Saturday, August 22, 2015

The Master Executioner by Loren D. Estleman, 2001

There are many reasons why we return to an author we have read before. What compels me to read the same writer again is the writing itself. For this reason I read Anthony Trollope’s Autobiography twice. Even now I flip through the book and marvel at the lucidity of prose. George Bernard Shaw’s writing had a similar heady effect on me.

Several modern writers do that as well. Loren D. Estleman, author of detective and western fiction, is one. I was impressed by his narrative flair in Gun Man (1985) and Bloody Season (1987). It was simple and yet stylistic.

I have been meaning to read more by Estleman and an opportunity presented itself this evening, when I came across The Master Executioner on a book website. I read the synopsis and liked it instantly. He has written about a part of the Old West I'm not familiar with—hangman and hanging—a form of capital punishment that still prevails in countries like India.

Here is what the American Library Association had to say about the book:

“Oscar Stone accepts a temporary position building a gallows in Topeka, Kansas, where he meets Fabian Timothy Rudd, a hangman of some repute. Rudd is impressed with Stone's carpentry skills and pride in his work and so takes on the role of mentor as Stone becomes a kind of apprentice hangman. But no one loves a hangman, including his wife, who can't live with her young husband's career choice. Stone travels through the West with Rudd from execution to execution, drinking to dull the isolation and refining his skills. Miscalculations can lead to strangulation or worse: a beheading. Decades pass, and Stone has a final meeting with the wife who left him and learns a terrible truth. Estleman has created an unforgettable character in Stone. Swept up by circumstance and an unwanted gift for dispensing death, he's unable to break away from his life's fated path despite the loss of all he holds close. A dark, compelling journey into a previously unexplored facet of the Old West.”

I downloaded the 272-page Kindle edition for Rs.64 ($0.91) and plan to read it next month. It has a nice biographical sketch of the author and this opening line—“It occurred to Anders Nilsen that if it weren't for having to wait at the train station he would be quite contented to remain both a deputy sheriff and a Methodist.”

On the face of it, the opening sounds innocuous but it was enough to make me curious. I want to read further and see where Estleman is taking me. I'm sure he won’t disappoint.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Writing for public relations

“Writing good English must be one of the most difficult jobs in the world,” says the foreword to Effective Writing Skills for Public Relations by John Foster, a journalist and public relations veteran. This is one of two books on public relations I'm reading. The other is Public Relations Writing: Form & Style by Doug Newsom and Jim Haynes. Both are university professors with experience in PR industry.

This is outside my comfort zone though I'm not unfamiliar with reference and how-to books. I'm reading these books as a self-motivating exercise, to learn how to write clearly, cleverly, and effectively for clients of the public relations firm I now work for.

Three decades of serious news writing is no qualification for a wannabe PR writer. It’s a new ballgame and I'm a rookie who has just stepped on the field to play my first game. I'm going 
to have plenty of misses before I hit anything. While journalistic writing can teach you to write good English, it doesn’t necessarily prepare you to write good public relations copy. It merely puts you on the other side of the Media-PR fence, where I find myself today.

In spite of my initial apprehension and writer’s block, I'm keen to acquire new writing skills that will eventually help me in my other writing cause. I'm hoping my experience in both styles of writing and editing will push me along the way.

Writing is not just difficult, it can be a real struggle. Sometimes the thoughts, words, and lines are all there in my head, but they refuse to come out and leave their narrative impressions on paper, denying me the chance to tell my story. It’s frustrating when you lose the plot. Fortunately, writing gives you plenty of opportunity and room to improve. It is this exciting and word-splitting challenge that makes you want to keep writing.