Author, Books, Characters, Writing

Writing to Be Someone Else

Recently, I’ve read several interviews with Anne Tyler. She’s been called an “invisible literary superstar” because of her habit of living a very private life in Baltimore and giving few interviews in past years. But for now, she’s gone public, promoting her latest novel, A Spool of Blue Thread.

spool_tylerA Spool of Blue Thread is her twentieth published novel. I’m reading it now, and I’ve read all nineteen others, most more than once. Anne Tyler has been my silent mentor in my own writing. I study the seeming simplicity of her prose becoming both inspired and intimidated.

She writes about human relationships, usually revolving around whole families. I write about human relationships too (note the motto of this blog) because … well, nothing is more interesting to me.

I’d like to share a quote from the first interview I read this month:

I began writing with the idea that I wanted to know what it would be like to be somebody else, and that’s never changed.

I can’t tell you how much I relate to those words. I’m happy to be me. I’ve not had a life free of trouble and care, but then few of us do. My life experiences have made me who I am, and that’s mostly a good thing. But life experiences are also limited by circumstance. Imagination is not.

Abundant imagination is one thing I was blessed with. I suspect most fiction writers would say the same. From childhood, not only have we delighted in our own make-believe, but we’ve enhanced that with a constant stream of books filled with the make-believe of others.

Of course we don’t read only fiction. We also read non-fiction to learn about people and places and events. We stuff our heads with facts which, of course, fuel our imaginations—and our curiosity. We question, we observe, we wonder.

We write.

In my novels, I’ve written to know what it would be like to be a middle-aged widow hiding from life; a young man desperately seeking self-identity; and a street-tough young woman afraid to believe she’s worthy of love. More recently, I’ve been writing to find out what it’s like to be a young wife caught between her heart’s desire and her sense of obligation to her abusive, addicted husband; a middle-aged man caught in a plan of revenge set in motion two centuries earlier; and a quirky young woman who rediscovers self-confidence by pretending to be someone else.

Who do you write to be?

Linda

Author, Voice, Writing

Author, author, speak to me!

I cried last night … twice. Reading the final chapters of Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns, did me in. The story was just that real to me. Throughout the book I experienced love and heartbreak, beauty and horror, fear and exultation because Hosseini is an excellent writer. And yet, not everyone agrees with me.

Engrossed reader.Have you ever experienced the shock of looking at the reviews of a book you loved and seeing that some readers hated it? Although more than 350,000 readers rated Hosseini’s book four or five stars at Goodreads, a shocking number gave it only one. Considering that the background of this novel is war-torn Afghanistan, I suppose some of those low ratings could be politically motivated. But what about the others?

I’ve loved all three of Hosseini’s novels. That’s not because I love reading stories set in Afghanistan or stories about the effects of war on people’s lives. So why is he one of my favorite authors? Why is Anne Tyler? Or Stephen King? Or Maeve Binchy?

Voice. It’s the author’s voice.

Often I open a novel that either a professional reviewer or a friend has assured me I’ll love, and I simply can’t read it. It’s not the subject, not the setting, not the quality of the writing that fails to excite me—it’s the author’s voice. That voice is not one I’m attuned to, which is neither my fault nor the author’s. And certainly, that alone is no cause for me to say it’s a terrible book.

The voices of the writers I prefer don’t all sound the same. I study them, copying whole pages by hand trying to understand what makes them sing for me. Word choice, syntax, tone, rhythm, etc. are all elements of writing style, but I think writers can have similar styles and yet the voice is different. There’s something more that defines voice. It’s an element lying below all the rest. Something that breathes life into the words. Something, I think, that can’t be learned.

Naturally, I wonder about my own writer’s voice. It’s still trying to struggle out of its chrysalis. I hope it’s on its way to being pure and honest and alive. Because then, someday, readers will count my voice among their favorites.

Linda

Author, Fiction, My Books, Novel, Promotion, Writing

The Next Big Thing

Author Christa Polkinhorn, tagged me to answer these questions about my work in progress. This author meme is called The Next Big Thing. Please read Christa’s responses about Emilia, her next big thing. At the end of  this post, you’ll see who I’ve tagged.

AIT_page_frontWhat is the working title of your next book? It’s titled An Illusion of Trust and is now available at Amazon in ebook and print.

