Monday, November 21, 2011

Lifting the Stones

Post by Jenny

I’m fortunate that my city participates in an annual community-wide reading event. In spring, a committee chooses the year’s book. Any interested persons have about six months to read it, and in the fall, the event culminates in a talk by the author. This year, our book was March, by Geraldine Brooks. I actually read it—instead of just meaning to (yay, me)—and I recently had the pleasure of hearing Geraldine speak. (I’ve not sat in on a speech by any other Pulitzer Prize winner, but I’m pretty sure they don’t all have as good of a sense of humor or a charmingly understated Australian accent.)

Geraldine came from a family that was not wealthy but could often find a way to reconcile a tight budget and a love for books. A trip to the library was a Saturday ritual, and it was there that she fell head-over-heels for the Enid Blyton Adventure Series. Her article, The Writing Life, is an interesting look at how she grew up living in Australia, but with her imagination firmly planted in England.

Having read March, I was interested to hear how the author was inspired by both her husband’s love of all things related to the Civil War and a Union belt buckle found on her property. But I was also hoping for some great advice about writing, and I didn’t come away disappointed. Before she turned to fiction, Geraldine was a journalist. From that career, she learned the importance of getting the right word, the lack of room for “preciousness” in good writing, and how writing must start as craft. Journalists have deadlines, of course, and that culture of “file or fail” does not allow for writer’s block, which Geraldine doesn’t believe in any more than she would believe in “radiologist’s block or hairdresser’s block.”

But one of the best take-aways for me was hearing Geraldine compare the craft of writing to that of building a stone wall. The stones are selected, arranged, and placed one-by-one. Some days, the process goes smoothly, and the wall is beautiful and sturdy. On other days, the stones do not fit together despite all efforts, and the wall must be torn down and built again. Every writer will build both good and bad walls, but not a day should pass without lifting the stones. And with practice and diligence, the end result might last a hundred years.

Have you read Geraldine Brooks? What is your favorite of her books?


Patricia Stoltey said...

I wasn't able to attend the talk but have March (and now The Writing Life) on my TBR list. Sounds like I missed a good one.

April Moore said...

I read Brooks' A Year of Wonders. It was beautifully written, but frankly, I had a hard time getting through it because it was one depressing page turn after another. (I understand, however, that it's not easy to put a positive spin on the plague). I'd like to read March though because I do think she's a great writer.

John Paul McKinney said...

I like the analogy to building a stone wall. I've tried it; it wasn't easy. As for writing, sometimes for me it's more like going up against a brick wall.

Dean K Miller said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dean K Miller said...

I have not read Geraldine's books....yet *face flushed*. It's always such a good experience to read, meet, and hear the author speak about their work.

I am willing to lift the stones for eternity, but will never build the wall so high that I cannot see the view beyond.

Linda Dalrymple said...

I enjoyed MARCH very much. The tie in with Little Women was unique and made me feel like I was already involved with the characters.

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