Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Reading Makes the Writer

You are what you eat. Moms have said.

You are who you hang with. My Dad used to say.

You write what you read? Is this true of us scribes?

Commercial fiction is what I tend to gravitate to, sappy love stories or the quick thriller. I'd like to think I'm deeper than that on occasion. So, I'm expanding my library, venturing into once glanced over titles. So many books I promised myself to read but never have.

Now is the perfect time, really. The reason, I haven't been writing. Tsk tsk you say. Yes, I know. Very bad Charli. Instead, I've been reading. Devouring is more like it. And what I've been ingesting is far from my norm as a reader.

The other day I finished Diana Gabaldon's The Outlander. All 850 pages of it. Wow. Amazing story. I did skim over parts that made me yawn, I will not lie. In my most humble opinion, a reader's opinion, lots could have been chucked. But overall, there are passages from this book that will stay with me forever.


Bold emotion lept from the pages. These characters were tortured, literally, and the courage Gabaldon had in writing about men being raped by other men, was, for me, profound. Not just the physical depravity of it all but the long term effects on the human soul. There were moments I held my breath, where I swallowed a lump in my throat, and where I cried.

Once I was done reading, I went back and re-read the scenes that made me gasp, shudder, and pine for more. Again, I was left shaking my head. This author took the road less traveled by, that's for sure. The heroine is slightly older and sexually experienced; the hero is a younger virgin. The woman is almost raped, twice, and the man is raped, savagely I might add. The hero beats the heroine's booty for getting out of line. As a female, I was shocked but on the other hand, it being 1743, it was acceptable for such things to occur. Their were battles, witchcraft, and even time travel. A tale like no other. Jaime and Claire are characters I came to love, and now two of my all-time faves.


Charli is no trend setter. I am one of those people who hops onto a trend when its close to being out of style. It's just me. I'm no sheep following the masses and I'm just not cool enough to be notified before things hit it big. I mean Oprah doesn't exactly call me up to help her with her Must-Have/Fave Things list.

Speaking of Oprah's list, I have still yet to own a pair of Uggs. My daughter has a pair of Fuggs. (Fake-Uggs). Any who...

Right now I am reading Eat, Pray, Love. So many of my friends have asked me where the hell I've been, it's already a movie. To be honest, the last memoir I read was Night by Eli Weitzel. A grim recount of the author's days in an Jewish Interment Camp during WWII and of his days in the Polish Ghetto before evacuation. A truly tough read, gut wrenching and tragically sad. Since then no memoir has piqued my interest in the least.

AJ questioned my hesitation to read Eat, Pray, Love. Honestly, I felt that unless you survived something as tragic as the Holocaust, you had no right to write a memoir. I felt that it was so presumptuous of a person to think that their divorce, a break-up with the rebound guy, and traveling for a year (lucky biotch) was some noteworthy experience.

Like, really? Why should I read this? What makes her life so important that she believes it should be in print? Thus, I began to read as if to defy the millions that hoisted her to fame, including Julia Roberts. Begrudgingly I will tell you it's a fantastic read. Something I believed to be superficial is really turning out to be thought provoking. And, I find myself looking within, trying to see a little bit of Elizabeth Gilbert in me. A woman on the brink of change, taking stock of her life, and making a conscious effort to change for the better. (I've been reading in bits, in my personal space at home. And I think I will continue to enjoy it immensely.)

Here's another wee-little Charli anecdote. I read one book in my sanctuary at home- an original cast iron claw foot tub, another I keep by my nightstand, and I always keep a book in my bag for the train ride to work. My latest el-train paperback is MIA. I lost my copy of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

To be honest I wasn't sad at first that I lost the book; I was having a hard time with the first 50 pages. Blogs have stated the translation is rough in places and it showed. Another person told me that the opening is choppy on purpose, it's part of the genius of Larsson's plot layout. But choppy openings done in piss-poor translation, is kind of hard to get into and entice to read further. Especially when trying to pay attention on a train into downtown Philly. (A girl's got to keep one eye on the page and the other looking out for pan-handlers and crackheads) Sorry, I digress...

Everybody kept telling me to stick with it. I gave up, flipped on Netflix, and watched, in awe, in sub-titles, the Swedish made movie. A half hour in I forgot I was reading subtitles. It was that brilliant. The storytelling is at its finest, purest, and made me a wee bit jealous. I want to go back and read the book now, then run out and get the others in the trilogy. This weekend I will be scouring my house for my original copy. Saint Anthony, Saint Anthony...

But in the meantime I need something to read on the train. So, I went to my library, most books have been read. I stumble across one I put down a while back. A book I bought for two dollars at a church flea market. It was a hardback, the cover art and title drew me in. I figured, even if it sucks, it will look nice on my shelf.

