Good writing is good writing no matter what the form. I usually talk about books and, in particular, romance books. But the truth is a well-written book will draw you in and keep you there, be it a memoir or a factual account. I recently listened to a snippet from a book about one of baseball’s original stars.
I happen to like baseball. At least, I can understand it. The batter is supposed to hit the ball and then run around the diamond. He gets to mess up twice and if he does it again he’s out. But if the pitcher messes up and the batter doesn’t swing, then the pitcher gets to mess up three times and the fourth time he does, the batter gets to walk to base. It’s very important for the pitcher’s team to try to keep the batter from running around the diamond so people throw the ball back to the diamond and try to block the batter, who is now called a runner, from running. See, simple! Don’t ask me to explain football.
The early days of baseball were very different from what they are now. I was kind of excited to hear about this “famous” guy who was more infamous than famous. I knew almost nothing about him. But I did know bits and pieces about the early days of baseball before it became glamorous and the guys traveled to every po’dunk town across the nation.
Okay, we all do lots of research for our books especially for a historical. Obviously the man had tons of research and had made an amazing list. He sort of compiled the list and left it, calling it a book. Uh-oh! Sir, you made a list. That’s not a book. There was no hook, nothing to draw anyone in, no story, just a timeline of facts. He might as well have listed each event.
I’ve seen that sort of thing with memoirs, biographies and other non-fiction as well as fictional stories. The truth is we have to care about the characters or love hating them. You certainly wouldn’t want to read the biography of Ted Bundy and fall in love with him. You might be fascinated by his criminal mind, but he’s a character that you love to hate. There have been many high-profile cases over the years and, going one step further, wars fought because of them. (Hitler) That means the facts can be presented in a way to draw us in and keep us there.
I’ve never sat and analyzed what makes a good biography, I just know when I’m caught in a story, I will stick with it. If it’s boring, I’m onto something else. There’s not enough time in this life to read a bad book or a boring story.
I belong to a local writer’s group. It’s a rather mixed bag of writers which includes several poets. I envy people who can write poetry. It’s so succinct. When done well, it can express so much emotion. I started a blog for them and you can find their stuff here.
I wanted to share a poem with you that came from a friend who is not part of my local writer’s group. I started to read it and realized that it wasn’t what I thought it was going to be. It brought tears to my eyes. I’m sure you can see the old homestead because it draws you in and keeps you there.
Porch Swings and Grape Kool-Aid
by Peggy L. Mott
Went back to the old home place today.
Looking across the road, I see the carefully tended graves
where Grandpa and Grannie and their children rest.
And I remember Grandpa showing Brother and me
how he forged the iron angels that guard the gates
of the family cemetery.
Scuffed by years of West Texas weather the old house
shimmers in the August heat like pewter reflecting candlelight
The tin shingles hammered by hail are rusted and bent.
Grandpa’s porch swing, with one arm missing rests wearily
on the trunk of the big cottonwood that still shades the porch
where the swing sat for so many years.
The swing has a broken seat and chains so rusty
that a gentle push causes a shriek like the call of a screech owl.
The yard still shows faint traces where flower beds
once were full of day lilies, zinnias
and Grannie’s prized Rose of Sharon.
The hot breeze stirs up dust bringing the rank smell of Jimson weed
as memories of childhood summers Brother and I spent here
rush back like creeks flooded by Spring rains.
I remember a red checked oil cloth on the table
and spoons standing in a jelly jar.
I can smell the chicken and dumplings and the vinegar pie,
and taste the tang of grape Kool-Aid—-
always grape, because Grannie didn’t like any other flavor.
I can see her faded starched calico sunbonnet
hanging on the nail by the back door
and feel the handmade lace trimming her feed sack aprons.
In memory I hear the creak of the porch swing and
the rhythmic thump of Grandpa’s feet all those nights
he spent swinging Brother to sleep
after he broke his arm jumping from the barn roof.
Brother was convinced he could fly!
Turning to ask Brother if he recalls these things too
the crushing sorrow reminds me that today
I brought Brother back to the old home place to stay.
And I am convinced that now Brother can fly.