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A Tome’s Greatest Worth

An excerpt of my writings on an adventure in John Windle Antiquarian Books. ‘The girl’ is me.

…They read through a beautifully embossed leather tome, consisting only of the illustrated poem Lenore. The girl remarked how much better it was to waste such space and care as that on beauty than it was to condense the written word into infinitesimal flecks of data.

Who, three hundred years hence, she asked, would download a list of ancient files, and marvel that they had works so original, they were no longer compatible with the oldest reader available? No, the works that lasted would be updated, every renewal fresh and sterile, for one could not press their face into a hundred-year-old file and smell the smell of age. What was the scent of a line of zeros and ones? Where was the aesthetic wonder in intangible technology?

The proprietor looked up from his work, and, not knowing how much he’d heard, she summarized, “Lamenting the rise of the E-reader.”

“Funny you should mention that,” he said with a small smile. “I live and die by my Kindle.” He gestured at a black pack that presumably held the cited Kindle. “I use it for my travels.”

Well. If the master of this magical little shop was going to side with technology, what could she rejoin? Surely the man knew the enchantment of the printed word better than did she.

“The way I see it,” he explained, “people will buy books on here, more than they otherwise would, and once they’ve read something several times and like it, then they would buy a bound copy as a collector’s item.”

He flicked his fingers at a shelf. “It’s nice to have a shelf full of your favorites, not just a virtual library of I-forget-how-many-I-have.”

She considered, and supposed she could understand the argument for digital and physical copies going hand-in-hand. She conceded the point, and it was only later that she noticed that it might be odd, that one her age had been balking at the newfangled idea, and had been talked ‘round to progress by a man several decades her senior…

I found a poem within this adventure– The whole of it is on the poetry page of my website.

What is a page but a holder of ink,
And the ink, but a former of words?
Is it not in the words that the worlds are formed and the world is evermore stirred?

Is the medium naught but the sum
Of the message there scripted or scrawled?
Is there nothing so grand about paper and hand, is the story and poetry all?

Aye, surely I’ll say that the tale is most,
That the words are a tome’s greatest worth,
But covers to linger o’er, pages to finger o’er, these are yet treasures of earth…

What are your thoughts on the rise of the E-reader? Rejoicing? Lamentation? Some combination?

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Story Sculpting

Sure, I enjoy the first draft– botching whatever I like, breaking down the fourth wall, chatting with my characters, amusing myself. For example:

“Upon entering the city, Sy and Mysst made for the best recommended inn.
Since their author was, most unfortunately, failing in her authorial pursuits, they found themselves walking inside the tavern below the inn with nothing to observe about their surroundings or interactions to that point.”

Because anything goes, the imagination is released from its straitjacket, and the soul spills out in incredible plot twists and inspired prose. These geysers of ink are unmatched by the editor’s stern red pen.

However, that wonderful, freeing Anything Goes is also the worst thing about the first draft. Within all the loveliness of this great release-of-soul, there bursts a dungheap.

This is where the red pen shines.

This is where dead prose is resurrected, where rants and brambles are cut away to reveal the fairy glade. This is where every stray thread of plot is wound up, or snipped, or new threads woven throughout, till they stretch across your loom to form a tale…

From the cold-hearted, cold-minded task of the red pen leaps the glory that the first draft only dreamt of.

The first draft is a miracle. From nothing to something. From blank page, to ink. It is the pure creation of a block of finest marble– fine, shapeless marble.

The editor sculpts, taking hammer and chisel to this unrealized dream, shattering the creation in horrifying sprays of stone. And then, beneath the careful pen, the dream begins to emerge. With every cautious, destructive stroke, the editor frees the story from its first draft, then smooths and polishes till every sentence gleams.

Then, art.