Sunday, May 23, 2010


By Earl Staggs

I know that’s a harsh thing to say and you may wonder why I’m saying it.

I’ll get to that in a minute.

First, let me tell you how I reached this feeling about him.

It began when someone offered me a copy of THE GATES OF THE ALAMO, a novel by Stephen Harrrigan, published in hardcover by Alfred A Knopf in 2000 and in paperback by Penguin in 2001. According to the cover, it was a NY Times Bestseller. I’m a bit of a history buff and now that I’m living in Texas, the story of the Alamo is of particular interest. It’s a long book, 732 pages.

Before I begin reading a book, I read the cover front and back, as well as the acknowledgments page and any introduction provided. I learned this book combined heavily researched fact with fiction to look beyond the legends and give the true story. Good. I always like to know the real truth behind legends.

Did you know, for example, in those days, the Alamo was known as Mission Valero and the town was called Bexar, not San Antonio. Travis did not draw a line in the sand as the popular legend goes and ask those who wanted to stay and fight to step over. Also, Davy Crockett was a respected celebrity among the other Alamo defenders and wore an expensive dress suit more appropriate for a former Congressman rather than the deerskin and coonskin hat as we usually envision him. Of particular interest to me was learning that Crockett sneaked out of the fort before the final attack. . .but returned a few days later with reinforcements.

Anyway, the book develops a lot of characters on both sides of the battle in building up to the fall of the Alamo. I happened to be most interested in the events inside the Alamo during the siege and skimmed over a lot of that.

In skimming, however, many phrases and sentences leapt out at me. Here are some of them:

“. . .led across a flat coastal plain graced by an occasional rise of land no higher than an ocean wave.”

“. . .a one-story building of shell concrete whose exterior was crumbling like a stale cake.”

“. . .the dangerous state of the country figured in her imagination as a stalled hurricane, a dark cloud gathering momentum for its first capricious surge.”

“. . .the water had a slumbering calm.”

“. . .went to her bed as weary as she could ever remember being, and as she went to sleep, her body felt like a stone falling through the deep waters of a lake.”

“. . .people going about their errands as if the day were spread out before them like a gift.”

“. . .watched him pass through the open doorway of the church. In the deepening shadows of this winter evening that arched opening looked like a human mouth in a frozen expression of anguish."

As you can see, Mr. Harrigan has an amazing ability to create vivid and striking imagery, not with flowery words, but in simple ones easily within reach and understanding. As hard as I try, I find it extremely difficult to write descriptions that are anywhere near as keen and smooth as his.

I’m sure you can understand now why I feel as I do about this highly skilled author. He’s too good. I’d give anything to achieve his level.

But rather than admit to pure, unadulterated envy, I say it this way: I hate him.

Don’t you?


Kevin R. Tipple said...

Not at all. I am not impressed. These quotes seem excessively wordy to me (he isn't good at it like James Lee Burke)and would clearly violate your write tight criteria.

At this rate, you might decide to ACTUALLY see a movie before panning it. (Sherlock Holmes)

Who are you and what did you do with Earl?

Caroline Clemmons said...

You have no reason to envy this writer. Your writing is exceptional and I always enjoy reading your work. Your characterizations are especially good. So, pat yourself on the back.

Mark Troy said...

Don't hate him, steal from him.

Mark Troy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Earl Staggs said...

Geez, Kevin, give me a break on the Sherlock Holmes thing. I didn't pan the film. I objected to their changing the Holmes character from the one I was used to. To each our own druthers.

Carolyn, thanks a ton for the wonderful compliment.

Mark, good idea. I probably will steal from him. I liked his use of simple words and images. When writers get all literary and poetic in their descriptions, I'm drawn out of the story. If I want literary and poetic, I'll read poetry.

Kevin R. Tipple said...

If it reads like a pan......

Caroline Clemmons said...

Earl, I agree with you on the Sherlock Holmes movie. It was a good movie, but it shouldn't have been titled Sherlock Holmes. If they were going to use Doyle's characters, they should have remained faithful to his style. Why not just make the movie and title it Robert Downey's Adventures in London? Or give it a good title and say "in the tradition of Sherlock Holmes" in the advertising? I hate when movie makers change classic works because they think they can improve on them--like the Demi Moore version of The Scarlet Letter. The movie turned the villain into the hero. Give me a break!

Kevin R. Tipple said...

But, they were faithful to his style.

Earl Staggs said...

Carolyn, I'm glad you agrees with me. Someday, I may see the movie and, since I love action films, I might enjoy it -- if I can get past the name thing.

Sylvia Dickey Smith said...

Earl, you're one of the writers I hate--and steal from! Great blog. I enjoyed reading it! You have such a way with words--you should take up writing mystery books! I have a title you might try--how about Tall Chambers!

Earl Staggs said...

Thanks for saying you hate me, Sylvia. That's a great compliment.

As for your Tall Chambers suggestion, I'm afraid someone is almost finished writing that one already. In fact, I have it on good authority he revised a chapter today and will send it for critique tomorrow.

I wish him great success with it. It's a great character name.

And incidentally, I hate you too.

Kaye Barley said...

Earl - you have no reason in the world to hate this guy. Shoot, honey - you write every bit as well as anyone out there. And this Tall Chambers, guy?! Hurry it up, please! (yep, it is a GREAT character name!).

Morgan Mandel said...

Description is my weak point, so if I read that guy's book, I'd probably hate him too!

Morgan Mandel