In my previous post I mentioned that I am reading The Crow’s Dinner by Jonathan Carroll. As an author he is difficult to describe. At bookstores I have seen his novels filed with Horror, with Science Fiction and Fantasy, and with contemporary literature. Magical realism probably comes closest to defining his genre, but even that doesn’t quite get it right.
The new book is different than his others. It is a collection of short, some very short, essays that he used to publish regularly on Medium.com. I read them pretty regularly at one point but over time I had gotten way behind. The book is 500-plus pages of one to two page essays. He wrote a lot of these. I kind of love them.
Carroll brings a number of things to all of his writing. He had tremendous observational skills allowing him to capture the tiny moments of the every day that brings verisimilitude to the worlds he builds. This applies not only to the physical world, but also to people, their behaviors and motivations. It all feels very real, places and people we all recognize from our own experiences. Then, when something fantastic or magical occurs, it seems as real as everything else. He finds the magic in the mundane.
That seems even more evident in his essays where he deals pretty exclusively with the real world. He is attentive to it, relating anecdotes with clarity and vision. He is compassionate about the human condition in all of its flaws and wonders. With a concise economy of words he conveys moments of everyday magic.
If you can’t tell, I am envious of his skill.
This morning I had a conversation about writing, specifically the merits of brevity versus longer works. There’s a place for both, obviously, depending on what your goal is. This conversation was specifically about writing for comics, and how many words on a page are too many (because in comics words equal space), and how much the art should tell. It’s a fine balance and there is no right answer. That seems to be the one place where my style leans toward the more sparse and concise. But then Alan Moore of Watchmen fame puts a whole lot of words on a page and it works.
There’s a reason that my fiction tends toward novels instead of the short story. The same is true of my reading habits. To paraphrase, I like big books, and I can not lie. Big books that comprise trilogies, or more. But excessive word count isn’t always necessary. A good haiku says everything it needs to. In the current era when we’re bombarded by too much information word count can be a detriment. I’m certainly guilty of scanning web pages instead of reading them thoroughly. How much time can I spare? While I can’t deny that Twitter is powerful, I feel that much of it lacks context. Some topics simply can’t be critically addressed in 140 characters.
But there has to be a happy medium between a tweet and tl;dr.
I have a lot to learn from writers like Jonathan Carroll. In this spirit I plan on trying some new things with this blog. I won’t entirely give up my longer pieces, but I want to try my hand at shorter posts. Using his style as a guideline, without completely aping it, I want to tell smaller stories. A side effect of this, I hope, is that I will write and post more often, because I often psyche myself out with the need to write about something more in depth. I want to observe the world around me a little more closely and report what I find. I want to look for the magic in the everyday. The post that immediately precedes this one was an attempt. There will be more.