Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Book Review Club - The Night Circus

The Night Circus
Erin Morgenstern
Adult/YA Crossover

From the moment I began to listen to this story on audio until I finished, I couldn't classify it. A trip to Target - serious source searching - didn't help. The book was in the bestseller category with the other adult books, but toward the bottom where some YA and middle grade were. When I finally upped  my game and checked out the classification on Amazon, it's adult.

Yet, this is a book for all ages. I've encouraged my nine year old to read it because it's such a dreamlike adventure. Two magicians battle it out for their lives in a night circus that magically appears and disappears from location to location across the world.

This is the first circus I liked. I'm not crazy about clowns, or the whole circus venue in books or movies. There are exceptions, of course, Water for Elephants being one. It was more along the lines of gritty realism circus. This is dream circus without the scary factor that often seems to accompany that venue. The characters are gorgeously rich. The setting is magical. The plot is lusciously entwined.

The story is not told chronologically, which made the audio aspect to my "read" difficult. It will likely make the story difficult for a middle grade audience as well. What's more, I wasn't sure it was a necessary aspect to the story. It indicates the longevity of the challenge early on, but complicates the story's unfolding unnecessarily. The author could have revealed the backstory of the magician who had won a similar challenge earlier and thus introduced the complexity and longevity of the magical challenge in that way without complicating storytelling. However, these temporal fluctuations were not so off-putting that they derailed the circus story, just complicated it. Maybe that was the point. It's a complex plot.

Nonetheless, if you're searching about for a cozy, by the fire, dreamlike read, search no further. The Night Circus is just the winter ticket!

For more exciting reads, click over to Barrie Summy's site!

Monday, November 28, 2011

You might be a writer if...

It's  been a while since I've done one of these posts. Not that I haven't thought about what it means to be a writer every second of every minute of every day. It's an occupational hazard. However, this most recent revelation is just too defining to writerdom not to share.

You might be a writer still carry a security blanket.

Don't get me wrong. We're not that obvious about it. We're writers. We've given them much better names, such as Mac, Notebook Pro, Laptop, or the classic, best disguise, Computer.

As if, you sneer. It's my computer. That's all.

I see. Let's run a little checklist, shall we?

1) Is "your computer" one of the last things you look at before you go to bed? And one of the first when you get up?
2) Do you lovingly clean its parts?
3) Do you start to feel nervous when you haven't spent time with "your computer"?
4) So do you take it with you everywhere you go?
5) Take it out of the car when it's cold or hot, just like a child?
6) Is it your ONE carry on, regardless?
7) Does your heart skip a beat when, say, your husband/child/insert name of person who clearly does not get how IMPORTANT this "computer" is accidentally unplugs your "computer" and the battery runs down and it won't fire up right away?
8) Do you plot revenge? 
9) When there's a tornado, earthquake (we've had our share here in Oklahoma this fine fall) or other possible natural disaster, do you have an exit strategy that includes all essentials, such as your children, your husband, the pets, and your "computer"?
10) Most importantly, does it feel like an organic extension of you?

If you've answered yes to three or more of these questions, you may want to sit down. I have news. Your computer isn't just a computer. It's a security blanket.

That's not a bag thing. I mean, our livelihoods depend on these computers, don't they? We find creative expression - and, if we're really lucky, a paycheck - through its magical electrical circuits (Is that a good story idea?) It's no wonder we carry them with us wherever we go.

What was telling for me is that I didn't always feel this way about my computer. The joined-at-the-hip feeling started somewhere in the middle of my dissertation, i.e. my first official written creation. When I was six months pregnant with my first child (actual, human child), I was knee deep in the dissertation. I had six of eight chapters almost complete. I got up, went through my usual morning routine, then sat down at my computer. I opened the dissertation file, which I had backed up on two different external drives, and in individual chapters just to make sure I didn't lose anything. Stories of other grads who'd lost whole dissertations due to lazy back up methods were more than urban myths in grad schools. They were nightmares.

One that became real for me. None of the files would open.

Panic. Major, major panic. The kind that was so intense my daughter didn't move for six hours.

To make a long, painful story somewhat less painful for those of you who can imagine what it's like to lose 40,000 well-crafted words, complete with illustrations, I ended up at the computer lab at UVA. Many techs later, I was at the IT guru's desk, the last resort, the nuclear option of technical difficulties. He tried everything. Nothing worked. Then he made a call. A friend of a friend had an experimental version of the latest Word program. There were no promises but...

