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Mike Mehalek writes fast-paced lyrical books that can be enjoyed with one reading but have enough substance for re-reading. He brings stories to life that demand to be told, regardless of the hopes/dreams/fears/desires of his characters--the Story first--always the Story.

In 2008 Mike earned his masters degree in writing popular fiction from Seton Hill University

Visit Mike on twitter @mikemehalek

Monday, November 29, 2010

Atypical Book Review: The Star Rover, Jack London AND how it teaches writing style

I read "a lot" this year--more than I usually can read in a year.  Last fall, I sold my car and started taking public transportation to work, and I've found that sometimes the thing I look forward to most after a long day in the office is the commute home.

And it's certainly given me some insights as to who I am as a writer and my writing style.  So for the first book, I thought to review here, I've picked The Star Rover written by Jack London and published in 1915, which taught me that writing style is more than word choice.

The Star Rover is perhaps one of the least known, "out-of-character" books by Jack London.  It's not something you'd expect to see from the person who wrote White Fang and Call of the Wild, at least on the surface.  It is a story of a university professor on death row for murder, who finds himself in a state of solitary confinement, bound in something similar to what we'd consider a straitjacket.  To escape the confines, he trains his mind to convince his body that it is dead, and as a result, his mind is able to leave his body and travel into his past lives.  These previous lives are framed together through the prison story.

The writing itself felt dense, and it took me the better part of a month to get through it.  The writing style seemed to be much more complicated than the directness of the other works I read by him ("To Build a Fire" comes to mind).  Despite the denseness, the writing itself was beautiful.  London was able to create well developed worlds in a tight space, and was able to keep me wondering where he was leading me.

Despite the different feel to sentence structure and introducing the element of astral projection, The Star Rover felt like Jack London.  Each tale, including the main story--the prison story--is filled with adventure, suspense, hope, despair, and ultimately death--all elements you find in London's other works...and this intrigued me...

It intrigued me because, until I read The Star Rover, my interpretation of style was more closely defined by the arrangement of words an author chooses.  e.e. cummuings plays around with capitalization, Cormac McCarthy does not use quotation marks for dialogue or an apostrophe for words like "don't."  What The Star Rover taught me as an "early in his career writer" is that style is also determined not only by words but also by the big picture, those global, recurring themes, that an author chooses to explore in writing.

Take Stephen King, for example--most people consider him a horror writer, but the most of his stories--and all of the ones that resonate with me and stay with me long after I finish--explore the concept of love.

In summation, as a writer, we have a style--and getting to learn that style is part of the fun of writing.  When looking for your own style, don't be locked into thinking "my audience expects me to write a certain way."  Tell the story, but remember to be true to it.  Something about it has captured your interest, and it's most likely one of those global themes and your perception of those themes, that makes it your style, that makes it your.

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