Tuesday, June 4, 2013


Once Again Fate Interferes with Ahab's Well-Laid Plan
I noticed a week back that the MCTT theme this month seems to have gravitated toward writing about books. As I was thinking about what to write I came across this wonderful cartoon lampooning Moby Dick. This book is a classic, as if I have to say. Written a century and a half ago, the language is as smooth and easy to follow as a modern book.

Somehow, in all my education I managed to avoid reading Moby Dick although I did pick up a copy once and got hung up on the first famous line — Call me Ishmael. Really, I had a neighbor with that name once (not). I just had no interest in reading a story about a stupid man who wanted to kill a whale. Never mind that less than ten years later I was enthralled by a movie called Jaws, which was a rip off of Moby Dick if I ever saw it. Except I didn't know it was a rip off because I'd never read the book.

It wasn't my intention to download a copy when I decided on this blog, but that's what I ended up doing. And then to confirm the utter righteousness of my lifelong impression, I read the first several pages. Well, I haven't read any further than that yet but my new impression is quite different than the one I got as a teenager.

Ishmael has a strong compelling voice, much stronger than the characters of many top bestselling authors of today.   And, oh heck, shucks, mercy me, I'm going to read it through, even though I already know I'll be reading thousands of words of prose describing places and object that don't interest me. But how can I turn away from a story about a man with a self-destructive obsession that eventually kills him. It's the stuff powerful stories are made of.

You may have noticed that I have Sue Grafton's cover in this blog and may be wondering what she has to do with Moby Dick. Well, she has an obsession, too. Hers is  an absolute refusal to allow herself to be pushed around. It's self-destructive and causes her to be combative when she should be strategic and often puts her life in danger.

But why, you may still be asking, is she here with Herman Melville?

Because her books are classics. We already know Moby Dick is a classic. But T is for Trespass? But it is, the whole series is, just like Moby Dick, because they're classic examples of the best of their century. Melville the nineteenth and Grafton the twentieth century. And their books will remain around a long time, that's what classics do.

It's been a long time since I've read Sue Grafton. It has nothing to do with her books, it's more of a 'so many books, so little time' thing. Because of the years between reads it was almost like I was reading her fresh. What I noticed right off was the smooth voice that let the story roll like honey. Melville has the same.

What I noticed next was how slow her story was. Me, I like my stories quick and to the point. Crisp writing, crisp movements. Grafton doesn't have that. She meanders through Kinsey Millhone and her friend's life and neighborhood at a leisurely pace that should have driven me wild. It didn't and I was aware it should, so I asked myself why.

I came up with an answer. It was Grafton's (actually Kinsey's) voice. It pulled me on because each sentence was skillfully attached to the next. This was also true of the excerpt I read from Moby Dick, and both books are in first person with a quirky narrator. So voice it had to be. But then I realized that, while engaging, voice wasn't enough to pull me the impatient reader through the sections of heavy description or introspection.

What pulled me along was the author's use of cause and effect. That is, this happens and it causes a reaction which then creates an effect that causes another reaction and so forth. Cause and effect are the powerhouses of the fictional throughline.

These books had strong cause and effect with no breaks in the story thread or the connection to the character's greatest concerns. Is it possible that meticulous management of cause and effect is what creates classics?

I don't know, but I'm pretty sure that from now on I'll have this question somewhere in my mind every time I read a book. Plus, I still have to read the rest of Moby Dick and who knows if somewhere in there I might change my mind.

So how about you? What do you think keeps you reading a book that you've already judged as flawed? If an answer comes to mind as you're reading this blog, please leave a comment so we can expand the conversation. We may in the long run answer that age old fiction writer's question: What creates a page turner?

Learn More About It
A Scottish paradise lost in time is invaded by 21st century thugs. It was a robbery gone terribly wrong, ending in Luke Slade and his wounded cousin being swept through a window in time, with  killers chasing in behind them, trapping them all in 1672.

Caryn McLaughlin rules Lochlorraine and when Luke appears she knows her worries will soon be over. He is Luke the Dragon Slayer, none other, and his duty is clear. Her duty is to convince him.

Connie Flynn, bestselling, award-winning author of ten published novels and three published short stories covering fantasy, mystery and romance also writes mysteries as K.C. Flynn and teaches fiction writing at Mesa Community College  Look for several new releases from Connie/K.C. in 2013.

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Email: connieflynn@yahoo.com
Website, http://www.connieflynn.com
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