I’m having a hard time expressing this thought cogently — so please read patiently while I wrestle with it.
[This is perhaps a good advisory for all of my writing.]
I’m reading The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters. It’s a detective story with all the normal delicious trappings – but with an added bonus of being set in a pre-apocalyptic United States, six months before an extinction-level asteroid impacts the Earth.
Sounds awesome, well it is! But that’s not really what this post is about.
It’s got a well-drawn main character, a convincing mystery [although a bit boiler plate, I suspect purposefully] and some wonderful development of how human nature and the global society is affected by the oncoming near-certain death of the human race. It’s quite well done.
But it’s not great. Or at least it wasn’t until I decided it was. It’s a solid 3-star book, on the cusp of a 4-star…and then out of nowhere, I connected with it — I connected with the book that the author saw. Writing is about transmitting a signal, about the reader seeing what you see in your head.
When I’m writing, I often feel like I can see the book I want — it’s right there in the ether, locked inside the stone, etc. And I start chipping away, I type and type and do my best to catch it. On a good day, I stumble into the true bits, the perfect fragments of the signal — but if I’m honest, I have to admit that most of the time I’m only approximating. I’m using the skill that I have, imagery, form, structure, dialogue, tricks and moves blatantly stolen from better artists — but I can’t catch it all, I can’t catch the whole signal, the whole statue locked in the stone. I just have to pray that if I get close, if I stumble into enough of the true stuff, that the reader can see through the words, they can pick up the signal themselves. They can see the Book in My Head, the one that I’m not good enough to write. The book in your hands is just the closest sketch I can manage. There’s a little bit of prayer and luck involved, that the things already in your head will align just right and you’ll see what I see.
Which is a roundabout way to say, Ben Winters – I see the Book in your Head. And it is fucking great, and the further I read your Book in my Hand gets closer and closer. I love the idea of a man who only cares about being Murder Police, even in the face of total obliteration.
Okay, that was basically what I wanted to say.