writing on the edge or, perhaps, over it

In The Prince of Tides, Pat Conroy writes of a man in the throws of sex with his wife, shouting “Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Jesus.”

If I read such a thing on Facebook, I’d probably say, “TMI.” But it’s typical Conroy, obvious in most of his books, writing on the edge describing the most strange, outlandish, sick, and horrific moments in the lives of his characters, moments we can’t un-see, would be shocked if we thought of such things, and having stepped over the edge with a writer who is “out there,” we are drawn “out there,” too, and for my money, nothing beats the mind’s confusion of such prose that’s better than torrid sex (“thank you, Jesus”).

I am in awe of anyone who can write on (or over) the edge and remain mostly sane.

Conroy’s inclusion of such moments in his plots is heightened by the fact they do not comprise a farce, but a balanced interaction between the most absurd and the most beautiful, and between the best of sin and the best of grace. Writing also in The Prince of Tides, he says:

“I would say, ‘Breathe deeply,’ and you would breathe and remember that smell for the rest of your life, the bold, fecund aroma of the tidal marsh, exquisite and sensual, the smell of the South in heat, a smell like new milk, semen, and spilled wine, all perfumed with seawater. My soul grazes like a lamb on the beauty of indrawn tides.”

The Prince of Tides is my living Bible of how to write well from well-formed characters to well-formed locations. I keep the book close at hand on my desk next to my copy of Donald Maass’ Writing the Breakout Novel which–if read carefully– teaches prospective writers how to write on the edge or, perhaps, over it.

Some say Stephen King’s On Writing is better.  Perhaps, but it doesn’t speak to me because I want writing books that show me how to jump off cliffs and walk through fire and say things that cause readers to blush and shout, “TMI.”

There’s a danger to writing at the edge: “it might kill you.” But what if it doesn’t? You look down, read what you have written, and find blood on the page. If you can see your blood holding the words together, then the edge didn’t kill you. Maybe tomorrow, but today the words are wonderful and they sing songs the world needs to hear.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell

Publisher: Thomas-Jacob Publishing

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This is a terrific story, filled with fabulous characters, some definitely nastier than others, and great fun, too, at least in parts. Others are still horrible to contemplate from our slightly more secure seats nearly 70 years on. Reader Review of the audiobook.