Thursday, October 28, 2010

To Sir Terry Pratchett, and to Laughter and Joy!!!

Today I had a piece of horrible news.  I learned that the writer I see as epitomizing everything I've been trying to say to you in this blog, Sir Terry Pratchett, has been diagnosed with early onset Altzheimer's.  It is apprently not new news, it was announced about three years ago, but it was new to me. 

I want you to understand what Terry Pratchett has been to me.  I was already a published writer when I first discovered him, but I didn't understand how to write, really.  I was getting published and paid and earning a living and all of that was very nice, but until I first read Terry Pratchett, I didn't know how much was wrong with my writing.  I did not write with joy, you see.  I did at the beginning,  in the five years or so before my first novel was published: five years where I sat at a desk every single day and had a blast (as MPax would say) writing novels that I kind of hoped would be published -- but that in a fundamental way I knew wouldn't be lessened if they weren't.  I loved the writingI loved the five-year journey.  I loved its freedom.  In those five years I wrote six books that would never be published.  A seventh made it. 

In a way, I changed head-space when I got that first book published.  Somehow, the publishing, the earning of money, the talks to students, the whole "lifestyle", made me forget the primary importance of the  joy of writing my books. 

Time went by.  I used to read to Meredith every night, or she to me, and I can remember exactly how it was, the day I bought Sir Terry's book "Men at Arms", our first Pratchett.  She and I were crossing Richmond Street, kind of the main drag in London Ontario, at Queens, (you know where this is, don't you, Jessica?) and I said to Meredith, "I just bought a book by a guy named Terry Pratchett," and (because I had read the first chapter to myself), I added, "we're going to just love it."

We did.  Since that time, I bought all of his books, some of them in duplicate, for fear of losing the original.  Those books mattered that much to me.  They still do.  I don't think there is a writer alive who can make me howl with laughter page after page and then, suddenly, fall into the well of sadness at the bottom of life, the place that can kill us, really, if we don't encounter it bracketed by laughter and joy.  I've tried in this blog to encourage you to write for the joy of it.  And so today I would like to devote this blog to Sir Terry Pratchett, and in particular, to his philosophy of writing. 

Terry  Pratchett has said it many times.  What he says is that writing is the most fun thing a person can do by him/herself.

How can I make you see how this man shows this philosophy without being untrue to the sadness that exists in this world?  Today, I thought I'd just go straight to the joy, the playfulness, in one of his lesser known books, a quotation from page 187 of a book called Pyramids.

I want to do it today, as a tribute, even though I haven't yet got permission, because only today I found out that Sir Terry Pratchett is still writing great books that make you laugh, but he is fighting the loss of his mental ability to play with concepts and maybe there won't be too many more of these great books.  His courage and smile won't go away, however.  I want you to know him, just a little, through the quotation I'm going to share with you without permission, and then, I want you to read every single one of his books, because if you do that, while you're struggling with "hard stuff", you will understand what I mean about writing with joy.  His books will also.make you laugh if you happen to need it before you get where you want to be, in your own writing.

The following small bit of text is like a footnote, separated off from the main novel by an asterisk, having nothing whatsoever to do with the story, but thrown in just because Pratchett was having fun with an idea, and probably laughing out loud as he wrote it:.

* ...the fastest animal on the Disc is the extremely neurotic Ambiguous Puzuma, which moves so fast that it can actually achieve near-lightspeed in the Disc's magical field.  This means that if you can see a puzuma, it isn't there.  Most male puzumas die young of acute ankle failure caused by running very fast after females which aren't there, and, of course, achieving suicidal mass in accordance with relativistic theory."  [Einstein says that in order to travel at nearly the speed of light, your mass would increase hugely, and even though mass is not really weight, hey, go with the joke, and imagine this puzuma's ankles breaking while trying to support its huge weight as he runs at almost the speed of light to catch the female who isn't there. - WWK].  "The rest of them die of Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, since it is impossible for them to know who they are and where they are at the same time, and the see-sawing loss of concentration this engenders means that the puzuma only achieves a sense of identity when it is at rest -- usually about fifty feet into the rubble of what remains of the mountain it just ran into at near light-speed.  The puzuma is rumoured to be about the size of a leopard with a rather unique black and white check coat, although those specimens discovered by the Disc's sages and philosophers have inclined them to declare that in its natural state the puzuma is flat, very thin, and dead."

