From an observant, slightly snotty, artistic,
Bell illustrates her points by studying the well-known masterpiece, The Great Gatsby by F.Scott Fitzgerald, and illustrating Fitzgerald's collaboration with the marvelous editor, Max Perkins. More about Max in a moment.
She says, "Fitzgerald, too, was a master of the squared-off paragraph. He began and ended many with a startling mix of style, philosophy, and itch -- the itch that can only be scratched by moving to the next paragraph..."
That "itch" has just the right touch, as does 'free-fiddle" in the following observation of the author Luc Sante, "At the end of a work, he allows himself free-fiddle with words but not structure." I like Bell's way with words: "If you've written a bird's nest, then, untangle your ideas. Separate them into a few sentences. One small sentence, written well, can tell more than an expansive one that's gangly."
There are many ways to edit and the book is filled with examples of how different authors approach the process. For example, Michael Ondaatje says, "Having a concept of what the book is exactly about before you begin it is a tremendous limitation, because no idea is going to be as intricate and complicated as what you will discover in that process of writing it." Continuing he says, "I always write the beginning at the end. It's the last thing I write because then I know what the book is about."
I was so taken with the collaboration between Max Perkins and F. Scott Fitzgerald that I was inspired to read more about the famous editor. I found a lovely book of family letters collected by Max's five daughters and published as The Family Letters of Maxwell Perkins complete with his clever illustrations; also a biography, Max Perkins: Editor of Genius by A. Scott Berg.
Max not only edited Fitzgerald, but also Ernest Hemingway and Tom Wolfe among others. He even conjured up new plots or offered ideas for his authors to develop.Max's greatest gift was summed up by his longtime friend, Elizabeth Lemmon, in a letter to Max's wife after his death, "I have known people who were considered pillars of strength and loved to be leaned on, but Max poured strength into people and made them stand on their own feet."
After reading the story of Max and Tom Wolfe, I must now read Wolfe's autobiographical novels. Isn't it great when one book leads to another? So many books, so little time.
Since I've come back I've read a couple of his mysteries and want to read more. (I've not read them in order, although, I think that they should be read this way because the characters grow and change and the stories build on one another.)
I picked up Shark River first. It's a story of murder, kidnapping, drugs and revenge. Add a Bahamian woman with a treasure map who claims to be Doc's long lost sister and the stage is set for a wild ride.
Maybe it's the sense of place and wonderful descriptions of sea life, mangrove swamps and the habits of horseshoe crabs; or maybe its the patterns of speech of Doc's Bahamian cousin in Shark River that attracted me. Perhaps it's my experience of a tiny bit of the Florida that he describes.
I saw much bad driving in Florida, but Randy Wayne White describes it best: "We went south on U.S. 41- an illustration of crazed manners and automotive chaos. In South Florida, melting pot driving habits are so unpredictable and dangerous that defensive driving is not enough."
If you want quirky characters, fast action, humor and good writing, give the mysteries of Randy Wayne White a try.