In that moment, I understood Faust only too well.

Fortunately, I didn't have to sell my soul...or promise my firstborn to the IT guru. And my computer was way too last month for him.

The new program worked. The files magically opened. My life was saved. I have never been so relieved in my life.

I've had a very close relationship with my computers ever since. One that has only deepened since I began writing fiction. I have all kinds of back up programs - disks, other computers, time machines, clouds, you name it. That computer is an electronic version of my imagination, an much much more organized one. I can't lose it. I can't even give up old versions of it. I may have a computer hoarding problem, I admit. But how do you get rid of a security blanket? Kevin Henkes has a few ideas on that. Owen is a braver soul than I am. My heart races just thinking about disassembling a computer. What if it hurts?

Feel the same way? You're not alone. You're a writer.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Book Review Club - Bad Island

Bad Island
Doug TenNapel
Graphic Novel

This one goes out to the one I love, Sophia. Sophia is my reluctant reader; although I say that with a big grain of salt. She has a hereditary convergence problem with her eyes, so small text is killer on her. Reading a book like, say, A Wrinkle in Time, is pure torture because the text is so small.

Not too long ago, however, we discovered graphic novels. [Cue chorus] It was as if the heavens opened and the gods of reading finally threw us a bone (along with a nice rendition of Handel's Messiah). Sophia loves graphic novels. LOVES them. She'd read TenNapel's Ghostopolis, so when I saw he had a new book out, I ordered it right away, along with a couple of others. She devoured three graphic novels in one afternoon - music to a writer mom's heart.

But are graphic novels, well, good? you ask. Are they, dare we use the word, literature?

Oh, baby.

There is some good stuff out there. Really good stuff. Bad Island is decent fair. Persepolis is more hard-hitting and memorable. Smile is a graphic novel Sophia reads over and over. But Bad Island may just become a regular in her reading diet. It has science fiction, family problems, flying stone robots, a dead snake that comes back to life, an annoying little sister, a brother who finally gets to prove himself, a ship wreck. Good, riveting stuff. The story line is solid, interweaving two believable plots. This is not pure cotton candy for the reluctant reader. It's got meat to it. And flying pink birds. What more could you ask for? Plus, it's not as unnerving as say a Neil Gaimon graphic novel, but not as gentle as Raina Telgemaier's Smile. It will capture the boy crowd and hold their attention with things like stomach acid and invisibility stones. While girls will love the pet animals that have BIG moms to protect them when older brother drop kick the cute, but deadly babies. In other words, it's got a healthy does of humor too.

Basic plot line: father takes family on boat outing. Boat sinks in mysterious storm. Family lands on strange island with all kinds of life found nowhere else on earth. Family tries to figure out what the island is, almost gets killed a few times, but finally discovers the island is a sleeping stone robot that they save and which, in turn, saves them.

If you've got an hour for a waltz on the graphic side of life, pick this one up. If you've got a reluctant boy reader, ORDER IT. They will read it again and again. And if you're thrilled to find your child reading, check out a few other graphic novels. Peppered through nonillustrated reads, such as Tiger Rising, or Holes, graphic novels can actually make reading fun.

For more an abundant supply of winter reads this blustery November, scamper over to Barrie Summy's website. She's got a treeful.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Book Review Club - Across the Universe

Across the Universe
Beth Revis

Yum. Scrumpdiliicious yum. It's been a while since a book capitivated me the way this one has. I gladly bought into the fictional dream on the first page and felt as if I'd finished the best peanut buster parfait after it was over.

I know. I know. I don't usually gush about books, but this one was that enjoyable a read for me. The basic science fiction premise admittedly had me hooked from the start. I am a closet case trekkie. The kind who used to watch the original episodes before going to church each Sunday as a kid. I was looking for balance in my philosophical diet early on.

So when I saw a modern day scifi with a mystery twist, I was in hook, line and sinker. Girl gives up life on earth to be frozen for three hundred years as a spaceship, Godspeed, travels across the universe from Sol Earth to Centauri Earth. She is awoken early while the ship is still en route and almost dies. Others frozens are murdered. She tries to find the killer together with the help of the leader to be, Elder, who is the same age as she is, sixteen.

