In Order to Write … One Must Read

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It’s hard to read the work of another writer without comparing it to one’s own. Being in Amazon’s KindleScout program has had the somewhat unexpected consequence of being joined, mainly via Facebook, with other writers whose novels have been published in the program.

One effect has been pride. We help one another. We read one another’s books. We share advice. As we get to know one another’s works, we gain some general insight into one another’s souls.

When I wrote about NASCAR, I often came across people who wanted to do what I do. In some sense, they wanted a way to get in the races free. They wanted a way to get to know the drivers. They wanted to see it more closely. The last thing most really wanted to do was write.

“Hey,” some guy behind the counter of a convenience store would say, “How do I get to do what you do?”

By Monte Dutton
By Monte Dutton

I developed a standard answer over the years.

“The best way to learn how to write,” I said, “is to read.”

Most of those NASCAR fans and writer wannabes looked as if I’d recommended they climb Mount Everest.

“Aw, man,” they might say, or I might imagine it from their expressions. “To write, you mean to tell me you gotta read?”

“Yeah, bub. You do.”

But I digress.

These KindleScout novels are really good. When I read them, I think, well, mine’s one of them. It must be really good, too.

What a rush.

Joseph Souza’s Unpaved Surfaces is a sorrowful whodunit about a family haunted by guilt at the mysterious loss of a defenseless, autistic son, Auggie Battle, who disappeared without a trace, and months of searching have failed to uncover where he went.

All the Battles are talented. Craig, the father, is a world-class chef now reduced to short-order cook. Claire is a writer unable to write. Frances (“Frenchy”) is unable to face college. Shippen is a troubled outcast. “Beanie,” the youngest, reacts the best, retreating into a private world of oneness with nature.

They all need closure. They all need redemption, salvation, even. Craig searches the woods near the site of Auggie’s disappearance, and there he occasionally finds the ghost of his son. Auggie’s ghost is as close to reality as anything any of them experiences. The entire family is perched on the precipice separating survival and despair.

Potential suspects — a perpetually enraged brat, a Finnish author, a teacher’s aide, a political opponent, an overly friendly neighbor — lurk nearby. All the Battles make false assumptions. They all sense that they must find the real one. They are all damaged. They are all damned.

In mysticism the solution lies. The reader knows what might be coming, but oft times the reality is what is unreliable.

By my modest standards, I raced through Unpaved Surfaces. I started reading it, in part, because its author has been very kind in his evaluation of Crazy of Natural Causes, my new novel. I read it deep into nights, though, because I craved its resolution as much as the family Souza concocted with the same verve as Craig with his meals.

A writer has to read.

What happens when a man comes apart? (Cover design by Jennifer Skutelsky)
What happens when a man comes apart?
(Cover design by Jennifer Skutelsky)

              Do yourself a favor and read Unpaved Surfaces. You can buy it here:

              My three novels — in reverse order, Crazy of Natural Causes, The Intangibles (2013), and The Audacity of Dope (2011) — are available, along with most of my NASCAR and other non-fiction works — here:


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