Monday, May 4, 2009
The Definition of Genius
There are writers who simply blow me away. Their use of language is so extraordinary that I deliberately read every “a, the, an,” etc.” No speed reading or skimming allowed.
When I read Laura Lippman’s To the Power of Three, I decided that I’d never write another word again. No point. She said it all, and so much better. I felt that way when I read James McBride’s The Color of Water. In both cases, while the story and memoir were compelling, I was dazzled by the imaginative metaphors and similes the authors used. I just knew I’d never be able to replicate that kind of genius.
Those feelings, while understandable, should be transitory. What I should have learned when I read those books was (1) enjoy beauty where you find it, and (2) genius is, as Mr. Edison pointed out, “one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.” I suspect that Ms. Lippman and Mr. McBride sweated bullets over the language that leaves me in awe.
I was prompted down this road of reflection by an interview I recently watched with Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point, Blink, and most recently, Outliers: The Story of Success. Gladwell insists that success is never an overnight event, but rather almost always the result of much practice. He uses The Fab Four to illustrate his point. While the media and Ed Sullivan were proclaiming the shaggy foursome from Liverpool overnight sensations, in fact, The Beatles had spent two years as the house band for a strip joint in Hamburg. They played 8-hour sets, 7 days a week. That kind of practice and experience gave them an edge that most garage bands simply don’t have. As Gladwell posits, “no Hamburg, no Beatles.” His take on genius: “Talent is the desire to practice.”
Murder Takes the Cake debuts this month. Both halves of Evelyn David have been up to their collective eyeballs in promotional activities. We’re going to mystery conferences (Malice Domestic and Deadly Ink), speaking in libraries and other venues, appearing for booksignings, blogging, Twittering, Facebook-ing, MySpace-ing…just about everything except actually writing a new mystery. Whenever we start a new project – a book or short story – the first few pages are like pulling teeth. Hard and unpleasant. But once we get into a rhythm of writing every day, the words begin to flow, the ideas flourish.
I wasn’t stirred by Lippman’s or McBride’s promotional efforts. It was their writing that inspired me. I need to get back in the groove again – and that takes practice.
Please share books that inspired you.