Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Writing Mentors

A writing mentor.  Every writer needs one.  You want to be a writer you first start out being an avid reader.  Or . . . . you should.
You read hundreds of books.  Thousands of books.  Finish one, immediately pick up the next.  There is no stopping.

But somewhere down the line the bug bites you.  Or like a Grizzly in heat, mauls you.  That urge to write.  You get this itch under your collar; your mind gets restless.  All kinds of strange plots for stories explode into your conscience and you've just GOT to sit down and hammer it out on paper or a computer screen!

That's when you know the Writing Bug has taken a chunk out of you behind.  It's permanent now.  There is no antidote. No divorcing it.  The two of you are going to grow old together.

But the thing is this; you need a mentor . . . a favorite writer . . . to show you the first initial steps in writing whatever it is that's rolling around in our nogg'en.  I sincerely doubt any writer started out absolutely fresh.  Coming up with his own personal 'voice' (as MFA professors will tell you you need to find in writing classes) without first mimicking your favorite writer.

As your probably by now have guessed, I write (love) the mystery/detective genre.  I'm not saying I'm good at it.  Or successful at it (yet).  But I am saying I love the genre and occasionally . . . occasionally . . . have written a story or two I'm particularly proud to claim as my own.

And it wouldn't have been possible without the mentoring from a writer by the name of Ed McBain.

Ed McBain, or by his other pen name (one of many) Even Hunter. . . or by his real name, Salvatore Albert Lombino . . . was a New York writer who was prolific in his writing.  Using the McBain moniker he wrote detective/mystery novels.  And his most accomplished success was the fabled 87th Precinct series.  The 87th introduced me into the sub-genre of the detective novel called police-procedural.  Writing about cops and their line of work.  McBain was a master at this, introducing us to a number of hard working, mostly honest, sometimes foolish, homicide detectives out of the 87th.  Each on you got to know personally.  They were three-dimensional.  Well rounded.  They actually breathed.

But what truly made me admire this man . . . and thus want to mimic him . . . was the crisp brevity of his writing.  Clean, sharp, crystal clear.  Short, precise sentences which grabbed you and bodily hurtled you into the middle of the scene with vivid intensity.

If you can write like that, bambino, you're a writer.  A damn good writer.

McBain . . . just for the 87th Precinct series . . . churned out something like 55 novels.  God knows how many he wrote if you add in all his pen names and his real name.  He averaged about two novel a year for decades so that should give you an indication he was prolific.  But as Ed McBain the 87th was/is his crowning legacy.

And in my opinion, nobody writes a police-procedural better.  But of the 55 books in the series, the six novels which introduces a deliciously evil genius know as The Deaf Man stands head and shoulders above everything.  Talk about being diabolically evil!  Wow!  A complex creature who . . . in the end . . . walks away and is never caught.  He's still out there somewhere plotting his next caper.

The best book in the series (always subject to change, mind you) is one called Eight Black Horses.  The Deaf Man plots a very intricate game of wits to challenge and irritate the detectives of the 87th as he prepares for a spectacular robbery.  Brother, the writing in this one so spectacularly brilliant!  Five pages into this one and you know, just know, you are reading the words uttered from a master story teller.

So there you are.  You're a writer.  You want to be the best writer you can possibly be.  Well, be one!  Find the writer who moves you the most.  Experiment with his style.  His voice.  Branch out--try some sentence structures of your own design.  Throw in, or discard severely, descriptive phrases until you find something that fits your standards. (that's finding your own Voice, by the way . . . just in case you didn't pick up on that)

Voila!  Master your own style and you've become a real writer!

Which means, of course, that like the rest of us you'll starve to death trying to earn a living off your writing and your name will be forgotten completely the day after they throw your coffin in the ground.

But, hey!  That's Life, ain't it?

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