Thursday, April 25, 2013

Friday Reads by Christine Locke

Included this week: a fun summer read, a writer's-workshop-in-book-form, and two of those books I can't live without from now on.  For better or worse, here's my take on what's been on my bedside table of late. 

Six Years by Harlan Coben

This was a fun read. Take it to the beach, definitely. But reading this book, which is fast-paced and wraps up loose ends and even gives the MC a chance to work on an inner issue or two, helped me understand some of the recent critiques of my own writing. I've been hearing that readers "enjoy their time with my character," yet want more description or more to the story, somehow. That's how I felt reading Six Years. I wanted to spend more time there, not just come along for the rolicking adventure that rocked the world of a staid, middle-aged professor. Then again, it can't be all that bad when you leave your readers wanting more, which Coben certainly did here. Like I said, take it to the beach. Just don't get so involved that you forget to turn over and burn your backside :) Happy Reading.

Wired for Story

I'm not going to lie: a lot of the information here can be found in other books or in a writing class at your local junior college.
However, that being said, there's some very interesting information here given from the angle of brain science/psychology that's good to read if you're writing. It's always good for a writer to find new ways to keep the reader in mind. Also, something different about this book that was overlooked in reviews I read before buying it: there's a checklist at the end of every chapter. These are "to-do" lists that you can use to apply that chapter's topic to your own novel/story in progress. That was a nice touch, and may be the reason I pick this up again to use in my future work

The Heroine's Journey by Maureen Murdock

 I started quoting this book before I finished reading it. That's pretty much an indication that it's an important one for me. If you write women's fiction and you haven't read this book, read it. If you write about women and you haven't read this book, read it. I'm having a reaction that I've heard others have when they "discover" Joseph Campbell's work for the first time: how did I not know about this book sooner? It's especially strange for me that I wrote a master's thesis in the 90's about the mother role in british lit and somehow I never came across this text. Ah well, I've read it now, and I'll be going back to it. In fact, I have a feeling that as I complete re-writes on my current project I'll be revisiting this text a lot.

The only complaint I have about The Heroine's Journey is that it's dated. Just like the thesis I wrote in 1995 is not what I would have to say, now, about the mother role in our society, I wish we could have an updated edition of The Heroine's Journey. We have a beautiful updated version of Christopher Vogler's The Writer's Journey (which is were I read about Murdock's work), so how about a similar edition for The Heroine? I'm just saying....

The Writer's Journey by Christopher Vogler

A few years ago, I did comb through The Hero with a Thousand Faces and create my own guide for my storytelling.  It was hard.  It took a long time--time that I could have spent writing.  If you are, like me, more a storyteller than a scholar, you need to dive right into this one.
If you are already a Jungian or a Joseph Campbell scholar, this book is not for you.  Anyone else, writer or not, should give Vogler's work a try.  If he challenges and inspires you to find out more about Campbell and Jung, he has done a noble thing indeed. 
And, along the way, you will learn some things about why some stories fly off with our collective imagination and others...well, just don't.  And if you are a writer and you've struggled with this problem in selling your own works, you can get some help here.  Unless you don't care about what readers feel and think and you just want to write for you.  That's cool.  If that's the case, this book is not for you, either.
But there are several chapters beyond the "formulaic" bulk of the book that are worth a look even if you catch yourself looking down your nose at this text.  The appendix entitled "Stories are Alive" underscores the importance of your character's initial wish for a change, but also emphasizes that WILL is at least as important as wish (quick, somebody call Rhonda Byrne...oh, never mind).  And I did enjoy "The Wisdom of the Body"--yes, men can write about that, too!  Although this man actually writes that your story should make at least two of your readers' organs "squirt fluids."  Oh yes he did.  But all kidding aside, The final section "Trust the Path" was a moving one for me and most likely the reason why, in the end, this accessible, amusing and very approachable book is a 5 star read for me.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Inspirational Arkansas Musicians by Christine Locke

As I write the latest, and last, novel in the Legacy series, I'm inspired by some of Arkansas' most creative souls.  You can even find some hints for my storyline in the lyrics....

Luther Allison "Bad News Is Coming" with son, Bernard Allison

Lefty Dizz, "Some Things He Used To Do"

Arbee Stidham, "When I Find My Baby"

and a Louisville blues singer who just happened to have my name :)

Bill Locke, "Someone to Take Your Place"

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Magic Realism Elements: Extra-Ordinary Detail, Ordinary Magic by Christine Locke

In magic realism, the description of the ordinary might come at you in great and painful detail, often beautifully written in almost poetic terms.  I'm thinking of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Of Love and Other Demons as I write, the entrance to the once beautiful and now decrepit hacienda guarded by giant dogs allowed to run free within.  Another example is Alice Hoffman's Seventh Heaven and the man who falls in love with his neighbor when he catches sight of her on her rooftop cleaning the gutters.  The hacienda houses a strange girl whose love is a supernatural force and the woman on the roof is a witch, but those bits are not important.  The mastifs running on dirty floors, the clogged gutters and birds in the chimney: these details are what  the writing strives to reveal and through these everyday items something else, something wonderful, something transformative, will emerge. 