The science part of the story was just enough to make the ship believable without becoming so overwhelming that I felt as if I was sitting back in physics class. The characters were well-developed. The mystery was believable. And the darkness was an artistic kind of darkness. Not the usual sturm and angst that is so prevalent in so many dystopian YA novels these days.

The book is also told in alternating first first POV between Amy and Elder. It works well to give the reader a sense of the earth left, the ship now, and how foreign that ship would seem to an outside, i.e. Amy (the reader as well). Even the ending was believable in the sense that not everything ends happily but realistically both emotionally and plotwise.

I realize I should say something critical, some point Revis missed or didn't quite hit the mark on. After all, this is a review. So....maybe it's that I wish they wouldn't make the book into a movie because movies are never as good as the books.

For more great reads, hop over to Barrie Summy's site. She's dishing them out with whipped cream and cherries on top!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Book Review Club - The Historian

The Historian
Elizabeth Kostova

Wow, when I dared to open Blogger to post my review of Kostova's, The Historian, it had been so long since I'd posted that Blogger had a new interface site. Yeesh. Leave cyberspace for a few months and it remodels entirely. I feel old.

But not as old as the villain in Kostova's book, Dracula. I've have this thing about Dracula since my graduate years back in Kiel, Germany (which predates the vampire fad by over a decade, which really dates me), when I first met the villain in Murnau's classic silent film, Nosferatu: Eine Symfonie des Grauens

Knowing my penchant for the Eastern European Undead, my best friend bought The Historian for me two years ago, Pre-MFA. It sat waiting for me like its villain. I resisted for two years, toiling away at that blasted MFA. As soon as it was over, this was my reward - a really really really long read with lots of twisted plots and complicated storylines and intergenerational information sharing. 

Not your basic five-character-chronicle.

Kostova's work bridges centuries, familial generations, multiple countries, you name it. She introduces so many characters I...well, I forgot one, a crucial one, when he reappeared at the end of the story, at the climax to be exact. I may need to work on my spatial reasoning for retaining complex, three-dimensional, non-kid stories.

I'd like to say there's a basic plot, but there are so many plots interwoven. Here's a go - Dracula's assassination...maybe.

If you like history, this story will pay out in spades. Kostova did an amazing amount of historical research to take her characters from the U.S. to England to Turkey, France, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and Italy across centuries.

Like Stoker's version, this is predominantly a book of letters. That began to wear. Stoker's tale is about 200 p. long. Kostova's is 642. I had a hard time believing that the main character could read three hundred pages of her father's handwritten letters to her in one night. Plus, the form slowed down the pacing because it was a retelling within a retelling.

When the family (two of whom are Dracula's descendants) trying to kill Dracula finally catches him, his death is rather...well, quick. The resolution ultimately did not feel earned or catalytic. This may be because the story is just so long. Sheer length draws out the action and slows down tempo such that when the telling speeds up for the climax, it feels as though the author just wanted to get through it. 

However, the history in this book makes it well worth the read. If you are a Dracula hobbyist, this book incorporates many of the legends about him across continents and cultures. And, Kostova can write. She does wonderful descriptive work. I want to visit Romania now!

For more great reads, hop over to Barrie Summy's site. Happy Fall reading.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Book Review Club - A Million Miles from Boston

A Million Miles from Boston
Karen Day
middle grade

This is the first book my daughter and I have reviewed together, which has been a fun experience. We read it at the same time, talked about the story, and now are collaborating on the review.

 A Million Miles from Boston is a gentle summer story about a girl, Lucy, who spends her summer in Pierson Point, Maine. The emotional arc of the story deals with Lucy opening up to accept a new stepmom in her life. She also learns not everyone is as they seem. That even a bully has a reason why he acts the way he does, and that they can make good friends, when given a chance. 

Stacy: I enjoyed the easy, laid-back feel of the story's flow, getting lost in long summer days, relaxing, kayaking around the coast, and the other outdoor activities Day builds into her story. The flirtation with romance is sweet. This is a great beach read that nonetheless has a gentle, literary feel to it. Not too taxing but not too sugary either. A nice balance.

The emotional arc also feels true. It's hard to open up to a new woman who threatens to"replace" a parent who has died, no matter the child's age. Reaching that arc, however, felt somewhat forced. Day drew it out across the entire summer, climaxing just before the family leaves the Point. While it fit with the timetable - i.e. summer - of the story, Lucy's continual rejection of Julia began to feel worn. There needed to be more development, more twists and turns, or the emotional climax needed to be reached faster.

