Archive for the ‘Sheri Cobb South’ Category

Recycling for Writers: or, New Life for Old Words

Monday, July 2nd, 2012

Jewish-American author Isaac Bashevis Singer once said that the waste basket is the writer’s best friend. But these are more enlightened times, and writers these days don’t throw unnecessary words away; we recycle them. A block of text that might be superfluous in one novel might just be the seed that germinates and grows into another.

Several years ago, when preparing a workshop on writing the historical novel, I wrote a scene, hoping to show attendees how historical detail could be incorporated into a scene without creating an “information dump.” The scene I wrote showed a man on his deathbed, dividing his estate between his two sons. One son would inherit his title and estate; the other son, who was illegitimate, could not legally inherit the title or the entailed property, and so was bequeathed a certain amount of money instead. The purpose of the scene was to show how I could give readers a working knowledge of British inheritance law without interrupting the flow of the story.

I liked that scene enough that I kept it long after the writer’s conference was over, thinking I might expand it into a novel—part regency romance, part “buddy story” as the two half-brothers were forced to work together after the old man died. That book was never written, but years later, that scene provided the “bones” for the Kirkbride family in my work in progress, a third John Pickett mystery with the working title Family Plot.

As for that regency romance/buddy story, who knows? I may still write it someday. After all, I’ve already got the first scene written.


Confessions of a Confirmed Bibliophile

Thursday, May 24th, 2012

Long before I was a writer, I was a reader. I still am. I love books. Not only do I love them for the stories that dwell inside them, I also love the physical sensation of holding—no, of experiencing a book. I love the sleek covers of a new paperback, the faint crack of the spine in opening a new hardcover. I love the crisp white pages with their sharp corners, and the smell of binder’s glue.

But a recent reading of  Nevil Shute’s Australian classic The Far Country reminded me of the more subtle joys of old books. This was a sixty-year-old library book, and it showed. The boards were covered with thick, coarsely woven fabric treated with something that would presumably withstand a nuclear blast. There was nothing remotely attractive about this sort of binding; it was bound with durability, not beauty, in mind. Still, there was something about it that I found appealing. Maybe it was the way it fell open in my hand—and stayed open at the same page, even when I laid it down. Maybe it was the way the once-sharp corners were rounded with wear, the edges of the once-crisp pages furred velvety soft by dozens, even hundreds, of hands. Other, newer books might be more glamorous, but there’s something comforting about old books.

In a way, every old book is a mystery, regardless of genre: what child, long since grown to adulthood, scribbled with a red crayon on the front endpaper? Who was the H. Colby who received my copy of Georgette Heyer’s The Reluctant Widow for Christmas in 1947? Was he/she pleased with the gift? What series of events transpired to move the volume from H. Colby’s bookshelf to mine?

Maybe this is why my feelings toward ebook readers are so ambivalent. On the one hand, I’m pleased to see so many out-of-print books finding new life through this medium, and of course I’m delighted to receive a royalty check each month for sales of my own backlist, now available in electronic form. And yet even though I have a Kindle, I still prefer print books. Part of the problem, I believe, is the sameness of ebooks: no matter how different the subject matter, every book looks alike on my Kindle. The text appears in the same font, with the same spacing between lines, paragraphing, and all other formatting. All identical except the stories they tell.

But that, of course, is the most important part. And that, in the end, may be what will eventually make me fall in love with ebooks too. After all, my love of books had to come from somewhere, some book in my now long-forgotten childhood that made me hungry for more of that. Maybe I just haven’t yet stumbled across that story, unavailable except in electronic form, that sends me to the computer determined to clutter up my Kindle’s memory banks with more. Maybe the next electronic book I read will be the one to have me devouring ebooks like a junkie in search of his next fix.

I wouldn’t be a bit surprised.

Because I love books.