Past Present, Perfect Tense by Richard Peck
Okay, so everyone in my writing group knows that I am hopelessly in love with this grand old man, so they know that I believe that he basically cannot, in the last ten years, anyway, write a dud. Now I’m sure of it.
This is a book of short stories which has introductions and writerly ruminations about the art. Peck has some of his brilliant and witty sayings here, such as, “Nobody but a reader ever became a writer,” and “You have to read a thousand stories before you can write one;” and “The only writing is rewriting, and I write each of my…stories six times because I can’t get them well-wrapped in the first five tries.” His tone is his usual precise crankiness, but it’s so loving and non-condescending that you truly believe that you, too, can write.
This is supposed to be a book for middle grade – to young adult kids, but I found it to be a valuable read for adults-masquerading-as-writers,too, and mean to make it a part of my home library. Peck’s stories are funny and strange, deal with the supernatural, bullies, girls and guys, and are just amazing. Each of the thirteen shorts are preceded with a paragraph about them, and we see some of the plots of his early and later works in these short stories. At the end of the book he has what he calls “Five Helpful Hints,” which tell it like it is, in his usual straightforward way. We would all do well to take a gander through the pages of his insights, because he really has gold in here for writers, not only teen writers, either.
The River Between Us, by Richard Peck
Normally I loathe Civil War stories, because historical fiction writers at times take some horrific forays into the fiction and leave out history altogether; there are simply too many tales of the vapors and Southern women’s beautiful and fragile strength, but this story about Southern women is a truer tale, and is both a newer direction, and an old direction for Richard Peck, whose historical fiction in his later years are gaining him an impressive award-winning body of work.
The story opens in 1916, with the voice of fifteen year old Howard Hutchings, on a driving trip with his father to visit his father’s family, and then flashes back for the lion’s share of the book to another fifteen year old, Howard’s grandmother, Tilly Pruitt.
Tilly is poor and plain, tough and resourceful – as she has been taught. Fragility has nothing to do with womanhood, to her. She rescues her injured brother from a Civil War field hospital, and nurses him back to health. She finds out that a woman whom she has befriended is not who she thought she was — but she survives it. And later, Howard survives finding out something else about his father, and himself. No spoilers here, you’ve got to READ IT to figure out what I’m getting at.
It’s not a lighthearted book — darned if the Civil War was not an amusing time — but there are moments of pure Peck mischief, including talk of corsets, and more. This is well worth picking up.