A Treat Rejected

The entire time I’ve been slogging through the revision of Train Trip, I’ve been holding out the treat of reading a James Lee Burke novel. It’s a Hackberry Holland mystery, not Dave Robicheaux because I’ve read all the Louisiana novels. James Lee Burke is one of my favorites, with his lush language and “haunting of the past” themes. But I’ve decided not to read the book.
Last night, I got thirty pages into the novel. After my first sigh of relief—he writes so well!—I became depressed at how my own writing would never reach the heights of Burke’s. His details in creating place are amazing. I truly admire him. Then a foreboding set in.
These are mystery novels, okay? Death hovers over every page. Evil saturates the bad guys. As the novel progresses, people will die. Burke has already introduced Hackberry’s horses; he’s made us love them; they are now at risk.
I decided I did not want this story of humanity’s dark side in my life. It’s to Burke’s credit that I believe he is showing me what actually exists out there. I just don’t want to see it.
Thanks to my friend Joe Hawes, I recently read an article debating the purpose of reading: to find friends, connect with characters, experience happy endings—or something else. I guess right now I don’t even want to live through the hatred to get to the satisfying resolution. (And, yes, the raccoon did make it through all the Robicheaux novels so maybe the horses are safe, but …)
We each read, and write, for our own needs. Without this kaleidoscope the world would be pitiful indeed. My job is to figure out what I need in my life at any given time and try to answer that need. So, right now, I leave Hackberry to his travails, wishing him all the luck in the world.

here’s to creative synthesis . . .

Dave Robicheaux, Hackberry Holland, James Lee Burke, mystery novels, train trip, Why we read

Comments (4)

  • I second this. I recently finished a very dark book I had started and not finished several times. It was a beautifully written book, psychologically true, emotionally devastating. It makes me glad I didn’t read it until I was really ready because the nightmares it gave me could have been so much worse, and I may not have found the value in them.

    • I love Burke as well. My current task is to read all 6 of a friend’s mystery novels (Mary Anna Evans), but instead of reading for the story this time, I am reading for craft. I am paying attention to the way she creates scenes, the way she reveals backstory (in the briefest of ways), and to see what I can gain from her skills. I read all 6 books a while back, but I find I am enjoying them more this way. But of course I am not involved in editing anything at the moment so I have time to do this. Congratulations on your self-discipline. I have none.

      • I’m going to forward you an email I just received from Jane Friedman, an agent who blogs, talking about Flaming Chainsaws. It’s very interesting as to craft, creating suspense, etc. I did a similar analysis of Confederacy of Dunces when I thought it was so funny and my writing group DID NOT! I went through it and each time I laughed I stopped and asked, what did he do? p.s. you may not have discipline but you have tons of output – look at the dolls, etc you create

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