Monday, February 4, 2013


Love and Not Destroy

I’m delighted to have author Sandra Carey Cody as my guest this week. I think she captured those feelings most of us have about our writing.
Is there a writer alive who doesn't dream of being Shakespeare or Austen or Faulkner or Cather? We all long to write something that people will read after we’ve been dead 100 years. We'd like to be a genius. But genius is a gift and is bestowed on only a few. What about the rest of us? Should we stop writing? Throw up our hands and quit? Does the world really need more books by mediocre writers? I say no - to both quitting and mediocrity. There’s a lot of territory between genius and mediocrity and that vast space is the arena where most of us play out our lives, hoping that our efforts will bring us closer to the Genius end of the field.
One of my favorite contemporary authors is Jane Hamilton and my favorite book by her is The Short History of a Prince. It is the story of a boy's journey to manhood and his reluctant realization that no matter how hard he works, he'll never be as good as he would like to be. The teenaged Walter McCloud wants more than anything to be a dancer, but eventually has to acknowledge that he doesn't have the talent. He lacks that magical element that would allow him to be in reality what he is in his dreams. He sees others, who don't work nearly as hard as he does, surpass him. If you've read the book, you may be shaking your head at this oversimplification of a complex novel, a story of a loving family, holding themselves together through the illness and death of a child. In short, Walter's lack of genius isn't the most important thing in the book. Neither is it the most important thing in most of our lives. Most of us have families, friends, neighbors who have needs that deflect our energy away from our writing.
Hamilton, talented though she is, must have experienced the feeling of not being as exceptional as she would like to be in order to have written The Short History of a Prince. In it, she captured the disappointment most of us feel at times of not being enough. If you feel inadequate, use that feeling. Create a character who’s striving to achieve a goal that is beyond his ability. You’ll have a very human human being – a good place to start any story.
William Faulkner said: "The writer’s only responsibility is to his art. He will be completely ruthless if he is a good one. He has a dream. It anguishes him so much he must get rid of it. He has no peace until then. Everything goes by the board: honor, pride, decency, security, happiness, all, to get the book written. If a writer has to rob his mother, he will not hesitate…." As much as I admire Faulkner, I can't live that way and don't believe that I am supposed to. I'm grateful for his passion and the legacy that it created, but I don't believe it's the only way to be a writer.
I'd love to be a genius, but have come to the conclusion that, since I don't get to pick that card, I can't worry about it. I'll do the best I can today and hope that, by so doing, tomorrow my best will be a little better.
Ernest Hemingway, arguably Faulkner's best-known contemporary, said: "We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master." I would add that none of us know what our legacy will be. As for me, I'll continue my apprenticeship and not let my lack of genius rob me of the joy of writing. Reading is one of life's great pleasures and writing should be too. 

A baby is found in a basket on the grounds of a small-town museum during their annual Folk Festival. Twenty-two years later, a homeless man is murdered in exactly the same spot. Connection? Or coincidence? Peace Morrow, the foundling, now an adult working at the museum, is haunted by this question and thus begins a quest that explores the nature of family, of loyalty and responsibility. As she tries to reconstruct the victim's history, his story becomes entangled with her own search for family roots, a journey that leads her through the dusty boxes in the museum's basement, to the antique markets in the northern part of the state and, ultimately, to the innermost reaches of her own heart.
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Sandra Carey Cody is the author of the Jennie Connors mystery series and the stand-alone mystery, Love and Not Destroy, She also writes non-mystery short stories. She grew up in Missouri, surrounded by a family who loved stories, whether from a book or a Sunday afternoon on the front porch. She's lived in various cities in different parts of the country, but wherever she's gone, books have been the bridge to a new community and new friends. She and her husband now live in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. To learn more, you can visit her website: or visit her blog She blogs at:


Sandy Cody said...

I love both the look and content of this blog. Thanks, Ellis, for giving me a chance to be a part of it.

Polly Iyer said...

Very interesting post, Sandra. Playing devil's advocate, many brilliant people never really succeed in life because doing so would mean they have to work too hard, and they're not used to that. I'll take the plugger--the one who gives it his best, no matter what. The best we as writers of genre fiction can do is to learn our craft and write a good story that entertains. Also, genius, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder, or in our case the reader. I'm sure not everyone thought Faulkner was a genius.

Sandy Cody said...

Interesting point, Polly. I know a lot of people think Faulkner was just an old windbag, but I find his characters so interesting that I'm willing to wade the verbiage. Agree about the pluggers too. All we can do is try to find the right words.

Ellis Vidler said...

Excellent post, Sandy.

To me, Faulkner's characters and insight into human nature were amazing. He could be wordy, but I find styles change drastically and we're now in a much leaner, meaner period. I wonder if it's our lifestyles, that we're so much busier and have less time to spend several evenings with one book.

I'm never going to reach any lofty levels, but I hope to tell a good story. All we can do is our best, and I'm so glad many people do. Think what few choices we'd have if only the geniuses felt qualified to write.

Gina Ardito said...

What interesting insight, Sandra. I suppose even true geniuses have their off days. Love and Not Destroy is a great book and the town surrounding the story is as big a character as the protagonists. Everyone should grab their copy!

Sandy Cody said...

High praise, Gina. Thank you.

Beate Boeker said...

Every word you say is good sense, and it's so encouraging. It's hard to learn to accept that others are better in some areas, and it's even harder not to be discouraged. But you're right - genius or not, we do the best we can in our own way. I wouldn't rob my mother, either, in order to get to that position at the very top. ;-)

Sierra Donovan said...

Sandy, I love it. I think Hemingway's view is much more relatable and realistic! And I think we've all suffered from the feeling that we're "not enough." Thanks for the wise words!

Sandy Cody said...

I agree, Sierra. I don't think any of us know what our legacy will be. I doubt Paul, when he was writing all those letter, knew he was helping write the Bible.

Tessa McDermid said...

I've been reading some interesting books about our reality and how what we think about is what we bring about. The common idea is that we're much more than we think we are - we let our doubts and insecurities get in the way. Of course, that can all be very helpful when we're creating characters!

I remember once being told to write the best book possible at the time - that it's no use holding back any ideas because we'll have enough and more next time. I also agree that genius or talent or whatever we want to call it is no substitute for steady and hard work.

Thanks for the thoughts, Sandy!

Sandy Cody said...

Thank you for that thoughtful comment, Tessa. It's so true that finding ideas is not a problem - something I didn't understand when I first started writing. Finding the words to shape those ideas into stories that both entertain and touch the heart - that's the challenge.