Monday, June 13, 2011

Funny how things Change

From the moment I learned how, I’ve loved to read.  As a writer, I find this to be both a blessing a curse. Sometimes, when reading a particular story, I catch myself editing it in my mind. I’m sure you can imagine how difficult it makes reading, but that doesn’t stop me from reading when I can squeeze it in. I will confess since becoming a writer, I’ve made less time to read, but it’s a love that never goes away.

Not long ago, someone asked me what my favorite book from childhood was. Without hesitation, I replied it was The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. Even from an early age, I knew I wanted to be a writer someday so I drew inspiration from the knowledge that she penned the novel at the age of sixteen.  Of course, I didn’t find that out until much later.

I stumbled across The Outsiders by accident.  My mother and I were thrift store shopping, something we did out of necessity. Thrift stores were and still are a great place to get good books at the best prices. Though I don’t recall the exact price my mom paid for the book, I’d be willing to bet it was less than one dollar. I’d also venture a guess that it was one of the first editions as the cover art used a myriad of psychedelic seventies colors. 

When I bought the book, I didn’t know anything about it or the author. The blurb on the back caught my attention so I bought it. After reading it, I was hooked from the first word and devoured it in short order. I then raved to my mom about what a great book it was and proceeded, much to her dismay I’m sure, to discuss all of the plot details. When I’d finally finished, my mother told me that sounded a lot like a movie she’d just taped on television the night before. Yes, I’m dating myself, but this was before the Tivo/DVR days. I was delighted when my mom popped the tape in the VCR and I discovered it was in fact a movie based on my beloved novel. There were some variations from the original story, as there are with most novels converted to screenplays, but I loved it.

As a freshman in high school, I found myself ahead of the class when my English teacher announced we’d be reading The Outsiders. Without even reading the book, I aced every quiz and test on the subject. And I was thrilled when we spent a few days watching it in class. I still loved the movie and the novel it was based on.

Suffice it to say somewhere between childhood and adulthood, I misplaced my copy of The Outsiders, but I never got over my love of the novel. First chance I got, I purchased a VHS copy of The Outsiders, but for some reason didn’t buy the book.  For my first Mother’s Day, my loving husband gave me the latest edition and wrote a very nice inscription on the inside back cover. After that, I set the novel aside. I didn’t lose it. Instead, it’s been sitting on my book shelf nestled safely between numerous other books waiting for the mood to strike that I’d want to read it.

In the meantime, that child has grown up to be a teenager and another child has been added to the bunch. Imagine how old I felt when my teenage daughter was reading The Outsiders in her eighth grade English class.  Not only was my daughter reading a book I’d read at her age, but it was required reading one year earlier in her generation. To say I was disappointed she didn’t share my love of the book was an understatement. I tried to get her to watch the movie with me, which I’d discovered was now on my on demand cable menu, and she suffered through less than half before bailing on me. Once again The Outsiders was set aside.

Not too long ago, I had the pleasure of stumbling across a DVD version of The Outsiders in the $5.99 sale bin at my local supermarket.  To be fair, it was actually my husband who discovered it and encouraged me to buy it.  When I got it home, I realized this wasn’t the same version I’d grown up watching. This version contained deleted scenes and was marketed as the novel version as it was a truer adaption of the book. Something old was new again, and after watching it, I had a longing to read the book.

I pulled the book from my shelf and have spent the last two weeks reading it while sitting on the sidelines of my younger daughter’s cheer practices.  I’m nearing the end of the book, and I have to say, it’s lost a bit of its luster. The writer in me sees things that make me cringe. The first thing to jump out at me was the overabundant use of adverbs. I’ll admit it. I used to be a writer who relied on phrases like ‘he said sarcastically’ or ‘she studied him doubtfully’. Thanks to an astute editor, I’ve learned the difference between show and not tell and use them as little as possible. Then there was the use of the phrase ‘what had happened’ as in ‘we wanted to know what had happened’. Many of us as writers, myself included at one point, don’t realize we’re using the words had and that when we don’t need them. It’s much better to say ‘we wanted to know what happened’. It reads better and sounds better and doesn’t litter the story. I also found Hinton’s physical description of each new character she introduced to be done in a boring, straightforward way. I see this same mistake in the work of many young writers I read today and will discuss in more detail next week.  

As much as it pains me to say it, I don’t think The Outsiders would’ve held up in today’s market if Hinton submitted it. I doubt it would’ve seen publication and suspect it would’ve ended up on the slush pile. In fact, I’ve seen and dare I say written far better that hasn’t made it past the editor’s assistant. As a young girl, I loved this novel, the movie and even the short lived television series it spawned. Bet you didn’t know that one! As an adult, I have fond memories of the novel and still like the movie but can’t say I love it.

Funny how things change.

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