Friday, October 25, 2013

Good Books - Bad Books - What Are You Looking For?

Donald Hamilton
by Bert Carson

I'm 71 years old.  For 67 of those years, I've been an avid reader.  I've never, in all those years said, "I'm looking for a bad book, can you help me find one?"  However, countless times during those years I've said what you've said more times than you can count, "I'm looking for a good book, can you help me?"

Thanks to advances in digital publishing, there are more authors now than ever before in history, and still I'm searching for a good book to read... or at least I was until two days ago.

That's when I decided to try a Jack Reacher novel for a reason that isn't obvious.  I've become a Kindle/Whispersync for Voice fan.  If you aren't familiar with that, it means that on some Kindle books, I can buy an audible version that will remain synced with the Kindle version - in other words, while I'm driving to my day job, I can listen to a book on my Audible phone app, and when I arrive, close the app, and my progress will be synced to the Kindle version, so that when I open my Kindle, it's at the spot where I stopped listening to the audible version.  Now that's a technological advance I can live with.

In browsing for a Kindle book with whispersync for voice, I stumbled on Jack Reacher, bought book one in Kindle format and added the audible version.  Jack Reacher, like Harry Bosch, Joe Pike, and Elvis Cole, is entertaining, but I have to admit, none of them represent characters from great literature.  As I was thinking that  listening to Reacher, I had a revelation.  Though Lee Child, in nothing I've read about him or his character, Jack Reacher, admits it, there is a striking similarity between Jack Reacher and Matt Helm, the character created by Donald Hamilton in the seventies.

There are twenty-seven novels in the Matt Helms series.  They were published over a period of three decades beginning in 1960.  I began reading them in 1960, the year I graduated from high school, and I haven't stopped.  Now Titian, Hamilton's publisher, is republishing all of them in ebook format, and I'm rereading them because, you guessed it, they are good books.  In fact, they are far more than good books, they are great books, well written, funny, timeless, and addictive.

Some years I don't think think about them, or at least I don't think that I think about them, but now, I know I do.  I know that Matt Helm and Donald Hamilton are always with me and have been since 1960.  In Death of a Citizen, Matt Helm, out of the business and living a new life for fifteen years, said, on being recontacted:

"I'd stopped in the middle of the room.  For a moment, all the cocktail-party sounds had faded completely from my consciousness.  I was looking at Tina.  There was nothing in the world except the two of us, and I was back in a time when our world had been young and savage and alive, instead of being old and civilized and dead.  For a moment it was as if I, myself, had been dead for fifteen years, and somebody had opened the lid of the coffin and let in light and air."

That is fine writing, literature actually, and it's exactly how I felt when I opened the old book on my new Kindle.  I haven't been dead for fifteen years, but, I have been living in the land of marketing books and only on rare occasions visiting the world of good writing, without which there is no need to market one's writing.

There are three things a person must do in order to become a good writer.  In order of importance, they are:

Write - Read - Market

I'm delighted with today's ease of publishing.  I'm appalled that it has spawned a generation of writers who obviously have never read a good book, nor do they know a damn thing about writing one.  All they know is how to create flashy covers, inundate social media web sites with offers, and wait for monthly checks. The swamp of unreadable tripe we've produced will, at the very least, alienate more than a few of our potential readers, but that isn't the biggest issue.  Readers will find good writers, even if they have to wade through thousands and thousands of miles of swamps.

The problem is, we, writers, aren't learning our craft.  We aren't reading and writing - we are marketing.  I know we have to market, but if we aren't practicing our art and reading the work of those who have, what do we have to market?