             -- permission for this quotation is needed.  I quoted it first and am now seeking permission because I think  Air Terry  would want to see his words in context in this blog before granting permission.  However, this is not something we should do.  Rightly, I should ask first and use later.  I apologize in advance if this quote will have to be removed, or if Sir Terry or his agent or his publisher is upset by my using it beforehand. 

Writing your novel with a spirit of light-heartedness and fun is what has made Pratchett one of the most widely-read novelists in the world.  You don't have to put funny things into your book to let your own light-heartedness and joy in writing come across to the reader.  You simply have to try very hard to write the very best book you can, while at the same time having more fun than you've ever had (alone) in your life.

I was lucky enough to be reading my Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (an incredible source of the "itch" that you can turn into an idea for a book) one day and to discover by sheer chance (????) a single entry that is supposedly true and funny but only a sentence long.  In reading this, I immediately recognized that this had to have been an "itch" that Pratchett had also discovered and scratched away at until he had the entire idea for a book of his that I love very much. The entry in Brewer is not, of course, the "idea" that created the book, but it's the source of the idea.  Ideas happen when you scratch away at something that itches inside your mind.  You're so taken up by the itch, and the need to think about it, and to ask all kinds of "what if..." questions about it, that eventually you find that you have an idea for a book. 

I was delighted to find the entry in Brewer years after I first read the book that I am positive the Brewer entry helped Terry Pratchett write.  It made me see that my hero, Pratchett, does just what I do.  He finds something strange, or weird, or cool, somewhere (I do that too: I use Brewer and newspapers and the little human interest stories that are fillers in some magazines, as well as things that come to me in my own life) until just such an itch catches my mind's interest, and then I scratch at it until I have the idea for the book (well, I guess it isn't the whole book, but rather, some major part of it, e.g. the plot problem, the solution of the plot problem, the main characters' innermost problems and how they interact with the basic plot problem, or why the heroes can't solve the plot problem at the beginning of the book but have to solve it). 

To know that (even though I will never be able to write books that are as good as Pratchett's) I do basically what he does, wow, that just "made my day"!

And so I dedicate today's blog, and all of your writing in the workshop portion of this blog, to Sir Terry Pratchett, and I pray that the cure that I hear is just around the corner will reach him before, like the puzuma, he runs into that corner at near light-speed.

To Sir Terry!  To Laughter and Joy!  To a Cure for Altzheimer's!!!


At 28 October, 2010 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Loved that excerpt! The ending line had my internal chuckle burst right out loud. "...natural state...flat,very thin and dead.." lol

Quick, crisp, intelligent minds that know how to deliver bone-aching truth with wisdom softened by a wit that enhances rather than demeans the message are a rare find. Thank you for this.

I'll be looking for these books.


At 29 October, 2010 , Blogger Retta said...

I was so sorry to read of the condition of your mentor. I do remember reading only a couple of weeks ago, of new research on Alzheimers.

I, too, loved the excerpt. I could totally imagine the grin on his face as he wrote that! Very funny stuff.


At 29 October, 2010 , Blogger M Pax said...

We must find the joy no matter what. It's what makes it all worthwhile.

I hope he has a long bout of stabilization then they find a cure.

Those aha moments are the best. I've had a few myself lately.

At 29 October, 2010 , Anonymous Welwyn said...

You're so right, Mary. Joy is what makes it all worthwhile.

At 29 October, 2010 , Anonymous Welwyn said...

Dear Loretta,

I keep hoping and praying too. Altzheimer's is such a vicious disease. Thank you for loving the excerpt as much as I do.

At 29 October, 2010 , Anonymous Welwyn said...

Deb, your description of the "quick, crisp, intelligent minds that know how to deliver bone-aching truth with wisdom softened by a wit that enhances rather than demeans the message are a rare find" is a very clean and clear piece of writing that says exactly what I was trying to burble out. You're such a good writer. Thanks for your comment.

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