Fitzgerald Fascination

Standard

ScottReading

I have recently—for reasons unknown—become slightly obsessed with F. Scott Fitzgerald. The fortunate product of this Fitzgerald fascination is it prompted me two weeks ago to read The Great Gatsby. The book was assigned reading in high school many eons ago, but I foolishly cheated myself and opted for the Cliff Notes. Truly reading the book for the first time was a wonderful discovery and education—for while I loved the story, I was completely blown away by the writing.

I can’t recall a book with more beautiful prose. Descriptions of simple things, like fading sunlight on a woman’s face, are stunning:

For a moment the last sunshine fell with romantic affection upon her glowing face; her voice compelled me forward breathlessly as I listened—then the glow faded, each light deserting her with lingering regret like children leaving a pleasant street at dusk.

Such writing in high school was wasted on me; I didn’t appreciate, back then, the effort involved.  After reading Gatsby, I read A. Scott Berg’s Maxwell Perkins: Editor of Genius, a biography of Fitzgerald’s editor–the same guy who discovered Thomas Wolfe and Ernest Hemingway, among others.

It was interesting to note in Berg’s book that when Fitzgerald sat down to write Gatsby, he did so not with commercial success in mind but rather to see how far he could push his talent.  “This book,” he wrote Perkins in 1924, “will be a consciously artistic achievement.”

The end result obviously speaks for itself.

Next on my reading list: Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night.

Film rights optioned!

Standard

Hollywood

Very exciting news this morning: The film/television rights to Winston Churchill Reporting have been optioned by a production company. I can’t go into details just yet, but needless to say I’m riding pretty high at the moment.

This is actually the second book of mine to be optioned this year. The television rights for my first book, On the House, were optioned a few months back with the intent of turning it into a multi-part miniseries.

I’ll post more info on both fronts as things develop . . . and as I’m permitted.

Muses Aren’t Real, and Now is Always the Best Time to Write

Standard

FountainPen

“Writing a book is an adventure,” wrote Winston Churchill in 1949. The man knew a thing or two about writing. He wrote four bestselling works of nonfiction and a novel before he turned 26. Never one to tackle anything in a half-hearted manner, he completed his first book (85,000 words) in roughly two months. There were some nights he wrote so long and hard, his hand cramped to the point where he could no longer hold a pen.

Why mention this? Because Churchill, in my mind, exemplifies the writer’s discipline at its very best. He wanted to write, and so he did. There was no waiting around for inspiration or searching for the muse. There was simply a desire to produce.

Like my favorite historical figure, I don’t believe a muse is necessary when it comes to writing. Actually, I don’t even believe in the muse, nor do I believe in waiting for inspiration to strike. You can wait for that wonderful moment of clarity, when all your thoughts coalesce into a glorious narrative that’s ready to spill forth on the page, but you might end up waiting a long time.

Search the web, and you’ll find plenty of blogs and articles offering tips on how to summon your muse. The time spent reading such advice could be spent tackling a blank page. Writing is all about discipline. If you want to write something, you have to sit down and do it. Such a pragmatic view might be blasphemous to some. “You can’t force or hurry art,” one might argue. Frankly, I don’t approach my writing as high art; I approach it as a job.

This less-than-romantic attitude is, in part, the result of my background. I’m a journalist by trade, having spent more than a decade working on daily newspapers. I took great pleasure crafting well-honed stories under tight deadlines. Also, the fact I don’t write fulltime might have something to do with my attitude. I have a “day job” to pay the bills. My writing-and-research time is limited to several hours on the weekends and a few precious hours each night after my wife and kids have gone to bed. I don’t have time to sit around waiting to feel inspired.

All the inspiration in the world doesn’t mean a thing if you don’t buckle down and force yourself to put words on a page. Waiting for the muse to send a message, is—in my opinion—a delay tactic, an excuse not to do the hard work. Mind you, this is not to say I’m a writer without influences. As a non-fiction author, I’m influenced by Cornelius Ryan, Antony Beevor, Barbara Tuchman, David McCullough, William Manchester, and Rick Atkinson—historians who relate history not in dates and facts, but compelling narratives that rival the best novels. In my early years, when I thought I might write fiction, Stephen King’s command of story and pacing had a huge impact.

But the one writer whose influence has remained constant throughout the years is Ian Fleming. This might seem strange for one who writes the sort of books I do, but I’ve always admired Fleming’s straightforward approach. He honed his writing skills as a reporter for the Reuters News Agency, learning to write fast and well. As an author, he tackled his books with a journalist’s discipline—not waiting for inspiration or the whisperings of a muse, but working feverishly to get the words out.

Fleming was a man of habit. Once he established his writing routine, he stuck with it and never deviated, writing for three hours every morning—no excuses. He knew the importance of getting a story out quickly. Here’s what he advised a friend who was contemplating writing a book:

You will be constantly depressed by the progress of the opus and feel it is all nonsense and that nobody will be interested. Those are the moments when you must all the more obstinately stick to your schedule and do your daily stint . . . Never mind about that brilliant phrase or the golden word, once the typescript is there you can fiddle, correct and embellish as much as you please. So don’t be depressed if the first draft seems a bit raw, all first drafts do . . . Don’t let anyone see the manuscript until you are very well on with it and above all don’t allow anything to interfere with your routine. Don’t worry about what you put in, it can always be cut on re-reading.

