Otherwise, that man would be unable to read The Getaway Car: A Practical Memoir About Writing and Life (right) by Ann Patchett (State of Wonder, Bel Canto), a delightful “Original” from the digital publisher Byliner. It was the first work he downloaded and read on the Kindle Touch his household received for Christmas. It also was his first time reading Patchett, whose style as well as substance made that maiden voyage on an e-reader memorable.
Consider the charming way she describes the aspiring writer’s dilemma:
“Logic dictates that writing should be a natural act, a function of a well-operating human body, along the lines of speaking and walking and breathing,” Patchett writes. “We should be able to tap into the constant narrative flow our minds provide, the roaring river of words filling up our heads, and direct it out into a neat stream of organized thought so that other people can read it. Look at what we already have going for us: some level of education that has given us control of written and spoken language; the ability to use a computer or a pencil; and an imagination that naturally turns the events of our lives into stories that are both true and false. We all have ideas, sometimes good ones, not to mention the gift of emotional turmoil that every childhood provides. In short, the story is in us, and all we have to do is sit there and write it down.
“But it’s right about there, the part where we sit, that things fall apart.”
Byliner defines its digital offerings as running “at lengths that allow them to be read in a single sitting.” In that space, The Getaway Car blends Patchett’s personal development as a writer with astute advice in smooth prose. Here are two other for-instances:
“Novel writing, I soon discovered, is like channel swimming: a slow and steady stroke over a long distance in a cold, dark sea. If I thought too much about how far I’d come or the distance I still had to cover, I’d sink.”
“Although my [first] novel [The Patron Saint of Liars] was written in three separate first-person sections, I wrote it linearly—that is to say, page two was started after page one was finished. . . .Even if you’re writing a book that jumps around in time, has ten points of view, and is chest-deep in flashbacks, do your best to write it in the order in which it will be read, because it will make the writing, and the later editing, incalculably easier.”
I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of reading on the Kindle, and I certainly enjoyed paying only 99¢ each—at the time I downloaded them—for three titles about writing that are not available as printed books. Waiting (or is it still permissible to say “shelved”?) for later perusal in the e-reader are The Liar’s Bible: A Handbook for Fiction Writers and The Liar’s Companion: A Field Guide for Fiction Writers—from mystery maven Lawrence Block, whose trade paperback Telling Lies for Fun & Profit: A Manual for Fiction Writers has long been a favorite.
And for future consideration there is another Byliner Original, Sara Davidson’s Joan: Forty Years of Life, Loss, and Friendship with Joan Didion. What piqued my interest in it was an update Davidson wrote, which you can read at the Byliner website, answering the question, What’s the most important thing you learned about writing from Joan Didion?
“Anything can be fixed,” Didion told her. There’s more good stuff there, so follow the link above. But let me leave you with Davidson’s final thought for us fellow writers:
“It took me 30 years to have faith that this is true. Once you’ve got something on paper—anything, no matter how bad it seems—you can fix it, steadily, one word or phrase at a time. You can turn something awful into something reasonably good.”
Oh. One final note: The Library now has a digital collection from which you can borrow eBooks and more. And at the time of this writing, at least, you can download the prequel to the opening sentence of this post, along with the rest of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, from amazon.com to your Kindle for free.—Alex McNab