Thank you to the several people who e-mailed recently to ask why I don’t publish my blog, or at least some of the Southern stories. I so appreciate the great compliment and confidence, but I’m not at all a plot-smith. And though I’ve had lovely reactions to the small bits I write for LAWN TEA, it’s just descriptions mostly, and you can stay interested for JUST SO LONG in colours and expressions and postures and events; you gotta have a PLOT.
There are vast MASTERS of that, who weave stories out of whole cloth, with warp and weft swayed to accommodate truth or lie, deeds or thoughts. Close-up or back-up-and-squint, their stories have pattern and sequence, woven through with threads which provide texture and strength to the whole. And then there are those who patch their stories out of the frayed edges all the way around, winding and darning until the tale rings true, if thin. Somewhere in there, I guess I must work around the selvage, not matching up with the whole picture and having none of the pattern, just some mismatched threads. I think I just skip-hop around the periphery of stuff, knitting up a few little flowers there, embroidering a pile of leaves amongst the snarls, some hard-as-a-hickry-nut moments in the knots, or some fronds of lazy fern-waves behind the sheers.
It’s the centrals, the life-patterns and the true colours of the REAL that evade me. Just prinking a plot together would probably stretch my feeble brain and drive me to making voodoo dolls. It’s like me and card games---I can trump whatever you put down there, but haven’t a clue in Killarney what to lead with next.
Adjectives are my friends. Never met many I didn’t embrace and claim for my own, and since there are so many, I scatter-shot them haphazardly across hill and dale, with plenty left for the ditches and the ruts. I know all about spare prose; I read the tight, terse words, strung together like perfect pearls. Given one of those exquisite sentences, I would be struck by the purity and absolute perfection of the statement. If the same thought were my own, I’d be throwing in descriptives right and left, seeing in my mind all the intricacies of the idea, but losing those pearls right off the string into a great mudhole of modifiers. In my hands, “Call me Ishmael,” would have deteriorated into this great doily of introduction up to and including bows and curtsies, and that whale-hunt would have outlasted Ahab, Whale and Pequod.
But a plot, now---that’s just not in my telling. I’d start out a few lines, then veer wildly between whatever I’m reading now, maybe some Ivanhoe, a bit of Grafton, three lines from Hamlet, a little Reacher, a little Captains Courageous, some stolen string theory, a smidge of Princess Bride, a page or two of Tarzan, and wild wavers between Idgie Threadgoode and Raylan Givens. All the while visualizing, as I do, the diverse group of all the fabulous character actors whose faces and voices would fill the parts.
There are supposed to be less than half a dozen plots in the known world anyway, and they’ve been used and re-used and re-written and convoluted and plagiarized and re-purposed til the cows come home. Don’t writers ever worry that the exact set of circumstances they’re writing so feverishly about, with all the new-to-them labors of their harried, fertile brains, might have been published in 1898 or 2004, by some housewife from Little Rock, still unknown and stuck with several hundred languishing copies? There they’d be---not having read those particular stories, with a year’s worth of work and re-write and edit and submissions and rejection slips, all finally accepted by HarperCollins and ready to go---and then falls the ax on the whole deal.
I'll just hang right here, overdoing the descriptions, with nowhere to go but down another prosy path too overgrown with words.
I received three books yesterday, by Rick Bragg, new-to-me author whose Southern prose will make your eyes bug out and tear up and go REAL wide at the same time your heart is just stricken with the moment, it’s so good. One of those “Where Has This Been for So Long?” kinda writers.
Says I, who spent about five hours Thursday peep-reading page after page of his work from quite a few Amazon books with the little doohickey you can click for a sample. I came out of that trance pure-Dee drunk with words and phrases I’ve heard and used all my life, all arranged anew like anagrams of what I thought words should say. It didn’t matter which books---I’d just keep at one, drinking it all in, til it ran out, then on to the next---different title, different plot, but OH, that self-same gift for making you sit up and take notice and remember and marvel and tremble some.
I’m going to go keep reading now---All Over But the Shoutin'---one of three which arrived yesterday, new and shining like treasure tumbling from the box. Now THERE’S a WRITER. He uses lots of words, as well, but they’re spare and apt and exactly right. The plot of this one, since it’s autobiographical, is as old as Adam and Eve, but so wonderfully told in his Southern phrasing and stark sentences---a gift seldom found. I devoured half the first one last night, in this quiet room with no sound save my turning pages and Chris' small finger-waves at his Nook, with an occasional soft sigh from me, marveling at the genius of a line. I don't think Genius can describe this.
Thank you, Latane, for the introduction.