Ever so often a professional writer will open
the blinds on the creative process and unveils what lies behind the writing of a
book. Peter Straub’s wonderful new book Sides has several essays which uncloak the mystery of the writing
process. Straub has won multiple awards for his fiction that includes horror,
science fiction, fantasy, and mainstream fiction.
He also has
collaborated on two books with Stephen King, and that professional relationship
has given him considerable insight into why King’s books have commanded such a
huge readership. It is not so much their “accessibility” but their “immediacy”
that underlies their success. Along with what Straub suggests is “this voice is
one of King’s most potent inventions. And I share his view over the issue of
free will versus determinism. “King understood that subject matter selects the
writer instead of the other way around.” This has the definite ring of truth.
Also Straub’s essay to a Lawrence Block novel titled Hope to Die
is a brilliant examination of the history to the Matthew Scudder series as well
as to the private eye genre. He revisits the divide between the Chandler school
of writing with the flare guns and roman candles illuminating every passage, and
the Dashiell Hammett school which prefers a flashlight dancing off the walls of
a dark alley. He puts Block in the flashlight corp of private eye writers, dry,
cool, and detached but nonetheless delivering an emotional punch in the kidneys
along the way.
There are thoughtful passages about two of my favourite
Block novels: Eight Million Ways to Die, A Dance at the Slaughterhouse
and When the Sacred Ginmill Closes. Blocks later novels descend into the
basement where violence is the norm, and the scars it leaves on those who visit
in that place are everlasting, real, and horrible.
There are other
introductions and afterwords to books such as The Stepford Wives and Tales of
Pain and Wonder.
In reading this deceptively small book, you can’t
help but wonder how Peter Straub decided to give away so many secrets into the
writing process. But as someone who writes for a living, I am glad to have been
the beneficiary of his wisdom.