In addition to serving as photographer for Brockton Writers Series, Sheila Toller has had her short fiction published by Diaspora Dialogues and House of Anansi Press. In advance of her reading at our September 11 event, she wrestles with the Rules for Writers laid down by the great, and now late, Elmore Leonard.
“I love this place,” said a writer friend of mine about the brewpub we were in. “I can’t wait to sit down and put it all into words.” She’s good at that, and I envy her for it. “Dark” is how I remember the place, and “with wood beams,” I think.
Setting is not my strong point.
With this in mind, I was glad to revisit Elmore Leonard’s famous rules, much as I was sad to hear of his recent passing. I’m a big fan of Rule #9: Don’t go into great detail describing places and things. That’s a rule I can get behind. (Full disclosure: I had never read Elmore Leonard until this week. I’m now three murders, two incarcerations, and a balcony-shove into Gold Coast, in which “Southeby estate-sale furniture and Italian marble” = the interior of a mafia boss’s mansion. Works for me.) And while it may have been sheer laziness that made me recently describe the town of York in the 1820s as “oil lamps and horses and unpaved streets,” for now, and at least until I hear back from the editor, I plead the 9th.
As I write this, I’m sitting under a tree by a lake, as eager to tell you how great it all is as my friend was to describe the dark and maybe wood-beamed bar. “Like tiny diamonds” is what people will tell you about light on the water (they really do), but c’mon. Searching for something better, my mind thinks of camera flashes. Fish paparazzi. It makes me smile — I’m easily amused — but unfortunately, it doesn’t tell you much about what the light and the water and the wind are so expertly doing. (Also – so much for the originality of my vision – a Google search reveals that paparazzi fish are well-established and adorable characters in an iPad game called Fish with Attitude.)
I admit it, I freeze up at describing the larger things of this world – built environments, the magic tricks of nature – but I’ll happily tell you what these pages look like as I write. Due to the circumstances of the purse I brought with me, I’m writing on blank notebook paper with a chisel-tip Sharpie. It’s loud. Not yell-y exactly – I’m not writing IN CAPS – but it looks like a voice that doesn’t know how loudly it’s speaking. “Geez, I thought for sure there would be an intermission.” Shhhhhhh…
My “writing” is printing, scrawled and illegible, since I gave up on cursive way back in Grade 9. The mangled words in thick black marker bring to mind those photocopied manifestos on downtown hydro poles, documenting injustices both imagined and real.
Bear with me, Rule #9. I might bend you or break you, and I may never be worthy of exemption. But someday, I’ll put this lake into words. Only a few, and only the right ones.
Sheila Toller visits the Brockton Writers Series on Wednesday, September 11, 2013 – full of beans Coffee House & Roastery, 1348 Dundas St. W., Toronto (7pm, PWYC) – along with Valentino Assenza, Catherine Hernandez and Christine Miscione.
Watch this space for more with each of our readers in the month leading up to the event!