Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Last Sentence I Just Wrote

Jess Walter, author of Citizen Vince among other novels, spoke at the Write on the River keynote. He made us laugh and cry and think and consider our own definitions of success. And he encouraged to set our own standard and to live up to it, ignoring the world's version of "making it." Uppington has a great post on his thoughts and tips for writers here.

I looked Citizen Vince up on Google, intending to only read the first several pages. It sucked me right in, the voice gritty and hoarse from too many cigarettes but tinged with freshness, like this layer of oblivious innocence had sorta settled over the top of it.

And I read about "solitary figures beneath thought bubbles of warm breath and cigarette smoke" on page 6, and then "Vince looks up to the bar, where Beth is staring at him; she gives him a half smile, then looks to the ceiling, as if she's just let go of a nice thought and is watching it float away like a kid's balloon" on page 11 and I'm thinking, Wow. that is beautiful. simple. and beautiful.

And then I'm reminded of something he said on Saturday that was equal parts simple and beautiful, profound and quirky. He said, "I tend to like the last sentence I just wrote."

And it clicked for me. You have to love this vocation, but you also have to pour yourself into it, scratch out the imagery and carve out the sensory impressions and sift through thoughts for the perfect word or phrase or syllable. There's more to writing than simply telling a good story. There's a way of writing, a style, a slant that is completely your own, chock full of literary goodness, that must be written. We have to remain true to what sounds right. And smells right. And feels right. Maybe Patrick's right: maybe we call it Litstream.

Note: Citizen Vince is not only written in present tense, of all things, but it also won a 2005 Edgar Award for best novel. Go figure. :)


uppington said...

There now - I knew you would catch a different perspective. I love that! We both sat through the same talk, and were moved by different things. Diversity. I've started reading 'The Zero' - it too is awesome. This man knows how to use words, imagery, and characters. And he loves what he does. Which is a great reminder to me.

valbrussell said...

It's about the care and passion. Always. You've piqued my curiosity and I'll be picking up a copy of this book. Thanks Alex for making me aware of another splendid writer. :)

laughingwolf said...

great advice, too... thx alex :)

Kate Karyus Quinn said...

Love the quotes - those are some beautiful sentences! I'll have to look that book up.

Your thoughts on really loving the writing are dead-on as well! Thanks for a great post!

Alex Moore said...

@uppington: i was struck, too, by how different our posts were even though we sat side by side :)

@valbrussell: indeed -- and isn't it obvious when a writer is passionate about her work? gives me goosebumps :P

@lw: you're welcome! one of the best parts about talking through something I've learned is that I come to a greater understanding of it, myself.

@KKQuinn: Aren't they striking? I love setting new standards for myself.

Dave said...

I'm hearing nothing but good things about that book.

inlandempiregirl said...

Great... another book to add to the list. I hope my evenings while in Moscow are quiet so I can catch up... which is what I am trying to do now with blogs. Ahhh! What bliss to have tomorrow off.