Read this column, don't wait for the movie - Bob Paslay

My friend Patrick in Atlanta found himself without a job and since he is older and it is harder to get a job when you are older, he started selling used books on the Internet. Over the years he had acquired 6,000 to 7,000 books and bolstered this stash with some selective ones from thrift shops.

Patrick tells me there are penny books, very popular paperbacks that sell for only a penny or so a copy. I hope I am not giving any of his secrets away but the postage and handling could net you a couple of dollars and the buyer still gets a bargain.

You're not going to get rich doing this, but the money coming in does keep the wolves from your door.

As she types away, creating another alphabet murder mystery I wonder if Sue Grafton ever thinks that one day the paperback of this latest mystery will be selling for a penny (P Is For Penny). A professor at Wofford told us the reason Dickens chapters end with a tease to the next chapter is that often his novels were serialized and sold for a penny or so. In order to get you to dig deep for another penny next week you had to be enticed and left hanging and anxious to read the next installment. Back in Dickens' time a penny was worth something.

I don't know what the ink and paper costs to print a novel but I am sure it is a lot more than a penny.

Writing can be a tough and labored task. A million distractions call out. If you don't believe it, either write something or rent Chevy Chase's very funny movie about a would-be novelist, "Funny Farm."

Distractions are my problem with having enough time to read. I wish sometimes I were like the Twilight Zone character played by Burgess Meredith whose only wish was to be left alone to read. The more I read the more I realize how little I have read.

A discussion broke out in the newsroom the other day about what short stories and books we had read and there was some surprise that some of the decades-younger reporters had not read some of the great southern writers even though they graduated from southern colleges.

So many people don't read these days and I am surprised that some people who make their money writing also don't read. You can blame it on too many distractions but the truth is that reading is something you have to make time for and something you must do daily.

The summer after I graduated from college, while I was still looking for work, I wrote a novel about some teen-age friends hitchhiking across the country to go to a Woodstock-like festival. I typed and typed away on my old manual typewriter until it was finished and then I put it in a manila envelope and sent it to several publishers who very quickly sent it back with a short rejection note. I did have a sense of accomplishment for at least having finished it. Luckily, I eventually threw out the manuscript so I can't look back at it now and realize how absolutely horrible it was. As a kid, my next door neighbor, a retired newspaper man, wrote a "steamy" love story and had it vanity printed. It was only about 120 pages and one time when I was sick he came over to the house and brought me an autographed copy. Bad writing is like bad acting. It is a painful thing to behold. Bad writers don't even know how to move characters around in a sparsity of words. "They pulled up to the door. They got out of the car. They closed the car door. They locked the car door. They walked up to the staircase and then walked up the staircase." Please, please get them in the darn house before the novel is over.

If you want to read great writing read short stories because every word is strung like a tight strand of pearls.

Thomas Wolfe complained that his editor ruined his novels by hacking them. But if you have ever read one of the 900-page tomes you can have great sympathy for what the editor must have endured as he started out with 2,000 to 3,000 pages. Wolfe can take 10 pages to describe a short train ride. Supporters of Wolfe's editors say what he did was actually make a novel out of Wolfe's rambling descriptions.

I hate pomposity and so I probably would not have liked Thomas Wolfe very much. Then again maybe he was a delightful person. Detective writer Micky Spillaine, who no one could accuse of having the slightest arrogance, took great delight in the fact that college English classes started studying his detective stories. On a trip to the campus, a serious student asked what his motivation was for one of his pulp fiction churnouts. "The alimony check was due," he said. Ah, a drink of refreshing cold water in a desert of pomposity.

Spillaine tells another story about someone coming up after recognizing him and going on and on about the graphic description of his detective holding a man's head in a toilet until he agreed to talk. His arms were flailing. He was fighting for his life. And other long descriptions were tossed out by the fan. After the encounter Spillaine decided to go back and reread that portion of the book. What he found was that he had said something to the effect: He held his head in the toilet until he agreed to talk.

All of the description was supplied by the reader who paused in his reading to let his mind's eye see the struggle. Ah, that's good writing.

Rather than complaining about what an educated but illiterate society we are, I wish every business in America would set aside 20 minutes in each worker's day and send them to a quiet corner and make them read a Eudora Welty short story or a chapter in a classic. What a much better nation we would have.

Bob Paslay is assistant managing editor of the News Daily and Daily Herald. He can be reached at (770) 478-5753 Ext. 257 or at bpaslay@news-daily.com.