September 16, 2010


I came back from my book tour to discover a hydrangea in my garden had given me a single puff ball blossom. It had been transplanted in my garden by a friend nearly 4 years ago and till now, had never bloomed. At last, I’ve discovered what it looks like: a white flower with blue shadings.

I have another hydrangea in the garden, a climber, which I planted several years ago. It never bloomed either, so I dug up it and gave it to the same friend who’d given me the last one. It bloomed for him producing large popcorn balls every season. When he decided to leave the state for warmer climates, he brought a slip of my climber back to me and we planted it together. 3 years have gone by and while it’s hardy, it still refuses to bloom.

I had what I’ll call a hydrangea experience with the last book I read. I’ve followed this writer for a while and enjoy her mysteries but somehow this latest book didn’t blossom for me. Having faith in her skills, I continued to turn the pages and let my eye flow down the lines. Not until half way through the book did it become interesting. I guess I could say this book was a late bloomer.

I’m having that experience again with E.L. Doctorow’s “Waterworks,” which is described on its jacket as “an elegant page-turner.” I loved his novel, “Ragtime,” from start to finish, so I know he won’t fail me. I’ll keep turning the pages until the fire catches because I have faith in his style.

The question of style struck me during my recent book tour. Several people remarked that the styles of my two books, “Heart Land” and “Gothic Spring” are dramatically different. One is a warm story of rural America just after the depression; the other is a dark gothic that takes place in northern England during the Victorian era. Naturally, the rhythms of language, the atmosphere and the pace of each book is different from the other. But would style necessarily vary, I wondered. Did I have a distinctive style which would make a reader want to stick with me even if my writing got off to a slow start? The question made me pause.  Was it even wise to expect a writer to stick with the same style throughout his writing life? Why should Picasso be allowed to shift from his blue period to his cubist period and a writer be denied the same right to experiment?

I realize I am being schizophrenic again. As a reader, I trust a writer because of his style. As a writer, that expectation becomes an impediment. I must ask myself where does my obligation lie, with the reader or with myself? In the end, I must side with the writer, I think. There is no joy without the freedom to experiment. So gentle reader, I must make a confession. As a writer, I can’t entirely be trusted.  Tomorrow? Why tomorrow I may be perfecting my imitation of James Joyce’s “Ulysses.”