Where did the idea come from for the book? It’s a sequel to my novel The Brevity of Roses. I ended that book with Jalal and Renee’s engagement, but that wasn’t the end of the story I’d written in my head. They were both troubled people, but I knew for certain Renee’s emotional damage would surface as she experienced the realities of marriage and parenthood, so I wrote An Illusion of Trust to tell that part of the story.

What genre does your book fall under? This is contemporary fiction. I suppose it will appeal mainly to women, but I hesitate to call it women’s fiction because that classification is often interpreted as romance or chick lit, which this is not. Maybe I could call it literary women’s fiction.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Though I do mentally cast certain actors as my characters, I decline to share my picks for the same reason I don’t dwell a lot on the physical descriptions of characters in my writing. Unless there’s a good reason to force my image on readers, I want them to visualize my characters as they like. I mention or allude to Renee’s petite stature and long hair several times, and I mention once (in this book) that she has gray eyes. In my head, she’s a more petite version of a certain actress.

Jalal was described in more detail in The Brevity of Roses because Meredith gave her poetic mind free reign as she observed him: “… it was hard to ignore this man with his beautiful skin, like fine tea-dyed silk, and hair, as black as any she had ever seen, curling down to his shoulders, and if he chanced to look up from the book he now read, she was certain his eyes would seem as deep and dark as temple pools on a moonless night.” He has a slight change of appearance in An Illusion of Trust, but even with this number of details I think readers could “cast” several different actors in his role.

If you’re familiar with my characters Renee and Jalal and pictured a celebrity as you read about them, please share. I’m curious to know if anyone sees who I see.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

This is the tag line: In this sequel to The Brevity of Roses, Renee Vaziri discovers that even when your dreams come true your nightmares remain.

Here’s a distillation from the back cover blurb, which is more a one-line synopsis: When Renee Marshall locked the door on her dark past and married Jalal Vaziri, she hoped for a quiet life, but as the stress of living in his society increases, the traumas of her past begin to poison the present and threaten to destroy everything she treasures.

 Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

This sequel will be another indie novel published under my imprint Two-Four-Six Publishing.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

That’s a difficult question for me to answer because I don’t write a typical first draft. I develop the story in my head and make written notes for several months to a year (or more) before I start to actually write a draft. And because I edit as I write, what I end up with is a step or two beyond the proverbial “shitty first draft”. Specifically, I wrote this “first draft” in two stages. I wrote for three months and then a health problem forced me to let it languish for a couple of months, during which indecision on what my next book should be cropped up and delayed me even more. When I picked up my WIP again, I finished in seven months, so I guess it took about ten months to write what I call a first draft.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre? I’m going to have to pass on this one. Most every novel I read is contemporary, but I’m not familiar with one I can compare to this story. My favorite author is Anne Tyler, so I’m sure her style has influenced mine.

Who or what inspired you to write this book? After I finished writing The Brevity of Roses, my characters refused to stop talking to me. In fact, as I was writing it, I kept thinking about what would happen to them past the point I planned to end the book. So while I was still editing Brevity, I started writing out scenes and snatches of dialogue that would, mostly, become part of An Illusion of Trust. An image that haunted me, from a scene that didn’t make it into Illusion, was the impetus for a particular element in this book.

