While biking I normally listen to either a novel or a podcast. Yesterday was the tenth session inside Lawrence Sanders’ book, The Third Deadly Sin. Sanders is a magnificient writer, and puts me to absolute shame. Another thing is clear, listening to a book isn’t nearly as good as reading the book.
Earlier this morning, I opened this book in Kindle and started to reread part of what I’d listened to yesterday. I began in Chapter 10. Here’s the first few paragraphs (all description):
THURSDAY, JUNE 5TH …Sanders, Lawrence. The Third Deadly Sin (The Edward X. Delaney Series) (p. 312). Open Road Media. Kindle Edition.
“All right,” Sergeant Abner Boone said, flipping through his notebook, “here’s what we’ve got.”
Standing and sitting around the splintered table in Midtown Precinct North. All of them smoking: cigarettes, cigars, and Lieutenant Crane chewing on a pipe. Emptied cardboard coffee cups on the table. The detritus of gulped sandwiches, containers of chop suey, a pizza box, wrappers and bags of junk food.
Air murky with smoke, barely stirred by the air conditioner. Sweat and disinfectant. No one commented or even noticed. They had all smelled worse odors. And battered rooms like this were home, familiar and comfortable.
My thoughts, but first I’ll state my conclusion: You and I may not be a Lawrence Sanders, but that doesn’t mean we cannot write SOMETHING. Here’s the kicker, if we want to, and try, simply “do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” Note, many attribute my quote to Theodore Roosevelt. Whoever said it, it is good, meaningful, always appropriate.
Back to my thoughts on Sanders’ writing. He is detailed (often, I think too detailed).
Boone speaks, “All right, … here’s what we’ve got.” Then, Sanders launches into description. He wants us to form a mental image. Why? To bring us there. For us to sense the very room in which a scene will take place.
Notice, the first sentence of his descriptive paragraph: “Standing and sitting around the splintered table in Midtown Precinct North.” What jumps out at you? For me, this is not a grammatically correct sentence. There’s no subject. The not-present subject is not acting. But, there are verbs, standing and sitting. However, the sentence is good. We can assume there are others present. If not, why would Boone say, “here’s what we’ve got.”
That non-subject sentence makes more sense when we combine it with the next. “Standing and sitting around the splintered table in Midtown Precinct North. All of them smoking: cigarettes, cigars, and Lieutenant Crane chewing on a pipe.”
The last sentence here deals with smoking. Notice, this is a simple sentence. In fact they all are. You and I can write a sentence like this. “Bill, George, and Tommy were seated around the dented table. All except George were smoking cigars. He was chewing on the stem of his pipe.”
Let me say one more thing about the above passage. If you don’t know a word, then look it up. I was familiar with “detritus” but wanted a refresher. Here’s where/how Sanders used it: “The detritus of gulped sandwiches, containers of chop suey, a pizza box, wrappers and bags of junk food.” And, here’s the definition: “Noun–the remains of something that has been destroyed or broken up; loose material (stone fragments and silt etc) that is worn away from rocks.”
Ask yourself, “what is my mind seeing?” One thing’s for sure, the tabletop is messy. And, what is chop suey? “chop suey, noun, a dish prepared chiefly from bean sprouts, bamboo shoots, water chestnuts, onions, mushrooms, and meat or fish and served with rice and soy sauce.” I’m not sure I want a dish of chop suey.
Here’s the last paragraph from above: “Air murky with smoke, barely stirred by the air conditioner. Sweat and disinfectant. No one commented or even noticed. They had all smelled worse odors. And battered rooms like this were home, familiar and comfortable.”
I can see it, sense it with my nose, my eyes, even my ears (the room is silent for now, except for the drone of the A/C). The air is foggy with smoke. One or more of those present has been sweating or is sweating. Maybe this insinuates BO. Maybe someone, Boone (?) has sprayed the room with Lysol.
The room is anything but inviting. Take note of the first sentence. I’d probably have written: “The air was murky with smoke, the air conditioner couldn’t keep up [or, the air conditioner failing to do its job].” Too wordy, not nearly as taut as Sanders’ writing. Notice no “was” in, “Air murky with smoke….”
I like Sanders’ final sentence in this focal passage. “And battered rooms like this were home, familiar and comfortable.” No doubt “battered” is a familiar word, but let’s look closer, just as a reminder.
Definitions for battered: “Adjective” 1. damaged by blows or hard usage; Examples: a battered old car; the beaten-up old Ford; 2. damaged especially by hard usage; Example: his battered old hat.
One final thought/question. Sanders often uses his description of settings to establish mood, and to be a predictor of what’s about to happen. If you haven’t read this book you might not have an opinion, but here, is Sanders implying the murder investigation is tired, the detectives are desperate, and they’ve been battered by all their hard-tiresome work to date? I think the answer is yes.
In sum, I might have been frustrated yesterday. Dang, I was frustrated with my listening while biking, feeling my writing was so poor. However, this morning, looking at the words, contemplating the words, gives me a little hope.
I simply have to, “do what I can, with what I have, where I’m at.”
And, so do you.