"I think I have three on hold," I said, sliding my card across the counter. The librarian rummaged behind the counter and then she came up with a trio of books, two slim and flat, one almost three-inches thick. Her eyebrow rose when she saw the first title. "The Wolves in the Walls," she said. She beeped it into the system and thwacked it down in front of me. The second title made the eyebrow creep a little higher. "Basic Economics." Beep, thwack. Now her scalp and eyebrow threatened to meet. "The Stranger. I haven’t heard of that one." Beep, thwack. Gathering up my odd assortment of reading material, I felt the need to offer some sort of explanation. “I, uh, have varied tastes," I muttered before making a beeline for the stairs.
Accepted wisdom tells us that if we want to write genre, we need to read genre and lots of it. No less a luminary than Ray Bradbury told aspiring scribes during a talk at Point Loma Nazarene University that they ought to read a short story every night of their lives. And one can certainly learn craft by diving in deep with Ellison and Gaiman, Lovecraft and Blackwood, by enveloping oneself in the contemporary and the classic. But successful stories require more than excellent technique, which is a painful lesson when learned late.
To brazenly switch metaphors, creativity doesn’t just feed on one thing. It’s omnivorous. It grazes on all of life. It consumes the colors of a sunrise and the quips from the drive-time DJ, the contents of your inbox and a coworker’s paisley shirt, a bad interlude with the boss and an over-long meeting, six-o’clock headlines and the smell of home cooking, a passage on the nature of the will from a long-dead philosopher and your wife’s goodnight kiss. It eats it all. With such things, it will build characters and plots, settings and themes on the sturdy skeleton of your craft. Without them, though, even the finest turns of phrase will only be wind through bones -- hollow, brittle and dry.
(Picture: CC 2009 by sashafatcat)