I admire craft.

A lot of books you and I have read are just not very good, and often the failure can be chalked up to the writer having failed to master the craft of writing.

So when we read a good one, we say, wow, this story sings . . . it’s a real page turner . . . I wish I could write like this, she/he makes it look so easy.

Gerry Spence is a master of our craft of writing. When he describes a character, whether fictional or real, that person comes alive right there. Here’s an example from Spence’s autobiography, The Making of a Country Lawyer . . . his grandfather on his mother’s side of the family –

The Pfleegers were strong, square-made people: Grandfather with that broad, powerful chest and strong arms and large square head and dark hair with a bald spot in the back. . . . He talked to people as if they were a couple blocks away instead of standing next to him. Even his pats hurt. His hands were so hard he could rasp with them, every one of his fingers had been broken and had healed crookedly, and their tips, covered with fingernails as thick as shoe leather, pointed in every which way.

. . . Grandpa lifted our large tin suitcase with one hand and flung it into the trunk of his old black Buick. Then, aiming the car down the yellow center line of the road, he drove the old wreck back to the farm with his oldest daughter, Esther Sophie Pfleeger, and his only grandchild, this boy, Gerald Leonard Spence, who bore his given name as a middle name, aboard. The highway, yes, the whole world belonged to Leonard Pfleeger. When he met a car, only reluctantly and at the last moment did he pull over to his side of the road.

“Why don’t you drive on your own side?” this plucky daughter of his demanded.

“I know how to drive the car,” he answered in his heavy German accent. “I don’t need no help from you.” He spoke in a way that there would be no discussion about it. He would not brook such questions. All creatures, man or beast, got out of his way. He was not in awe of preachers; he had no insurance, because the devil himself was afraid of Grandpa Pfleeger. He had no respect for bankers, and he wasn’t afraid of the Depression. He wasn’t even afraid of God.

You can see the old man and hear him. That dryland German farmer out by Limon, Colorado, is as alive in Spence’s book as the man was when he worked his farm three-quarters of a century ago.

Tomorrow: A series that never moves on

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