There's nothing like a good book is there?
I mean, I love movies. I love great television shows. Going to Broadway plays is one of the highlights of my trips to New York…
But there's nothing, nothing like a good book.
Years ago, when I was in my twenties, I went to Las Vegas with my wife and her family. I like to play craps — which, once you know the rules is a lot of fun — but I tend to get bored with gambling quickly, so I usually have a book along with me to read while everyone else is rolling the bones.
This time, however, I had neglected to bring one, so I strolled on down to the Union Plaza casino gift shop and started browsing through the racks until I found a book called RED DRAGON.
As most of you know, RED DRAGON is the first (and best) book by Thomas Harris to feature the world of Hannibal Lecter, although Lecter only makes a brief appearance in the story.
Anyway, once I started reading RED DRAGON, I couldn't stop. Harris hooked me and hooked me bad, and I spent most of the trip sprawled across the hotel room bed, my nose buried in the pages. Between that and cheap buffets twice a day, I must've gained ten pounds over the weekend.
But I didn't care. I just wanted to read. To completely immerse myself in the story Harris was building. And I got in so deep that nearly everything else around me ceased to exist.
It's like that with every good book I read. Once I'm hooked, all I can think about is getting back to the author's world to find out what his or her characters will do next. And when it ends, I'm both satisfied and sorry. A good book makes me want to stay with those characters forever.
And so it is with writing.
I'm coming to this realization late in the game. I'm sure most of the writers here (and just about everywhere else in the world) have already figured this out a long, long time ago, but it just recently occurred to me that when I sit down to WRITE a book, I'm essentially doing what comes naturally:
I'm reading to myself.
After so many years of reading other people's books and getting an almost orgasmic enjoyment out of it (yes, I said it. Orgasmic), I — like most writers — have taken the reading experience to the next level and have begun reading to myself and writing it down.
Some unconscious part of my brain is dictating the story to me, immersing me in its world and pushing it out through my fingers and onto the computer screen.
I like to pretend I have control over it, but I really don't. That's why characters like Solomon from WHISPER IN THE DARK started out as a walk-on only to insist on becoming a major force in the story. That's why when Blackburn got hit with a particularly emotional blow, I started to cry.
When I'm "writing," I'm in so deep that I'm merely a spectator, a passenger on the train, no more in control of where it's headed than I am when I'm reading someone else's book. The only thing I DO control, in fact, is the language. I'm constantly refining the language — but again, that comes from a place so deep that I sometimes wonder if I control even that.
When I've finished writing a book I'm drained. Emotionally and physically. And just as I do when I read a good book, I feel satisfied and sorry. Even when the experience is nerve-wracking and scary and utter hell, I'm sorry to be leaving that world — which is never the same again once you re-enter it.
All the control returns during the polishing phase. I say polishing because that's all I really do once the book is done. I take my editors' suggestions and buff the thing up, because most of the grunt rewriting work has been done during the first draft (I "rewrite" as I go).
So, in the polishing phase, after the majority of the work is done, I feel relaxed and confident and completely in control. And not nearly as deep into the thing as I was the first time around. It's much like rereading an old favorite that I'll always have a fondness for. An almost melancholy return to an old haunt.
But that first time around, it's all about reading to myself.
So it makes perfect sense to me that many readers go on to be writers. I've met quite a few people who haven't read more than one or two books in their lifetime and say they want to write a novel.
Uh-huh. Good luck to you.
Because unless you love reading as much as we do, I doubt you'll ever reach that particular goal.
Because, let's face it. If you don't like reading other people's work, the chances are fairly slim that you'll ever start reading your own mental dictation.
And that, as they say in Hokey Pokey-land, is what it's all about.