Nothing about muses or inspiration there. “Stick to your schedule and do your daily stint” is what he says. That, I think, is the best writing advice one can give.

Our time on this planet is a finite thing, so if you want to write—just do it. Time waiting to feel inspired or searching for your muse is time wasted. If inspiration is something you really need to get started, just think how great it will feel to hold that completed manuscript in your hand.

 

Leaving California for Arizona

Standard

After calling California home for the majority of my 42 years, I vacated the Golden State this past week and settled in Arizona. Don’t get me wrong: I love California, but the place got too damn expensive. The decision to move to the outskirts of Phoenix was not made on the fly; it took shape over the course of a year. Now that I’m here, I can say in all honesty I’m thrilled with the change. The heat is cranking up, but a pool and a cold drink (or many cold drinks) will help on that front.

I love what I’ve seen so far of the state and can’t wait to finish getting settled so I can discover more. From our house, we have a great view of San Tan Mountain and a killer selection of drinking establishments within 10-minutes driving time. Certainly looking forward to many healthy, happy years here.

At some point, I’ll have to start tackling my next book project. I know my wonderfully patient agent is waiting . . . but for now, I think it’s time for a glass of wine outside by the fire pit.

Cheers!

Passing legends

Standard

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything here. After finishing my last book, I decided to take a much-needed break from the keyboard. The time has been spent—when work and family obligations allow—catching up on my recreational reading. Right now, I’m half way through Jim Harrison’s True North. Harrison, known primarily for Legends of the Fall, has long been one of my favorite authors. I was quite upset when he died last month. If you’ve never read any of his work, I highly recommend not only Legends, but The Woman Lit by Fireflies, The Farmer’s Daughter, The Summer He Didn’t Die, and The Beast God Forgot to Invent. Better yet, read any Harrison book you can get your hands on (his most recent, published earlier this year, is The Ancient Minstrel).

It’s been a brutal year in terms of talent passing away. David Bowie, Glenn Frey, Keith Emerson, Prince—certainly, the names are too many to list here. A musician’s death can hit us on a personal level. Music plays a vital part in so many of our lives. Listening to a favorite musician every day they become something of an acquaintance. I feel the same way when it comes to authors and their books.

Harrison was incredibly prolific, releasing a book a year. He wrote novellas, novels, poetry, and was an excellent food writer (try reading The Raw and the Cooked without wanting to guzzle a bottle of wine or tear into a piece of meat). His immense appetites and funny—yet thoughtful—views on life were clearly evident in everything he wrote. I’ve finished every Harrison book wishing I could sit down and have a drink with the man. Thankfully, he left behind an amazing body of work to be enjoyed through the years.

Check me out in Time Magazine!

Standard

Time

 

Very excited to say that Time picked up a column I recently wrote for the History News Network, detailing how Winston Churchill’s experiences as a war correspondent shaped him into the leader he became. Click here or the image to read the article

And be sure to check out the official website for Winston Churchill Reporting: Adventures of a Young War Correspondent.

WINSTON CHURCHILL REPORTING: What Others are Saying

Standard

 

screenshot_22

“Simon Read has captured the indomitable spirit of young Winston Churchill, his breathtaking courage in combat, his raw political ambition, and the power of his writing as a war correspondent on three continents. All before the age of 27. Winston Churchill Reporting takes its rightful place on my shelves next to Churchill’s own account of his youth, My Early Life.”

— Paul Reid, best-selling co-author of The Last Lion: Defender of the Realm

“With pen, rifle, and polo mallet, the youthful and headstrong Winston Churchill takes no prisoners as an army officer and war correspondent, racing fearlessly to the front lines of war zones in Cuba, Asia, and Africa, not to mention London, where he steeps himself in the arts of war, wit, and politics. Simon Read’s thrilling Winston Churchill Reporting charges ahead at breakneck speed with the indomitable young Churchill, capturing the making of this great and eloquent leader, in vivid prose and hair-raising scenes. You won’t put it down until Churchill is safe at home once again.”

— Dean King, best-selling author of Skeletons on the Zahara

“In 1965 a nine-year-old girl in Colombia posted a birthday card addressed simply to “the greatest man in the world”. Without a stamp it arrived in London at the home of Winston Churchill on the eve of his 90th birthday. He was indeed the greatest man of our era, the savior of civilization. Any book on Churchill is a joy, but this one is especially moving for it reveals the great man as a youth, eyes full of wonder, soul already certain of a great destiny, ambition glaring in all directions just ready to pounce.”

— Wade Davis, best-selling author of The Serpent and the Rainbow

“Highly researched and fast-paced, Read does a marvelous job of bringing young Churchill to life”

— Martin Dugard, best-selling author of Into Africa: The Epic Adventures of Stanley and Livingstone, and co-author of the Killing series with Bill O’Reilly

For more information–including an excerpt, maps, and pictures–check out the official website for WINSTON CHURCHILL REPORTING.