The Best Teachers

We hoped to be about landing at JFK in New York about now. It was not to be. The Mrs. tested “positive” for you know what yesterday, April 4, at our “24 hours before” flight check-up.

Since Friday she had had what felt like, she had thought, a developing cold – caught while we were in Devon – but just to make “sure” she had done an at-home test on Sunday: it was “negative.” So we were shocked, but maybe not 100 percent surprised, by the “positive” test result less than 36 hours later. I was inexplicably “negative,” although of course I could still test again and now be “positive,” but as of this writing I still feel absolutely fine.

We are both “triple vaccinated,” and thank goodness, because due to them the Mrs. has currently what would be considered a “chest cold” in “normal” times. Having the anti-Covid jabs and booster does not guarantee you will not catch the virus, but if you do they do make it far less likely that you will need to be hospitalized because you are deathly sick. That rather simple medical concept still seems unfortunately difficult to get across to a large segment of especially it seems the U.S. population (and at least one idiot Serb tennis player). However, if necessary just remember this: Thomas Jefferson would definitely have had the jabs.

[Photo by Pixabay on]

Speaking of Jefferson (who appears in it), with my latest novel now released, I planned to take the next few months “recharging”: especially reading and having a “rest.” However, I may use a bit of this now unexpected time “off” to “brainstorm” the basis for a new novel. I have only the vaguest of ideas of what a next might be about, but I do know it will be entirely new: the previous three-volume series is finished, yet I think I may still build on it with a new series that may have some roots in it or some such. (I threw a hint or two at you near the end of the brand new Capture The Cause as to potential characters in a new novel series. 😉 )

Brainstorming” to me means I sit in front of the PC and think about what it is I want to say and about whom. I then type various “random” thoughts – about characters, places, themes, etc. Above all, I ask myself: “What book would I like to read next?”

Given I am now “between” novels, and starting to consider what comes next, addressing this seems appropriate. I saw an Instagram author share this the other day. These are her favorite “learning to write fiction” books…

[From Instagram.]

My essential position is this: As a former university history and politics lecturer, I believe that anyone who has graduated U.S. high school, and especially university and taken an English grammar and an English lit course or two, is already more than capable of writing a story or even a novel.

So when I see a “how to” book I ask myself what that writer may have actually written that is fiction that enables them to feel they may tell others “how to” write. Indeed a novel could be “paint by the numbers” technically “perfect,” yet still lack a pizzazz that draws in and seizes readers. And it is impossible to define “pizzazz.” (Even Stephen King’s famous On Writing is far more memoir than a writing instruction guide. One reviewer noted – correctly – that King cannot easily explain his success, so all he can do is what he does: explain his work habits. But simply mimicking King’s work habits does not mean one can write as King does either, of course.)

Yes, understanding the basics of grammar and description and vocabulary are necessities to write, but we should have those in our knowledge toolbox not only because of our school education but also due to years of simply READING. The best way to learn to write your own fiction, I believe, is before you try to write to have read, read, read, read well-regarded and timeless fiction others have actually published. Just a few examples of some of my reading over the years…

Some of those are probably familiar to you. Given my fiction writing, my reading tastes there are I guess reasonably understandable. Someone else’s reading, of course, may be very different: A prospective sci-fi writer, for example, might want to read, say, Issac Asimov.

With reading must come a determination to write. Too many people, I have noticed online over the years, spend time planning and planning and planning books that are never finished. Along the line someplace, they lost heart and gave up.

There are no shortcuts. The bottom line is no “how to” book can replace actually reading excellent books and LEARNING from what you see in them. In short, reading everything F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, for instance, is a much better way to spend your learning time… and your money.

On that note, I hope you are having a good Tuesday, wherever you are. 🙂

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