“I remember my own childhood vividly… I knew terrible things. But I knew I mustn’t let adults know I knew. It would scare them.”
- Maurice Sendak, author of Where The Wild Things Are
You can be a world-class procrastinator and still write. You just need deadlines imposed on you and perhaps, a sense of shame. Something that forces you to feel beholden to the deadline, or to the people trying to enforce it (or to the pay cheque you need).
George R.R. Martin might know something of this procrastination thing. He’s the author of the fantasy series Game Of Thrones, and has been soundly criticized by fans for taking years to write each book (find his work in the Lennoxville Library in Adult Fiction in both French and English). He’s so slow the Game Of Thrones television series is now filming episodes the books haven’t covered yet.
But some authors are clearly nine-to-fivers, who sit down every day and write, write, write, write. Whatever their work hours, that time is booked and they force themselves to get it out, even if it’s not great prose. Filling the blank pages is the first step. They later go back and rewrite it, make it better. And better again.
Such authors manage to produce a lot of books, much to the joy of their fans. The Lennoxville Library has huge numbers of books by romance authors like Danielle Steele, Nora Roberts, and Diana Gabaldon (of Outlander historical fiction fame). Or adventure writers like Clive Cussler, and military thriller author Dale Brown (and in fact we have a large collection of spy and thriller New Arrivals, which include both of these authors, on display at the front of the library).
Then there’s James Patterson. He’s a special case; it sometimes seems a book comes out every second week. And not only does he produce at a mad pace, his books are in just about every section of the library. He’s best known for his thrillers – novels like Burn and NYPD Red (both in Audio). Then there’s Zoo (shelved in Adult Fiction), which was just turned into a 13-episode television series, in which the world’s animals rebel against their captors and torturers (that would be us humans). Only a disgraced ecologist named Jackson Oz can save us.
There’s First Love, also in Adult Fiction, Cross My Heart, and Confessions: The Private School Murders. It’s impossible to list them all – Adult Fiction alone has two shelves’ worth. Plus more of his work can be found in Large Print, in Easy Reads, and on and on. Patterson’s sci-fi is in Young Adult (check out the Maximum Ride series, starring a group of lab-made mutants fleeing their evil scientist creators), or the Daniel X series (an alien on Earth flees bad guys). Patterson’s books are invariably quick reads, but they’ll leave you on the edge of your seat. Even his children’s books are engaging and well-paced – in C-158, you’ll find fun reads such as My Brother Is A Big Fat Liar and How I Survived Bullies, Broccoli And Snake Hill.
Phew. Patterson, it must be said, co-writes many of his books, allowing for new ideas, slightly different writing styles and, of course, ever more output.
Your Good Reads scribe, however, while dipping into the works of all these writers, has her own favorite book-cranker-outer. He is Neil Gaiman.
He produces less than does Patterson, but Gaiman’s work can also be found in every section. He’s imaginative, a fun writer, and fills his fictional works with a profound knowledge of world religions and history, mixed with empathy (and, in his fantasy books, a good dollop of evil!).
Also, pandas. Chu’s First Day At School is the perfect book for a child worried about fitting in on that very first visit to a classroom. It’s in C-66. Follow that up with Blueberry Girl (C-84) and Odd And The Frost Giants (in C-148).
Right next to Odd, you’ll find Fortunately, The Milk. It’s a classic in the making, the tale of a dad who goes off to buy milk for breakfast (mum’s out of town). He comes back hours later. Hours, for heaven’s sake! What was he thinking?
Well, it turns out he was kidnapped. By aliens! Fortunately, the milk… allowed him to escape. And that’s just the first of many wacky things that happened, keeping him from delivering the breakfast cereal milk his kids were eagerly awaiting. A fabulous read for all ages.
You’ll find Coraline in the children’s section (C-228), and a version over in Graphic Novels (you’ll instantly recognize the look and feel of the hit film). In Graphic Novels, you’ll also find the first book in the Sandman series, which helped redefine and revivify a genre that was, quite honestly, dying on the vine.
Gaiman’s books always feature elements of the fantastic.
