My First Time is a regular feature in which writers talk about virgin experiences in their writing and publishing careers, ranging from their first rejection to the moment of holding their first published book in their hands. Today's guest is Jefferson Bass, New York Times best-selling author whose seventh novel, The Inquisitor's Key, has just been released. Jon Jefferson, the “writer” half of the pseudonymous Jefferson Bass, is a veteran journalist, science writer, and documentary filmmaker. His journalism credits include work for The New York Times, National Public Radio, Newsweek, and USA Today. Jefferson learned the art of combining scientific material with compelling human stories during a decade as a science writer at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. In the 1990s he began writing and producing television documentaries, mainly for the History Channel and the Arts and Entertainment network. His collaboration with Dr. Bill Bass began in 2001, when Jefferson wrote and produced two National Geographic documentaries about the Body Farm—films that earned high rating around the world. For more, visit the authors’ website, find them on Facebook, and follow on Twitter.
My First Rhyme
I might be the only murder-mystery writer who gives primary credit (or chief blame) to Dr. Seuss, but there—I’ve said it, and I feel better, even if Theodore Geisel is turning over in his proverbial grave.
But most of all, I loved the words. The wordy words. The sturdy words. The nerdy and absurdy words. There was something simultaneously silly and sacred—giddy and incantatory—in those lines of rhyme, the words looping and repeating and reverberating like litany. Consider this thoroughgoing rejection of green eggs and ham:
I do not like them in a box.Years later, I came across another writer who loved litany as much as Dr. Seuss did. He wrote:
I do not like them with a fox
I do not like them in a house
I do not like them with a mouse
I do not like them here or there
I do not like them anywhere.
I do not like green eggs and ham.
I do not like them, Sam-I-am.
To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:“Incremental repetition,” one of my college poetry classes taught me to call this. By whatever name—doggerel or scripture, chant or incremental repetition—I loved it as a kid, and I love it still. I sometimes do battle with copy editors, who tend to regard repetition as one of the seven deadly sins. Often they’re right: often it’s unintentional and sloppy. But sometimes—sometimes—it’s inspired.
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing.
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.
Thank God some hidebound, ruthlessly efficient copy editor didn’t strike the repetition from the Book of Ecclesiastes. Or from Green Eggs and Ham.