...if you'll indulge me.
This will be focused not on prose, necessarily, but on the blending of words, inspired by a lyric I can't stop thinking about.
But first, a digression:
At Christmas last year, my wife gave me a lot of stuff for my home office, knowing I would be starting a new job early in the new year. Chief among these gifts was a turntable, which has gone on to spur some prodigious purchasing of vinyl. Old stuff, mostly, but some new, too. One of the latter is the latest from Ben Folds, titled What Matters Most. I love this album. Love. It. And no song holds my adoration more than the last one of Side A, called "Kristine From the 7th Grade."
The song—about ending up on the mailing list of a QAnon-style conspiracy theorist the narrator remembers with fondness from long ago—has all the wonderful Folds touches that I've admired for almost half my life: melancholia and tenderness and empathy and yearning. It also has a sentence construction that just enchants me:
I got the emails these last two years, every day...
There's something about the order of things here that gives me the same spinal tingle I experience when I read a moving passage of prose, or hear a line delivered just so on film, or what have you. A journalist might be inclined to rearrange the boxcars into a more orderly procession: I got the emails every day for the last two years. But to my way of thinking, the magic goes right out of it if you do that. The point here is every day. It's the punctuation. The two years might have been endured if not for the every day. Paired with Folds' inimitable ability to tap into the emotion of what he's singing, the whole effect is purely and sadly beautiful.
Now, I don't know enough about songwriting to say with any authority what Ben Folds was aiming for here. Any number of factors could have influenced his decision about ordering the words. All I know is the feeling his choices, arranged this way, draw out of me.
When my wife and I got together, we talked a lot about writing, which shouldn't surprise anyone. But as we dug into craft and habit and the rest, we also talked about what we admire in each other. I'll always be moved by her telling me that I arrange things in surprising patterns, with combinations and riffs that it wouldn't occur to her to try. (And why should she? Elisa is already a great writer.)
I can't say I do so with any sort of overarching plan: By God, even if it kills me, I'm going to arrange these words in surprising patterns. But I do listen to the beats and consider the light and color of what I'm writing as much as I do what the words actually mean. It makes a difference. At least to me.
It's Saturday, October 7, and I'd much obliged if you'd hold a thought for the authors who have descended on Billings, Montana, this weekend. It was nearly a year ago to the day that I white-knuckled it through panel discussions and a lovely banquet, waiting to find out if And It Will Be a Beautiful Life had won the High Plains Book Award for fiction.
It had, which still fills me with wonder and gratitude.
A year has gone by, and 37 more books—spanning 13 categories—by some really terrific authors are up for consideration. In a short period, the High Plains awards have become among the most sought-after regional literary prizes in the country. It's quite an event and quite an honor.
Please send your best wishes to everyone who made it this far.
Craig Lancaster is an author, an editor, a publication designer, a layabout, a largely frustrated Dallas Mavericks fan, an eater of breakfast, a dreamer of dreams, a husband, a brother, a son, an uncle. And most of all, a man who values a T-shirt.