A Thing of Joy and Beauty

I love the moment when I’m reading and I forget to breathe. There is nothing like being so caught up in the beauty of the interior world that is being shared that I forget about the rest of my physical packaging.

While I speak often about things that I enjoy and don’t enjoy about stories, make no mistake that there are few things that bring me greater pleasure than a good book.

I still remember the first time I read “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T.S. Eliot and sucked in my breath with each consecutive image. The closing lines were:

 We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown              
Till human voices wake us, and we drown

I was twelve years old and I didn’t understand everything in the poem.

But when I put the book down and closed my eyes, I knew that I wanted to read stories that made me feel the way those lines made me feel.

It’s not just imagery of course that can pull the breath from my body. Characters that make me care, plot lines where the resolution is both brilliant and inevitable can hold me so close that I look up only to realize that the day around me has passed me by.

There are few stories that can maintain that kind of moment forever.

But those perfect, beautiful moments that create a world stronger than the one around me?

Those are the moments I read for.

My breath is precious.

A story that can steal it is valuable beyond words.

IMG_0993Some moments and images are perfect in themselves, whole and complete

I love reading. I love the imagery and stories that overwhelm me with their beauty.


I am always working towards creating perfect moments within my own writing. If you would like to see my attempts, my fantasy novel,  The Guests of Honor, is available here.

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The Extraordinary Ordinary

I am, I admit, less impressed by those who shock with flame-breathing unicorns than I am by those who shock with teaspoons.

One of the best parts of reading a good writer is their ability to turn the everyday, the mundane, into something extraordinary. It is that ability to take something that I know and turn into something new and strange that will hold in my head long after the story is completed.

I love reading stories that make me think in new ways about things I thought I knew.

The problem is that this is hard.

In order to offer a new perspective on something familiar, you have to have… a new perspective.

It is a lot easier to pull from the list of existing “shocking” images than it is to take a look at old things in new ways.

Not that I am not fond of fire-breathing unicorns, but there is something deeply unsettling about the idea that writers have to draw from the well of the over-the-top shock in order to create reader interest (I include cheap emotional shock in here as well as physical imagery).

There is room for both outsized imagery and more subtle interpretations.

I would just like a few more stories where the moment that makes me catch my breath involves the light reflecting off of a teaspoon and not off a unicorn-razed village.

IMG_1083Even a humble head of cabbage has unusual, and beautiful, angles

I am fascinated by what writers choose to affect their readers… and what they don’t.


My own imagery teeters between the outlandish and the small. If you’d like to see some of it, my fantasy novel,  The Guests of Honor, is available here.

 

The World on Their Shoulders

Perfection is a hard life to sell. Especially in literature.

You think I’m joking.

Think about it though. If the main character of a story is the strongest, most powerful being in the universe that everyone loves (and the ones that don’t love them are so irredeemably awful that it doesn’t matter) and they can do anything they want, at anytime they want-

Wouldn’t the easiest description for that be “boring”?

Ignoring the other problem that conflict requires some real risk in order to be conflict, the cold, dirty truth is that we love an underdog.

We see this in all walks of life, not just in literature, but there is something intrinsically satisfying about the relatively powerless facing and fighting the relatively powerful.

(In part, because we often see ourselves as not very powerful and it is so much easier to relate to someone who feels the same way.)

Writers recognize this.

Writers turn themselves into pretzels to try and convey this feeling, even when the characters involved make it a completely ludicrous proposition.

There are a variety of ways to convey the nature of the underdog. Physical, magical, mental, and emotional weaknesses are often used to create a bond between the reader and the character they are carefully following. There are, of course, excellent exceptions to this rule, but an enduring trope in most genres is that the hero starts less powerful than what they fight and works their way towards being able to overcome overwhelming odds.

The problem is that in order to maintain this convenient stance of less powerful versus more powerful, sometimes the readers are asked to suspend all sense of logical connection. If the hero can carry the world in one hand whilst romancing the rest of the universe with the other, it becomes more and more difficult to believe that the cardboard caricatures that they are fighting can really stand up to the Force of Awesomeness. We won’t even get into the ridiculous power creep that happens in many long-running Fantasy series, because what fascinates me the most out of those situations is the desire to still paint the main character as the underdog.

Why?

While I see the fascination of a plucky David, or a completely confused Alice in Wonderland, why not embrace the character’s power and explore the problems that arise from it?

If the main character insists on being the most powerful being in the universe with a bevy of love-lorn followers, perhaps it might be interesting to see what conflicts arise from that position.

