Monday, October 29, 2007

As Above, So Below

Lumber Camp, Night,
Tom Thomson,
oil on board/panel,
National Gallery of Canada.

An editor once told me that she always looks for an evocative phrase or sentence within a piece she's editing that makes her go "ahhh" with pleasure for its insight or imagery.

The one line that really grabs her.

That makes her wish she had written it.

Makes her yell Yes!

I knew just what she meant.

(Happens to me often with you lot, btw.)

Maybe it's because we both explore that border country between the normal and the not; but, for me, Jason's writing ( The Clarity of Night) frequently contains such moments.

The latest is his serial story called The Stairs -- which contains therein the line: Darkness spread itself below and wet its lips for him.

Geesusgod, I think that's a great line.

Both by itself and within the context of the tale.

And I think it illustrates the editor's point.

There are "hooks" for initial interest, and there are hooks that appear throughout to sustain that interest.

Writing needs to be more than consistently competent. It needs to provide readers with something extra -- some moment of truth, some flicker of insight, some precise and exquisite illumination -- that they may take away and fondle in quietude.

And sometimes, all it takes is one line.

The consumption of alcohol may cause you to tell your friends that you love them. Over and over.


writtenwyrdd said...

That sense of jealousy while you yell Yes! is what makes a good book for me. At least in part.

Bernita said...

I don't feel jealousy, Written - usually just wistful admiration, and a certain delight that someone has nailed it. Have caught a falling star, momentarily arrested a comet.
But yes, I think a really good read has to have these moments.

SzélsőFa said...

I appreciate and look forward to those surprising moments provided by those 'extras' while reading.
(Even if it's nonfiction).

I was wondering what the title of the post has to do with the content, though... No offense at all:I must be missing something...

Bernita said...

One often finds them in non-fiction, Szelsofa.
Lines that sing.

The post title, if anything, relates more to Jason's protagonist in his story, what awaits at the bottom of the stairs and is balanced by his imagery of the world above.
It's a very "balanced" story.

Jaye Wells said...

Jason's writing does that for me all the time. Yours too, by the way. Lines like the one you posted as so fresh, you just want to stop and inhale them.

SzélsőFa said...

I see what you mean, a very fine observation. Thank you!

Bernita said...

Thank you, Jaye.
Yes, he's such a pleasure.
Yours in a different way - less by imagery/description, - more by idea torque/take that makes me chortle with glee.

Anonymous said...

Wow, Bernita, what a surprise to find myself here this morning! Thank you!

I like your comment "have caught a falling star, momentarily arrested a coment." Yes, I feel like that too. It's such a pleasure to see that happen, especially when your friends do it. You're very good at catching them yourself, and it always makes me smile.

bunnygirl said...

Yes, some writers can tell one heck of a story, but then there are those few who can tell the same heck of a story but with transcendent phrases that rock your world.

One of my favorite books ever is a quite ordinary little story-- sweet, cozy and family-oriented, not the sort of thing I would normally pick up at all. But I picked it up by mistake and was knocked flat by moments such as you describe. I consider it my style Bible, a guide and something to aspire to.

Bernita said...

As we said, Jason, you do it all the time, but that line in particular is so satisfying!

"some writers can tell one heck of a story, but then there are those few who can tell the same heck of a story but with transcendent phrases that rock your world."
Thank you, Bunny. That's exactly it.

sex scenes at starbucks said...

That's why I've always thought "kill your darlings" is often a load of crap. It's more like "pay close attention to your darlings, because therein lies the magic--the accomplishment of saying exactly what you meant to say."

When I create such language, I let it guide me.

Caveat: I often prefer writing that does not call such attention to itself. I enjoy it when it happens, but lack thereof does not diminish my enjoyment.

Vesper said...

How right you are, Bernita! It is always a great pleasure to discover such gems. I don't feel envy either, only my heart grows with joy. :-)

raine said...


Often accompanied by a tingling at the nape of my neck, and a round-mouthed "Ooooo..."

I find it here often.
Great line, Jason.

December/Stacia said...

