Tuesday, November 18, 2008
in the path of falling objects is two stories that unfold at the same time. On the most immediate level, it is the story of Jonah and Simon, two abandoned brothers who leave their home in search of something they dream they will find. The story is told through Jonah's "map," a collection of drawings and writings that chronicle the boys' ride through the desert in a car with a psychopath, a lost girl, and a tin statue. On another level is the story of their older brother Matthew, a soldier in Vietnam, told through Matthew's letters to Jonah.
When I was a kid, my older brother served as a soldier in Vietnam. I still have the letters he wrote while he was there. They helped make the writing of Matthew's story a little easier.
I think letter writing is a lost art, but when I was a kid, I wrote to my brother consistently -- every week. And I could count on getting a letter from him regularly, too. Now, it's all email and IM speech -- OMG and LOL -- and the conventions and mechanics of writing have evolved -- or devolved -- away.
I thought about this for a couple reasons. First, when I look back through my brother's letters, I am impressed by his handwriting and the obvious effort to spell and punctuate correctly. Sure, he's a smart guy, but when he was in Vietnam he was just 18 years old, too.
I've had the opportunity to speak to hundreds of high school-aged kids in the past weeks since Ghost Medicine was released (looking forward to Newbury Park High School on December 2), and kids regularly ask me for advice on what it takes to become a writer. So, in honor of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), my general topic of advice to writers when I'm not overly angst-ridden this November, and, for the kids, I thought I'd offer my deflated two cents:
First cent: There is no substitute for experience. And I don't mean experience as a writer -- that's called practice -- I mean experience at life. If you shut yourself up and don't get out into the real world, you'll never be able to write. I've traveled all over the world and met countless different kinds of people, lived on my own by the time I was 17, I have actually been in war-torn countries during conflicts, and I've done so many crazy things that I sometimes wonder how I ever managed to live this long (one day, remind me to write about hunting crayfish in Sweden). I think young people who want to write frequently default to writing fantasy -- just because they get to "make up" all the experiences they've never had, and there are no rules to reality. And that's good practice, I suppose, but it's not really writing.
So my advice to the young is to breathe, relax, be patient, and get off your butt and out of your house.
Second cent: I hear so many writers that advise others to "read everything in your genre." Nonsense. I don't read very much Young Adult fiction at all. There's no reason to. But I read constantly... all kinds of things, but mostly fiction, mostly adult. When I think about the genre-specific advice, I wonder if a writer like Ray Bradbury ever constrained himself to reading Science Fiction. He's got a voice, rhythm, and technique that is not much like most of the Sci-Fi authors I've ever read... actually not like any of them. And, although I tell kids that I am not a fan of Fantasy or Sci-Fi, I will say that I've read a lot of those titles, a LOT of Bradbury, and I think he's a brilliant author.
The genre doesn't matter. Good writing is good writing.
Is good writing.
Which is something that -- WTF -- kids aren't taught how to develop anymore.