Here's a selection from my current project:
Her feet were still skipping forward, hard ballet soles over concrete, as the man shoved off the wall with a sluggish shrug. Time moves more slowly for the person who is moving faster, isn’t that what Einstein said?

Maybe that was why JoBee recalled the strangest things, memories of her work in this place where all humanity mixed together, running in and out at the glass doors swinging to and fro, admitting all, releasing all. Retail was a fluid environment in which one could be seen by everyone and no one, hiding in places where none expected the extraordinary and no one would know the miraculous even if confronted them, greeted them, ran its fingers through their hair. Yet, if that were true, the opposite of a miracle could go unnoticed as well.

Time moves more slowly, JoBee thought as she reached for the door handle that was touched a thousand times a day.  Her mind raced into visions of every moment of her day to come: the strands of Mrs. Mayweather’s gray curls falling into place under her touch, the sweep of long locks shed for summer beach vacations tumbling to the floor under her scissors, the smell of Cassie’s perfume when she dressed to go out after dinner, the crash of Andy’s basketball on the backboard in the driveway, and David’s arms around her when she made the salad, his kiss on her ear. She felt it all, standing in the morning sun that hadn’t yet grown bright, hadn’t burned anyone, hadn’t killed anything that day, and JoBee chose not to look, she chose not to turn, not to touch the arm of the man reaching out to stop her, not to acknowledge the gun he held. Time moves more slowly, she thought, and it was as if that gun had been pointing at her for almost fifteen years.

Something terrible is about to happen here, and the focus on detail emphasizes not only the painful significance of the moment, but also serves to illustrate that there's another kind of tension unlying JoBee's anxiety in this moment, something so deep and strange she has not shared it with anyone for over 15 years.   In a moment in which most of us would feel powerless, JoBee is making a choice.  Why?  Magic realism uses experience outside the normal to illuminate real-world events, drawing them into sharper focus, provoking us to think about how we live, why we love, who we are. 

Friday, April 12, 2013

Updated Post: Magic Realism on the Brain... by Christine Locke

I'm updating this post with a brilliant quickie definition of magic realism I just read today (6/27/13).  In reading an interview with literary agent Sarah LaPolla, I noted again that she actively seeks manuscripts in this genre.  When asked for a quick definition of this "hard to define and...very specific type of writing," this is what she said: magic realism is "a subgenre of literary fiction that infuses fantastic/surreal elements to the story that are not essential to the plot."

I recently sent out a few tweets advertising my interest in young adult magic realism.  I offered to review the best of the recommendations here on the blog.  Know how many responses I got?  One.  Yup.  Even though some generous folks retweeted and helped spread the word, I only got one volunteer. 

I'm wondering why.  Do people understand what magic realism (or magical realism, as it is also called) is?  I'm guessing this could be part of it.  I recently read a complaint by a literary agent that most of her "magic realism" submissions turn out to be fantasy. 

Basically, magic realism is an otherwise realistic story with just a touch of the magical (or more than a touch, but it's a side-story) that is treated as if it were real.  So, you've got a story about witches, but the witches and their magic is not the point.  It's just a detail, an aside.  The real issue is that the witches are young and need to figure out how to live and who to love, just like you or me.  I began that paragraph thinking of the movie Practical Magic, based on Alice Hoffman's novel.  Yet, it occurs to me that the tv show "Charmed" could almost work here, too.  That was also a story that, in the end, focused on the effort to build a normal life and experience normal problems.  Yet, the individual episode plots for "Charmed" revolve so much around the magic and use of magic that it's a great example for understanding how a story with potential for magic realism actually becomes fantasy or horror.

Well known examples: Alice Hoffman and Gabriel Garcia Marquez are always the first to pop into my mind, although a couple of my recent favorites are Mary Sharratt and Sarah Addison Allen.

Practical Magic is not the only novel by Alice Hoffman to feature fascinating character who also happens to be a witch.  I almost prefer Seventh Heaven, in which a woman who is a single mother moves into a very conservative subburb to raise her children in safety.  At first persecuted for her "otherness," which has as much to do with her sexual attractiveness and unmarried state as it does with her witchy ways, neighbors eventually come to appreciate her influence, aid, and friendship.  Her magic is a part of the story, but you could still have the same story if you took the magic out.

So, if you're wondering whether your story fits into the "magic realism" genre, ask yourself this question: Would you still have the same story if you removed the supernatural/fantastic from its plot?

So, any of you know a writer of young adult magic realism who'd like a review here?  I'd love to find a sampling of several contemporaries.  Let me know!