That is a great line, but, um...well, my mind is in the gutter. :-)

I live for those lines. Every once in a great while I find them in my own work. Usually I see them in other people's. Sigh.

Demon Hunter said...

This is wonderful, Bernita. I know just what you mean! :*)

Bernita said...

I know what was intended by that bit of advice and agree with the intent.
But as it is sometimes applied,I think it's a load of crap, too, SS, because it denies that a writer is capable of competent self-editing.

The language is this line is plain and simple - but the image, and the additional sexual nuance, conveyed by the personnification is stellar.

Exactly, Vesper!
And you produce that same magic in your poetry.

In the context of this piece,Raine, I can't imagine the cellar darkness described better.

Perhaps that's the test.

Bernita said...

I think your mind is where Jason intended it, December.
And I think you underestimate your stuff.

Thank you, my Demon.

Gabriele C. said...

I'm so with December's second comment.

Bernita said...

Gabriele, there are lines from your work that I won't forget.

Charles Gramlich said...

I think this is a big component of why I both write and read, to find those lines that sing. I collect them, keep lists of them, and strive to create them. I think the best line I've ever written is: "She had the lips that Satan dreamed of in his long fall to Hell." When I find one in another person's writing I rejoice, although a quick and immediate thought it, why didn't I think of that one.

Bernita said...

Yes, Charles.
"and strive to create them." - that is, I think, the lesson of the day.

"lips that Satan dreamed of" is a killer line.Yum!

Scott from Oregon said...

Yeah. I agree with SS. If you kill your darlings, you get porridge without butter and blueberries, or highways without roadside atractions...

Bernita said...

Butter, Scott?
Must be a regional difference.
I like brown sugar with mine.

spyscribbler said...

You do that, too. A lot. It's my favorite thing about you. :-)

The Anti-Wife said...

It's a wonderful line with great imagery. You do it quite often too, Bernita.

Bernita said...

Thank you, Natasha and AW, but, I suspect, not nearly as well.

Ello said...

Jason and you both have writing which alwasy surprises me with phrases that make me go Ooooh. It is one of the main reasons I am always coming to you and Jason's blogs. And also why I wait impatiently for you both to publish your novels.

Bernita said...

Thank you, Ello.
We are both, I think, proceeding cautiously with the process.
But that is so nice to hear.

Church Lady said...

I agree with everyone here.
I sooo enjoy reading your blog and Jason's blog, looking for that fine turn of phrase. You're both poetic, in different ways. It is quite enjoyable to find those phrases. I tend to read them over and over, and (gasp) dog-ear the pages with the more memorable ones.

And I love what December said! heeeheee!! ;-)

Shesawriter said...

I just commented on Jason's blog about his latest post. This particular phrase stood out to me:

"it felt like the ground wanted to trade places with the sky."

I told him I knew exactly what he meant and it gave me an AHA moment. Now that's what good writing is supposed to do.

Robin S. said...

Hi Bernita-

This is one of the best pieces you've had, in my opinion. What you say about hooks rings absolutely true.

And the "wine line" too, was spot on.

Bernita said...

Thank you, Chris.
I used to feel guilty about marking up a text or dog-earing, until I realized they were my books to use as I pleased - and not a holy trust for some unknown further down the line that I was obligated to preserve intact

"Now that's what good writing is supposed to do."
Indeed it is, Tanya.
I liked that one too.
I did not mean to imply that Jason's piece had only one such line - in fact it and his other stuff is littered with them.

Thank you, Robin!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for all the kind words everyone! It's wonderful to hear when folks enjoy something you've done.

Bernita, in your reply to Ello's comment, you talked about being on the road to publishing a novel together. I do feel that way. We started our blogs around the same time. You were one of my first commenters, and I've been here as your blog matured to something unique and immensely popular. It's been a privilege to journey with you.

Bernita said...

Jason,thank you.
You cannot know how often you blog has sustained and inspired me on this peculiar journey.

Shesawriter said...


I understand, however, I just pointed out that particular line as an example of what he does all the time.