; it's my release and I can be a bit obsessive. I may skim books to look at the writing; how an author handled the action or something, but I struggle between should I be reading or should I be writing? What are your thoughts?

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  13. I'm revisiting three books and one author right now.
    Two are books that I love, and I went back to them to explore exactly why, and what the author did to make me fall in love with the story the first time around. My first chapter has really stumped me for awhile as I realized the opening was completely wrong. The middle of the chapter has floated around in Word Space since, untethered by a beginning or end. Rereading a favorite by Robin McKinley finally inspired my opening.
    The third book--whose author had published over twenty books when this was written--I remembered liking very much the first time, but reading it again showed it guilty of many things I have tried to weed out of my own writing: redundancy, pretty words but no meaning, over-the-top characters who have everything conveniently happen to them, paltry plots, etc. In short, I've learned that tastes and styles change, I'd better not be writing what I don't like reading, and the more books you publish the more you can get away with!
    The final book is a collection of horror stories I picked up because it's not a genre I often read and I ran into a bit of a wall when I found I had some horror/suspense moments in my own story. The stories are predictable, but I attribute that to the fact they were written over 30 years ago. At any rate, it has given me pause to consider what I can see coming around the corner and whether I'm scared anyhow.

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