Move over to Young Adult (the quest novel Neverwhere ), and to Adult Fiction (Good Omens: The Nice And Accurate Prophecies Of Agnes Nutter, Witch, a witty tale of an angel and a demon teaming up to stop the Apocalypse, and The Ocean At The End Of The Lane, a truly affecting read about a child’s stubborn mistake, and the horror to which it led). Over in Large Print you’ll find the short stories of Trigger Warning, including a Dr. Who and a Sherlock Holmes tale, and more.
That’s just a partial list. Gaiman is obviously not a procrastinator.
In a speech he gave a couple of years ago, Gaiman pointed out the obvious: that it is in his financial interest to live in a world filled with curious people who are greedy for books, and by extension “for libraries and librarians to exist and help foster a love of reading and places in which reading can occur.”
He called fiction “a gateway drug to reading. The drive to know what happens next, to want to turn the page, the need to keep going, even if it’s hard, because someone’s in trouble and you have to know how it’s all going to end … that’s a very real drive. And it forces you to learn new words, to think new thoughts, to keep going. To discover that reading per se is pleasurable. Once you learn that, you’re on the road to reading everything. And reading is key.
“There were noises made briefly, a few years ago, about the idea that we were living in a post-literate world, in which the ability to make sense out of written words was somehow redundant, but those days are gone: words are more important than they ever were: we navigate the world with words, and as the world slips onto the web, we need to follow, to communicate and to comprehend what we are reading. People who cannot understand each other cannot exchange ideas, cannot communicate, and translation programs only go so far.”
And so he begins with children. Let them read what they find fun: “Every child is different. They can find the stories they need to, and they bring themselves to stories. A hackneyed, worn-out idea isn’t hackneyed and worn out to them. This is the first time the child has encountered it. Do not discourage children from reading because you feel they are reading the wrong thing. Fiction you do not like is a route to other books you may prefer. And not everyone has the same taste as you.
“Well-meaning adults can easily destroy a child’s love of reading: stop them reading what they enjoy, or give them worthy-but-dull books that you like, the 21st-century equivalents of Victorian ‘improving’ literature. You’ll wind up with a generation convinced that reading is uncool and worse, unpleasant.”
Gaiman, for example, tried to help his R.L. Stine horror-loving 11-year-old daughter by imposing Stephen King’s terrifying Carrie. But it was too much, too soon: “Holly read nothing but safe stories of settlers on prairies for the rest of her teenage years, and still glares at me when Stephen King’s name is mentioned.”
(Not that there’s anything wrong with settlers-on-the-prairie books; check out C-216 in the children’s section.)
Reading, Gaiman said, builds empathy and imagination: “You get to feel things, visit places and worlds you would never otherwise know. You learn that everyone else out there is a me, as well. You’re being someone else, and when you return to your own world, you’re going to be slightly changed. Empathy is a tool for building people into groups, for allowing us to function as more than self-obsessed individuals….
“Fiction can show you a different world. It can take you somewhere you’ve never been. Once you’ve visited other worlds, like those who ate fairy fruit, you can never be entirely content with the world that you grew up in. Discontent is a good thing: discontented people can modify and improve their worlds, leave them better, leave them different.”
That doesn’t mean revolution. It can mean something as simple as the inspiration to organizing a street festival to bring your neighbours closer together. To figure out how to make your friends happier. To make new friends, even.
There’s always the possibility that you cannot change your world. If that’s the case, then the escapism of fiction can also be a good thing: “If you were trapped in an impossible situation, in an unpleasant place, with people who meant you ill, and someone offered you a temporary escape, why wouldn’t you take it? And escapist fiction is just that: fiction that opens a door, shows the sunlight outside, gives you a place to go where you are in control, are with people you want to be with (and books are real places, make no mistake about that); and more importantly, during your escape, books can also give you knowledge about the world and your predicament, give you weapons, give you armour: real things you can take back into your prison. Skills and knowledge and tools you can use to escape for real.
“As J.R.R. Tolkien [of The Lord Of The Rings fame] reminded us, the only people who inveigh against escape are jailers.”
In the end, it seems clear that Gaiman does not believe in procrastination, and that’s because of his principles. He has responsibilities. So he must write — as much and as often as he can.
– Eleanor Brown, July 31, 2015