Tag Archives: art of writing

What I learned from binge-reading Louise Penny

Yep, I admit it: sometimes I am a binge-reader. Every now and then, I’ll read a book by an author and be intrigued enough by the characters and/or writing style to read another. And then another and then yet another, ignoring all other authors, until I’ve read everything I can read by that one person.

Back in May, several friends happened to recommend Louise Penny to me. So I picked up “A Trick of the Light” from the library but didn’t finish it, in part because it felt a little like I was coming into a much bigger story mid-way in. So I went back to the very beginning and started her Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series with the very first one, “Still Life.” After I finished that book, I read the next one in the series and then the next and then the next one after that.

I just spent a week at the beach (the Outer Banks, heaven on earth) and found myself reading and reading and reading Louise Penny’s books on my Kindle. I couldn’t put them down, especially the last several in the series. I was close to obsessed. (It’s true!) And it was all because of Jean Guy Beauvoir, Gamache’s second in command.

Now, no spoiler alerts needed here: I will not reveal any major plot elements to you! But Jean Guy’s character—which was interesting and intriguing to me from the beginning, perhaps because I lived in France once and know, a little at least, the Francophone personality—became ever more complex as the series evolved. Even as I read about Chief Inspector Gamache’s investigations, his thoughtful pursuit of clues, his ability to zero in on the killer, I’d find myself thinking about Jean Guy, especially during the last few books of the series. I almost felt like shouting at times, “But where is Jean Guy? How is he doing?! Please tell me he’s okay!” I kept turning the pages, not just to learn who the murderer was but also to find out what was going on with Jean Guy. I wanted—no, I needed to know!

This entire binge-read experience really brought home the lessons from an online course I took earlier this year through Sisters in Crime called “Adding Emotional Intensity to Your Writing.” (A great course, by the way, and one I heartily recommend if you are a SinC member.) On our drive home from the beach today, I found myself thinking about why it was that I was so sucked into Jean Guy’s life, into what was happening to him, into how he was responding to it. After all, he’s a fictional character; why should I care? And I did care.

I cared because Jean-Guy was Everyman. Continue reading

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Jack London, and writing what you know

Just read a review in the Wall Street Journal of a new biography of Jack London. I’m sure many, perhaps even most, of us have read at least one Jack London novel or short story. Call of the Wild is a fabulous book and one that I first read as a kid about the age of ten. And his short story To Build A Fire is unforgettable.

I knew a bit about London already — that he had spent a lot of time in California (and lived and died in Sonoma County), had travelled a lot in the Yukon, and had worked as a journalist before achieving fame as a writer, especially with Call of the Wild in 1903.

Until reading this review, however, I didn’t fully appreciate his amazing life and all the adventures he experienced. It’s pretty clear from reading his work that he knew — and knew intimately — life in the wild and especially life in the Yukon. He obviously wrote what he knew. The most incredible thing to me after learning more about him is that he managed to live as long as he did, even though he died young at the age of 40.

This inspired me to re-read To Build A Fire  from the World of Jack London website. The tension builds from the very first sentence: “Day had broken cold and gray, exceedingly cold and gray, when the man turned aside from the main Yukon trail and climbed the high earth-bank, where a dim and little-travelled trail led eastward through the fat spruce timberland.”

The man is never named. Keeping him anonymous seemed to add even more to the tension, perhaps because it helps pull the reader into the story and even imagine being that man. And the way London describes the setting and the man’s actions and fate was brilliant.

What is your favorite Jack London work? (I’d create this as a poll but haven’t quite figured out how to do that yet in WP.)

  • Call of the Wild
  • White Fang
  • To Build a Fire
  • Other:
  • Never read him

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Can our temperaments affect our creativity?

I’ve started reading a new book entitled Creative You that basically looks at Myers-Briggs types and then lays out what, in the authors’ opinions, are the strengths and blindspots for each one. (See Patrick Ross’s Artist’s Road blog for a longer piece on the book, including an interview with one of the authors.)

Now, first, a disclaimer. I am not, repeat not, blindly advocating Myers-Briggs typology or any other assessment tool as a be-all and end-all for understanding our personalities and ourselves. Our personalities and everything that goes with them are so complex and textured that a simple assessment tool such as M-B can only begin to help us better understand ourselves. That said, we use M-B a lot at my agency, and I’m very familiar with its strengths and shortcomings.

Now, on to the book. I’m an INFP, in M-B terms. That means that my personality preferences are Introverted, iNtuitive, Feeling, and Perceptive. My strengths (and I know this from personal observation, as well) are being able to see the big picture, thinking strategically, making sometimes creative leaps of logic to envision what the future could be, among other things. I’m also introverted, which means that I recharge through quality alone-time. (I just made that word up, but it really fits.)

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