Wednesday, October 7, 2015

A writer of commercial fiction knows his craft

As author talks go, Jeffery Deaver's speech last night at Barton College was exceptional. He unapologetically described himself as a writer of commercial fiction with no pretense of literary greatness. Yet, he is one of America's most prolific writers with 36 books and many awards and medals in his list of accomplishments, and he offered cogent insight and advice about writing, whether literary or commercial.

Deaver writes thrillers, and he's darned good at it. I've read only one of his novels (so far), but it kept me up turning the pages and cringing at one of the vilest villains I've ever encountered in fiction. He makes no bones about how he writes: He spends eight months outlining the plot, which invariably includes a number of surprises and plot twists. To keep all this in order, he has to write an outline that extends to 150 or more pages. Having read one of his thrillers, I was not surprised that his technique involved so much planning.

I felt some affinity to Deaver. We are about the same age, and we were both journalism majors. After earning his undergraduate degree, his goal was to be hired by the New York Times, he told me. To improve his chances, he went to law school with no intention of ever practicing law. But he ended up as a Wall Street lawyer and began writing fiction. The discipline of law school and the logical thinking of legal practice has helped him in his fiction writing, he said. All of that organizing and outlining are legal skills.

Although he is not a Tolstoy or a Faulkner and will never win the Nobel Prize for literature, Deaver has a deep appreciation of the written word and is a great advocate for writers, readers and libraries. Like other best-selling authors of his genre, he is a commercial success at a level few "literary" authors can claim. He entertains his readers. He gives them reasons to read and reasons to turn the next page. He respects their intelligence and their level of knowledge. He works hard at his craft and has earned his success.

Talks like his at Barton College last night are nourishment and inspiration for those of us who love books and authors and cannot get enough of the written word.

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