He understood what they were thinking and saying: Old man that he is, what’s to become of him? Let’s talk it out, they were saying cautiously.
Let’s talk it out and come up with some solution while we’re here, all of us, and it’s on our minds. Se if we can approach him about it, reason with him, even if the timing’s bad.
Do you recognize those lines? If you are a fan of Southern writer Terry Kay, you might. Or a fan of Southern literature, or a fan of just plain good writing. They are the first lines of a story “breathtaking, heartbreaking and memorable,” a story first published in 1990.
The book is “To Dance with the White Dog,” which is not just one of Kay’s many novels, but the one that has been the biggest seller for the Georgia writer. It is the one that has won him many fans the world over, and especially in Japan, Kay has said.
I mention the book here because this blog is about writing. The book is also one I know by a writer I know. Not that I know Kay personally, but I met him recently at a celebration of writing in Canton, Ga. Kay gave a talk at the well-attended Canton Literary Festival and drew a large crowd for his presentation one hot early Saturday afternoon.
Kay told his listeners, many of them fans, about his adventures in writing. He has written for many years and over that time has produced books not targeted for the vanity press or self-publication, but ones aimed at the big dogs — the leading publishing companies.
He told about traveling to New York City to visit his publisher there, talked about how at one time he had an editor – in the London office of the company publishing him at the time – who had also worked on manuscripts by J.R.R. Tolkien (author, of course, of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and the Hobbit.)
His “To Dance with the White Dog” was published by Washington Square Press, which has offices in New York and London, among others. I was envious. Yeah, I said, I want to dance with the big dog, too.
I went up to Kay after his talk and during a book signing session. While he graciously signed – he proved friendly and engaging – he asked me how I was doing and how long I had written. Friendly.
I told him, and also said how excited I was to do creative writing after years in journalism. That’s good, he said. Then he peered into my eyes.
“If you want to learn how to write (and write well, I understood him to mean) get a book that you like and sit down and copy the whole thing on your word processor.” He meant copy it word for word as if I were writing it myself.
Thank you, I said, and told him I would do just that. He looked at me and winked. “Good,” he said. I am in the process of following his advice.
I think it will work. I’ve heard that advice before. I will know story structure when I finish, I can sense that, and get a good feel for crafting a novel. But I am leaving nothing to chance. I am also following other approaches to becoming a good writer: I am reading all I can and studying novel writing all I can.
I want dance with the big dogs.