When I took a writing workshop recently, I heard mention of a local writer in tones of reverence and importance. So I noted down his name; this is probably someone I should read. I got one of his novels from the library and began, but somehow never really engaged with it. Set it aside. (I think I will have to go back to his novel sometime in the future and give myself another chance with it.)
A week or two later on public television, I saw this writer give an acceptance speech at the 2016 Minnesota Book Awards banquet, having been honored for a collection of his short stories. Huh, I thought. Serendipity. Universe telling me something. Okay, I will try reading this collection of short stories.
There is Something I Want You To Do, by Charles Baxter.
I suppose every writer wonders sometimes just what her personal ambition, her personal goal, really is. When I am able to articulate it to myself it often comes out this way. I yearn to see a book I wrote on the library shelf. I long to see a kid of ten years or sixteen years take that book home, read it, and fall in love. I want that book to be one they remember with fondness all of their lives. Not so much to ask, is it?
Not enough to ask actually.
The collection of short stories by Charles Baxter is made up of written words, constructed with paragraphs, built with sentences. Yes, you might say. All stories are. But they aren’t. Not this way, anyhow.
Charles Baxter makes the reader notice, I mean really see, each sentence. His writing makes a reader stop, see, and ponder. It’s all just ordinary words, but somehow put together in not-ordinary ways. It’s a bit more than creative. More than fresh. His sentences surprise you, in the best possible ways. Make you stop and see in a different way.
I have a new ambition now, a better goal. I want to find and string together words in surprising ways that will cling stubbornly to a reader’s brain cells and swim strong in a reader’s whirlpool of heart blood, and get stuck in their DNA.
That’s all. I want to be surprising.
It’s what real writers do.