Thursday, January 19, 2012

"I felt a cleavage in my mind..."

By Jeannie Holmes

There are many types of authors. Yes, you could say there are three main categories: fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. But, this is an oversimplification of the greatest magnitude. There are dozens of forms within each of these broader categories--thrillers, mystery, literary, memoir, biographers, ekphrastic poetry, limericks, etc. So when I was asked to fill-in for Kelli and take on the question of Which author would you most want to take a master class from? I not only had a lot of thinking to do regarding the author but also the form.

Now some of you may recall from my previous time here among the Criminal Minds that I write a lot of dark fantasy. Naturally I considered naming authors such as Edgar Allan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, Shirley Jackson, Anne Rice, and Stephen King as my master class instructor of choice, but these are a little too obvious, don't you think? While I greatly admire each of them, I wanted to select an author whose writing is both celebrated and misunderstood and who wouldn't necessarily be considered for a mention on a blog full of genre fiction writers.

The author I would most desire to see seated at the head of a master class is Emily Dickinson. Yes, I, a humble fiction writer, would like to learn from a master of poetry. I've enjoyed reading Dickinson's work for years and as I stated earlier, her work is often misunderstood. Yes, it's filled with curious and dark imagery, such as the poem in which she seemingly shares a ride with Death, but it's also filled with intelligence and a biting wit. Her poetic forms may appear simplistic at first glance, but her command of the English language and willingness to create her own words when others fail show a level of mastery that few (in my opinion) have matched since her untimely death in 1886.

Dickinson expressed complex and complicated emotions and thoughts with an economy of words. Since we're all in the words business, I suggest that fiction writers would do well to study more poetry, to increase their vocabulary, and stretch the reader's mind. We taut Hemingway and Faulkner for their mastery of both beautiful language and the art of storytelling, but poetry can do the same and with fewer words. (Just for the record, I'd like to mention to that I'm not a fan of either Hemingway or Faulkner. Shameful blasphemy, I know, but it's the truth.) There is nothing wrong with adding a little poetic flair to your fiction. I'm not condoning the use of purple prose, but just a little poetic flourish here and there could lend an already interesting tale a vibrancy that others in the same genre lack. Who says genre fiction can't contain truly beautiful writing?

In closing, I'd like to offer one of my personal favorites from The Collected Poems of Emily Dickinson and ask you, dear reader, to truly consider the writing and the story behind it.

It sounded as if the streets were running,
And then the streets stood still.
Eclipse was all we could see at the window,
And awe was all we could feel.

By and by the boldest stole out of his covert,
To see if time was there.
Nature was in her beryl apron,
Mixing fresher air.

- Emily Dickinson

Jeannie Holmes is the author of the Alexandra Sabian series and fears spiders, large bodies of water, and bad weather. She moved from the backwoods of southwestern Mississippi to the Alabama Gulf Coast where she now lives with her husband and four neurotic cats. For more information, visit


Redsequin said...

Really interesting post. I definitely agree that the study of poetry can help improve prose.

Meredith Cole said...

I agree Jeanne! Poets have a lot to teach us. And I haven't been at all surprised to find out that some writers I enjoy reading started their careers as poets... Reed Farrel Coleman is a great example of this.

Rebecca Cantrell said...

Lovely post, Jeannie! Thanks again for coming back to 7crims, even if only for a day.

I love Emily Dickinson too, so if you get her signed up as an instructor, can I crash the party?