Tuesday, February 19, 2013

A Writers' Reading Club

 Last year, a writing friend and I began a reading club. Okay, it wasn’t that organized, it was more of a “Hey, let’s try reading the same books at the same time and discussing them by email.”

We’ve been reading a variety of books. We started with Ethan Frome, and we discussed the use of setting to create mood, the narrative frame structure (how Wharton convinces the reader to suspend disbelief—the narrator imagines what happened between characters, yet we believe it’s the truth), etc.

One of the interesting things about reading with another writer is getting into the nitty-gritty of what works for us, what doesn’t, and why. For example, we’re reading The Historian. We are both well into the book (150+ pages), and neither of us has bonded much with the narrator, who I believe will be the main character eventually. And we both have some issues with the structure of the plot. But we’re both compelled to keep going. We have to find out what’s going to happen. And we both think it’s because the author has done a masterful job of creating tension by understatement. Like a burlesque dancer, Kostova shows you just a sneak peak. In this case, it’s a sneak peak of evil. Or to use another metaphor, she leaves you a trail of breadcrumbs through the forest. And who can resist following?

Another aspect of reading together is the stuff we disagree on. For example, I feel like there’s a tremendous sense of doom hanging over the main character, but my friend doesn’t feel that. So, I’ve been thinking about it. What textual reasons do I have for feeling that? I think there are a few. But I also suspect that I’m bringing this foreboding with me to the novel. That these are my hopes, which is interesting to think about in terms of the “writer-reader contract” and whether it’s valid for me to do it.

In spite of thoughts about literary theory, reading together has been popcorn-eating good fun. And I think/hope that we’re growing as writers and readers. Next up on our TBR list is The Weight of Water.

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Photo by David Flanders, courtesy of Wikimedia

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Romance and Action

Because Valentine’s Day is coming up, I’ve been thinking about movies (and books) that have been popular with men and woman and boys and girls. Not that my husband or boys won’t watch the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice, but let’s just say that it’s not high on their to-watch list. They’d much rather watch Black Hawk Down, Hamlet or one of the Batman movies.

And although there aren’t a lot of books and movies we all like, there are some. For example, the Bourne movies, Harry Potter series, Alfred Hitchcock movies, the Hunger Games novels, and Lord of the Rings. While they are all very dissimilar, the commonality between them is a balance of action and romance. Amidst all the action (Jason Bourne finding his life, Harry learning to be a wizard, Cary Grant nearly getting thrown off Mount Rushmore, Katniss trying to survive, and Aragorn winning his throne), there is a backdrop of love and romance. Jason falls in love with a kind-hearted woman trying to find her purpose in life, Harry falls for Ginny, Cary falls for the gangster’s moll who works as a spy, Katniss tries to choose between Gale and Peeta, and Aragorn longs for Arawen.

What about you readers? Besides good writing/acting, do you think a balance of action and romance helps make a movie/book popular with both sexes? And what recommendations do you have—let me know in the comments section. I’d love to get a list of book and movie recommendations from you.

Good news to share: I can finally report that I finished the first draft of book 3 last Friday! Today, I start editing. Yay!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Hidden Surprises

I had hoped that I’d be able to announce that I’d finished the first draft of book three today. But it’s not quite done. The first draft is longer than I anticipated because twists that I hadn’t planned came together at the end.

One of the twists involved a hiding place (don’t worry, I won’t give you any big spoilers). And I got to thinking about hiding places and how much I like them. Screwing Up Time had hidden passages and a secret document cache. I think the idea of finding something hidden appeals to everyone. Though maybe as adults it’s less so. Maybe we’ve become too jaded.

But I love how children still look for hidden things. In our living room we have a massive armoire. It’s an antique from France. In the middle it has a thick mirror backed with quicksilver (mercury). When children, especially young ones, walk into our house, it’s among the first things they notice. Because it’s an old mirror, it has much more dimensionality than modern mirrors. (And it’s very flattering too.) It really does look like you’re staring at your twin. Even older kids reach out to touch the mirror.

Then, they usually look at me. There’s wistfulness in their eyes and I know they’ve read The Chronicles of Narnia. I ask the child, “Would you like to look inside?” The child always nods his/her head. I warn them, “I wish it were a passage to Narnia. But it only holds linens—tablecloths, place mats, and bedding.” They nod, still hoping.

Finally, I open the door. They peer inside. I say, “Go ahead. You may touch the back and make sure it’s there.” And they do.

Part of me is always sad when they feel the wood at the back. But strangely, the kids are always thankful. They give me a smile and I feel for a moment as if we’ve shared a common hope—a wistful sense of literary intrusion in the real world.

The other day I decided that I’m going to get a fancy bowl and fill it with candy and put it in the back of the armoire. That way, there will be something for the children to discover after all. Not quite the same as Narnia, but a happy surprise anyway.

Here's a photo of the armoire I took this morning. It doesn't give you the best sense of its size, but I'm standing about  ten feet away from the armoire.