Burnet Up, Or How Just a Few Kind Words Can Inspire the Writer in Me

 

WITNESS STATEMENTS. Memoir. Medical reports. Journal article. Trial record.

There’s an awful lot going on in Graeme Macrae Burnet’s novel His Bloody Project, not least of which is that the crime referred to in the title is established in its opening pages. A triple homicide in a poor village in the Scottish Highlands in the late 1860s — that’s what happened, and the reader knows it straight away.

It is in the how and the why where Burnet’s tale lies. Using a variety of storytelling techniques and devices — those listed up there in the first line — he crafts a strikingly original work of vivid details, meticulous characterization, and compelling plot. As a writer, I have found myself returning to Burnet’s adroit handling to figure out how to make my own work better without throwing up my hands in despair because nothing I produce will ever be that good.

I tweeted as much to him and Matthew Klam — whose deeply felt Who Is Rich? I hope to discuss in a future post — and was reassured that all of us who struggle to make magic with words are wrestling with the same demons.

“If it’s any consolation,” Graeme Macrae Burnet tweeted back at me, “I often have the same thought!”

Yes, indeed, Mr. Burnet. It is of enormous consolation. I’ll be back at the keyboard tonight. | DL

Tome Swift, or How Smaller Page Counts Are Feeding My Habit

short readsTHE PLAN TO read more in the new year was going well. Until it wasn’t. Even my audio book consumption dropped off. In both formats, I started works only to get into them and lose interest. And before too long, my reading momentum was gone.

Looking for a way to get my nose (and ears) back into books, I recalled a list I’d seen online of well-done quick reads. That seemed like a good way to ease myself back into it — not by taking on a weighty doorstop whose heft could prove intimidating, but by leveraging the psychological boost that a work of smaller scale could provide. The Goldfinch? Um, no, not this week. Dept. of Speculation? Jenny Offill’s novel, checking in at 192 pages, is at the top of the list I’d seen. Perfect.

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The Elusive But Vital Pursuit of Balance, Part 571

TDsweatsTHINGS WERE proceeding smoothly, until suddenly they weren’t. Everything blew up.

Work exploded, as the calendar moved into my department’s busiest time of the year and we took on a major new project on top of our usual other duties.

Home exploded, as the girls added play rehearsal and spring sports to their already lengthy litany of activities, as I tacked t-ball coaching to my bulletin board of commitments, and as J. and I delved further into the planning stages of a big-time renovation initiative.

And I exploded, as months of wintertime consumption and hibernation had me feeling heavy and dull, my clothes uncomfortable and my body looking decidedly middle-aged.

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