Tiny Stories, Tiny Tales

It has come. The Book 100.

The Book 100 is Heather Sellers' brilliant idea of reading 100 books that are similiar to the book you would like to write. And you dissect them and put down your findings on a notecard, one for each book. You pick apart the greats and see what makes them tick. And the not so greats as well because those are fine teachers on what works and what sure as hell doesn't.

You start by writing down 100 books to read. I think I'm around the forty count- it isn't so easy. But that's no matter because you'll take things off and put things on. I don't think Sellers believes in reading tons of classics, mostly moderns. That's just too bad. Maybe I'm (once again) setting my bar way too high but there are so many older books I want to read, why not pick them apart and see what I can use for emulation?

I decided to kick off Book 100 with Miss Marjoribanks by Margaret Oliphant. Lady Susan by Austen has joined in too. What do I have to say from my current dissection of Miss M.? That adjectives when piled three deep on any one noun leave little to the imagination. And also people interrupting other people's visits is as good a device as any to hurry the plot along. I wish I could say more. I'm sure there must be more, I just can't perceive it. The book was initially a magazine serial so that might have something to do with the lacking of "finds."

As for Lady Susan…there's no details about life only thrilling gossip and plot. I really enjoy reading great authors' early works because you see what they had to work hard on and how they managed to work around things they had little talent in. Lady Susan is a perfect illustration of this. It's a story written in correspondance form, a form that Austen doesn't shine in (as in later works) and while it was a popular narrative form in her day, she dropped it. Those are things that I, as a embryo writer, am currently wrestling with. Which narration form best suits me? How much detail is good detail? But that as Stephen King notes is something you figure out by writing tons.

The Book 100, I Salute You.

 

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How to Get Through a Big Book

How to get through a Big Book and have a little fun too.

  1. Make and eat food mentioned in the book (big books always include food, usually in meticulous detail).
  2. Read a little bit each day.
  3. Make a soundtrack.
  4. Dress like a character from the book for a day. Or a week. Or a month if it really grabs you.
  5. Ten minutes to kill? Daydream about the landscape or what the characters are seeing as they move through their day.
  6. Read passages you enjoy out loud. If you’re in the right mood, record yourself reading passages and share it (Instagram is great for this). Include illustrations if you like (thank you, Shirin).
  7. Whip out a highlighter or some sticky tabs for those great parts.
  8. Pace yourself and remember, reading gigantic books isn’t a race. It’s about the journey. Might as well bring along snacks, good drinks, great lighting, and enjoy the ride.

How to Search for Story Settings

A big city not far from mine has a casino. I’ve heard a few stories from friends that have worked there. Most center on being treated badly by a customer and revenging themselves by throwing the customer’s car keys into the Fox River. Karma is enacted on a regular basis at the casino.

There’s something about that river, flowing by, murky green during the day and black at night, a bottomless pit for car keys.

The river divides the city in half, east to west. The Fox flows along the old warehouses, limestone and brick, built back when the city had manufacturing plants and industry. Now the warehouses sit sturdy and silent, crumbling ever so slowly. Their roofs are flat and give the illusion of brick walls running straight into the sky. Some were built like prosaic wedding cakes, higher and higher, until the final topping is small square with tiny windows. Industry has never been about aesthetic needs and wants.  And yet by some miracle, these old turn of the century warehouses have achieved it just the same.

I observed the warehouses from the back deck of the riverside café, clutching my cup of earl grey and wishing I had put sunscreen on. It was the first time I had ever been to this café and I came because I needed a new setting for a fiction story I was working on. None of the cafes I remembered from the past were working for me. I needed this kind of café, one that hung out in an old manufacturing city where there wasn’t much industry left. There was, at least, a casino and many local businesses and this café hung on, here at the water’s edge.

A little further up was the casino where my friends had thrown those keys into the water. From my point on the deck, I could see the grimy metallic white heel of the building jutting out. Another friend told me that he goes there regularly to play black jack. It relieves stress and earns a little extra cash for his family.

The wind picks up a little and despite the sun, it’s chilly. Spring plays these tricks on us.

There is no sign of life in the warehouses all around me. We’re all boxed in together and the light plays off their empty windows, open and blank to the sun. I sip some tea and play “Over the Hills and Far Away” by Led Zeppelin just to see if this café will work for my story. It only takes a few bars of listening to the song and I know that this place is perfect. This spot on the river is perfect for many stories. It’s  been perfect for all the stories I know nothing about and the ones that I’ve caught the smallest glimpses of.

A mallard suns himself in the weeds that line the water’s edge. The river moves fast and sure and I turn off the music. No need to for further noise. The song is already there.