The world is a heavy burden to carry and I would love to explore the costs and consequences of that weight.

Just don’t try to tell me that the character with the rock is a superior force to the character wielding a planet on their shoulders.

 IMG_1046As lovely a place as the world might be, I have zero desire to bear its weight

I like to look at power and our complicated love and hate of the way it manifests in writing.


My own underdog is more Alice than David. If you’d like to see that for yourself, my fantasy novel,  The Guests of Honor, is available here.

 

A Long, Strange Trip

There are stories that I read that make me feel as if I have accidentally taken a right turn into the Land of Purple Elephants and Nonsensical Non-Sequiturs.

Then I realize that I am holding the book upside down.

Metaphorically.

(Also, sometimes literally, but I like to pretend that doesn’t happen.)

While there are a number of stories written just to be series of hugely imaginative, strung-together pieces of unusual imagery, I think that a lot of the time we may not be reading these stories from the same frame of reference.

I think that with many genres, we get used to a certain pathway through the events of the story. The events themselves may change, but the general pathway and the type of character interaction remains very similar. Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey” is a type often associated with epic storytelling, but many genres have even more narrowly defined and specific sequences.

Most of the time I like this.

When I pick up a story in specific sub-genres, I know exactly what I am getting into and what I can expect out of my reading. As a consumer, I know what I want for these and I am happy to get what I am paying for.

The problem lies in the more general genre categories such as “Fantasy” or “Science Fiction”. Pushing the boundaries of these categories can be very rewarding for the reader, but it can also mean that the frame of reference for how we are looking at the story is wrong. If I come into a Fantasy story and expect an epic, sword-wielding journey and I am faced with the existential crisis of a man slowly turning into an insect, I may feel like I have just been whacked about the head.

The thing is, a lot of Fantasy writing in particular relies on roots in a very specific set of traditional stories and assumptions about how a fantastical world will work. When fantasy that is rooted in other stories or other assumptions is produced, it may leave the reader feeling as if they are reading the book upside down.

I see a lot of these changing structures in the deeper understanding that the internet has provided of multicultural myths and folktales. Someone who has run into these other types of stories and structures is less surprised by Fantasy pulling from non-fairytale sources. However, those who have largely read and enjoyed Arthurian fantasy may find stories rooted in Shinto ethics a little confusing and bewildering.

I hope that we see more boundary-pushing, more stories that aren’t rooted in the same assumptions and fundamentals.

Because sometimes a purple elephant isn’t a nonsensical non-sequitur.

Because sometimes it isn’t the book that is upside down, but our own perspectives.

IMG_1100Hallucinations don’t last nearly as long as a good book

I like both the familiar and the unfamiliar as a reader. Reading has given me worlds that I could never imagine and gifts that I could never imagine living without.


If you’d like to see my own attempts at perspective shifts, my fantasy novel,  The Guests of Honor, is available here.

The Furniture of Words

Writing is a tool, not an outcome.

Sometimes when I read, I am forced to remind myself of this somewhere in the back of my head.

There are stories that are pieces of technical perfection, polished to a fine gleam, in perfectly ordered sequence.

They are also as lifeless as the fine pieces of wooden furniture they most seem to emulate.

What shows up on the page is not the destination when we read, it is the vehicle. Words shouldn’t start and end with what we see but should instead transport us into our own imagination, our own sets of realities.

If someone is trying to tell a story, then the words should be there to tell us a story, not to make us marvel at the way they beautifully reflect the light… and make us lose the thread of what they are actually trying to say.

It is not that beautiful words and beautiful writing do not have their place, but their place should be in service to what they are trying to say rather than the other way around.

Ultimately, in a story, the words are both the scaffolding and the furniture in the room where the story takes place. They provide support and the vague shape and sense of what the room contains, but ultimately it is what the inhabitants of the room do that will create the story that fills the room.

If there is too much furniture, too many finally polished works filling every nook and cranny, the story will keep tripping over itself trying to get anywhere.

The story will never be able to take off and find its own pathway.

The difference between a mechanical telling and a story that lives is difficult to see or explain, since it is often something that we instinctively know and recognize.

I like to think of a living story as what comes up between the spaces we leave in our writing.

If we are lucky, life finds the cracks between the words.

If we are very lucky, our words allow life to bloom, rather than sitting as a still collection of polished furniture.

IMG_1087The chair is not the living part of this picture.

Stories that live and breathe have always drawn me in and held their own rooms within my head.


If you would like to see my own attempt at word cultivation, my fantasy novel,  The Guests of Honor, is available here.