What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

I don’t want you to leave you with the impression this story is relentless doom and gloom. As those who’ve read the first part of Jalal and Renee’s story already know, they indulge in a healthy dose of smartass humor. And marriage certainly hasn’t turned down the heat between them. 😉

~~~~~

Now, in a week or two, each of these fine authors will tell you about their next big thing. Visit their blogs today and subscribe, if you haven’t already, so you won’t miss learning about three more good books to watch for.

Natasha Alexander

Anne Gallagher

Jessica Luton

If you’d like to help me build a buzz for An Illusion of Trust, please click those cute little share buttons below.

elle

Author, Books, Fiction

What does this say about me?

Three weeks ago, the lovely author Darlene Foster tagged me to receive The Booker Award. The rules of this award say I’m to list five of my favorite books and then pass the award on to five other people. At first I read that as my five favorite books, which seemed an impossible job, but then I saw that little word “of”. I can do that.

Since then, I’ve paused at my book shelves many times trying to make choices. My reading tastes have changed many times through the years, and I don’t own a copy of every book I’ve read, so it’s possible I’m forgetting books I would have chosen. I found myself looking at some books and realizing I didn’t remember reading them at all, though I know I did. I considered choosing books to impress the literati, but I hate snobbery. So here are five OF my favorite books—and even more, five writers I admire.

For many years, I read everything Stephen King wrote, except the Dark Tower Series. I’ve read some of his novels more than once, but The Stand is my favorite. I’ve read it four times, including the uncut version.

When I read the description of this book, chosen for my discussion group, I doubted I would care much for it. War stories? Nah. Silly me. Tim O’Brien’s writing amazed me, and The Things They Carried has been on my best books list ever since.

I’ve read all of Anne Tyler’s books, even the one she wrote for children, and I’ve read many more than once. The first time I read Breathing Lessons, the main character annoyed me. But she also haunted me. So I read it again, and then I realized that I’d been annoyed by her because she was a bit like me. 🙂

For many years, I also read Maeve Binchy’s novels. I drifted away a time or two and then came back and caught up. Now, she’s gone, and I feel I should catch up again. I believe Circle of Friends was the first of her books I read. I became an instant fan of her talent for drawing the reader into her rich fictional world.

I’m a late-comer to Sherman Alexie’s work. I’d heard the name for many years, but I knew him only for his screenplay for Smoke Signals. I can’t remember how I ended up with a copy of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, but it sat in my to-read list for some time before I got around to reading it. Boy, was I sorry it took me so long. Alexie’s writing is magical. The voice in this book is one of the purest examples I’ve read. I’m now reading Blasphemy, his latest collection of short stories, and so far each one has blown me away.

I guess that’s an eclectic group of five, but that probably tells you something about me. Now I’m supposed to choose five people to pass the award to, but I rarely do that because often those I pick don’t care to play along. So if you’d like to share five of your favorite books on your blog, take the award and say I chose you. Or share on this page in the comments. I’d like to see your choices.

Advice, Craft, Fiction, Writing

Note to self: You ain’t writing literature!

This past week, I reached the dark woods, otherwise known as the dreaded middle of a novel in progress. I stumbled a bit. Suddenly, I hated my book. The writing seemed pedestrian. The language was too simple, the syntax too straightforward. This won’t do, I thought, I should start over and write like a real writer. And then …

I noticed, in my stats, that some visitor to my blog clicked on a category tag Literary Criticism. Really? I wrote a post on literary criticism? Of course, I clicked to see what I said, and I was glad I did. I wrote that post in 2009 while editing The Brevity of Roses. I came to a good conclusion then, and it’s still good now, so I’m sharing it with you.  Enjoy.

Blue Toes and Good Writing

Blue-toed tree frog.

I apologize up front because I might step on some toes today. Just know that mine are black and blue too. I am in editing mode—again—and I’ve recently discovered John Gardner’s book On Becoming A Novelist. I shared a passage from that last week and will share another below. Gardner has been stomping all over my writing toes.

I confess I’ve been a “literary” wannabe. In editing my work, particularly the passages that haven’t changed since the first version, I find a tendency to overwrite, to use ten-dollar words or syntax that only complicates the reading, not deepens the meaning. Or, when writing in a poetic character’s point of view, to let myself get carried away with imagery. Possibly the line drawn between good writing and overwriting is quite fine. Or else, I just leapt right over it.

John Gardner

Gardner writes:
“… as a rule, the good novelist does not worry primarily about linguistic brilliance—at least not brilliance of the showy, immediately obvious kind—but instead worries about telling his story in a moving way, making the reader laugh or cry or endure suspense, whatever it is that this particular story, told at its best, will incline the reader to do.”

Anne Tyler

If you’ve been around this blog for long, you know that one of my favorite writers is Anne Tyler. I’ve always thought of her writing as beautiful, but when I examine it, I see that rarely does she call attention to her word choices or phrasing. By this, I mean, not often do I stop reading to admire her clever writing. I admire her talent at story telling, her fleshed out characters, her ability to draw me into her fictive dream, which means she’s an excellent (Pulitzer Prize winning) writer, but she’s not a show-off.

I’ve read books in which it seems, as Gardner says, “the writer cares more for his language than for other elements of fiction.” I don’t enjoy those books as much and little of them stays with me. If those writers attempted to create a fictive dream, I’m too aware of their writing to fall into it. Obviously, there are people who read such books, literary critics generally love them, and creative writing classes teach them. I believed that I should aspire to become one of those “important” writers. But I’ve changed my mind.

I just want to tell the best stories I know how with beautiful, but understated, language to people who want, for a while, to dream of a different life, or place, or time.