Forever, by Pete Hamill.

When I originally read this I was numb from the Nora Roberts-athon I had just completed. AJ yelled about the fact that I'd never read her. So I bought a whole bunch and read at once. I do not recommend that. Roberts is the Queen of Romance but read a bunch back to back and they are all depressingly the same story, just switch names, locations, and titles.

In a rut I was. My brain was mush. Forever was not what my brain was programmed for when I opened it. Synapses snapped at me for making it think. They asked where the hot dudes and the damsels in distress were.

Five pages in I quit. It went on about a small family in Ireland from the little boy's POV. The jacket promised me a journey of a man cursed to live Forever on the island of Manhattan. This intriguing character observes history, my American History, from the revolutionary war to the present. As a former 8th grade American History teacher I couldn't wait to read it.

And as I did my brain quit and demanded more Romance.

Last night I decided to give it another whirl, the cover catching my eye again. All of a sudden it's an hour later and I'm suddenly on page 68. This morning I read more on the train to work.

Gorgeous. Brilliant. Heartbreaking. I LOVE THIS BOOK! And the main character has yet to get to America. I google the author and I love this guy.  A writer for the New York Daily News, an author of a bevy of fiction and non-fiction titles, AND a writer for The New Yorker. Dang, all the cool jobs I dreamed about as a kid, teen, college student and even dream of them now...

Inspiration begins to curl in my belly. I listen to it closely. 'Tis not indigestion or gas.

But something is happening to me...

My heart and soul, the writer part of who I am is asking the real me what kind of storyteller do you want to be? I scratch my head as if it were that simple.

Piecing together the past year and a half, it is that simple. Many times I molded my story into what others thought it should be, what certain publishing houses may find sellable, what agents seem to want, and I lost the reason why I put pen to paper in the first place.

The winds are changing, as Mary Poppins predicted. And I feel a change in me as a writer/aspiring scribe. Not sure what will happen but I can feel something good coming around the bend.

All this from reading some books. Imagine that!


  1. There's no better way to be inspired as a writer than to read.

    Right now I'm reading an old Nora Roberts trilogy. Her words are poetic. Her characters so real and vibrant they virtually walk off the page.

    When I walk away from one of her books, I'm always inspired to write just a littel better than before.


  2. Susan,

    Thanks for stopping by. The Nora Roberts Sea Swept trilogy was a great read. I then went ahead and read three single titles back to back and got Nora overload. LOL.

    Gotta read to write and right now, I'm reading.

  3. Hey Charli,
    Awesome post. I love to read especially because I learn a ton about writing. I devoured The Good Thief this weekend. It was a blast of a story. Loved the characters. A cross between Lemony Snicket and Huckleberry Finn. I read Master and Margarita so I could learn how to transition chapters that, on the surface, have nothing to do with one another. Hemingway taught me how to use imagery and set up an entire world in a few sentences.

    Toni Morrison taught me to play with form and POV. I tend to study everything I pick up and I'm always amazed at what I learn.

    I'm not sure what I'm going to read this weekend but I have stacks of books that are waiting for me to devour them.

    P.S.: I read Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. It is a little tough in the beginning but if you get past those initial pages you can learn a ton about structure, character development, and suspense.

  4. Thanks Lisa for the reading sugestions. Love the comparison between Huck Finn and Lemony Snickett. You also reminded me to read some Toni, haven't in a while.

    And I am definitely reading the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo as soon as I find it. LOL.

  5. By the way, I tend to devour book after book and then have a long stretch of writing, writing, writing and then it's like my creative spark needs a break and I go back to devouring books again. It's like I need that recharge.

  6. I couldn't agree with Lisa's last comment more. Its entirely true for me.

    Oh, and when I read for that very long stretch ... I read Charli's work in beta form. Was totally inspired by the heartwrenching emotion.

  7. I finished a Cherry Adair romantic suspense, and immediately went into two Jacqueline Frank paranormal romances. I LOVE TO READ. There was a while where I couldn't read and write at the same time. Then I went into a depressing writers slump/block. I read. Thus the three book marathon. But it jacked me back up and I'm writing again. It's like saying, "Thanks! I needed that!" (of course an apple-tini helped too)

  8. Mmm, Apple-Tini's. The Red Apple Tini's are awesome too!

  9. I read most of the books you go on about. I like to mix a lot of variety into my reading and I hope it all makes me a better writer. I have watched the 'Dragon Tattoo' movie yet. So it's good?

  10. Susan,

    "Dragon Tattoo" was so good I forgot I was reading subtitles. A must watch. I can't wait to finish the book and read the rest in the series.