Bella:  Karen Day's novel, A Million Miles from Boston, is about as good as it gets in the sense of making you long for summer.  It makes you want to be there with Lucy and her friends and experience all the things they are experiencing.  In the book, I like that Lucy hates Ian, but in the end they practically become best friends.  It gives the book a page turning curiosity, because you always want to know what will happen next between them.  The part that I didn't really enjoy and that I think was made a little too strongly was that Lucy disliked Julia so much.  She lost her mom when she was six and feels almost guilty about her death.  However, I still think she should give Julia, or whomever her dad likes, a chance.  In the end though, things begin to warm between them and life starts getting better.  I would recommend this book to anyone who is looking for a good story of change, family and true friendship.

For more summer delights, stroll over to Barrie Summy's website. She's serving them up sweet and neat.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Read Across Oklahoma 2011

I had one halibut of a time at the Oklahoma City Zoo on Tuesday last week. My book, Rope 'Em, was chosen as the Read Across Oklahoma Book 2011. The event is sponsored by Target, the Oklahoma City Zoo, OETA, and bunch of other really nice folks. They bought 1500 copies of my book and handed it out to kindergartnes in at risk schools across the city. Then, on Tuesday, we put on a shin dig for them at the Zoo. Spaghetti Eddie was there to sing. There was a roper, The Oklahoma Kid. And there was me, reading my book.

The weather played along, yippee! It was 70 and sunny. Perfect.
And the kids were amazing. They sang. They danced. They counted. We really had a really neat time.

Thanks Target, OETA and the Oklahoma City Zoo for picking Rope 'Em. I had such a blast. I wish I had a picture book a year coming out so I could go back next year. It's that much fun!!!

Check it out next year if you get a chance. There is a performance open to the general public, and they even had a few extra books left to give away.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Book Review Club - Mockingbird

Kathryn Erskine
middle grade/ya

Every once in a while I run across one of those stories with a main character so beyond the bounds of my everyday existence I marvel at how anyone could create her/him and do so in such a believable way.

Erskine has done so with her character, Caitlin. A fifth-grader, Caitlin has Asperger's Syndrome. She's really smart but has a really tough time understanding and expressing emotion. Maneuvering through life means learning an exhausting list of facial expressions that decode what what people are thinking and/or what they really mean. Add to that that the the person who helped her maneuver the world, her older brother, has been killed in a school shooting.

Erskine bites off a huge chunk of storytelling with her character and the external event of a school shooting. She maneuvers both phenomenally. Caitlin is one of the best characters I've read lately. I had no idea what it's like inside the mind of a child with Asperger's. Erskine gives her readers a glance. It's a glance that doesn't pity. It doesn't minimize. It is. As such, I came to both empathize and understand Caitlin. It's a phenomenal bit of writing. Add to it weaving Caitlin's story seamlessly together with the affects of a school shooting on a community and exploring how to find "closure" and this work moves from phenomenal to unforgettable.

The one aspect of this novel that I was less impressed with was that it, like When You Reach Me, relies on an outside piece of art, in this instance To Kill a Mockingbird, to carry part of the story. One day I may do this myself and kick myself for not understanding or for finding fault with this particular writer's tool at present, but when a writer can weave as well as Erskine, story doesn't need outside art to support it, or deepen the emotional resonance. It's already there. And there in spades. For me, bringing in the outside world in this way detracts from the story being told. It pulls me outside Caitlin's story. It also expects a lot from that external art and the reader. I'd hazard a guess that not many children today have seen, To Kill a Mockingbird. Thus, what effect will the film really have on the reader? Wouldn't a fictional film do the job even better by staying within story by being a created part of it?

If you're looking for a deep story about school shootings, how they affect a community, what it must be like to "feel" and perceive the world as a person with Asperger's all wrapped into a story that pulls you toward it in a gentle but insistent way, read Mockingbird. There is so much here. Much to discuss. Critique. Enjoy. Ponder. And grow from.

Read it.

For other great Spring diversions, hop over to Barrie Summy's website. She's got temptations galore!

Friday, April 1, 2011

You might be a writer if...

Side effects. There are good ones and bad ones. Second hand smoke, not so good. Oxygen, good. Did you know that writers emit their own side effects? And I don't just mean books. 

You might be a writer if...your family suffers from symbolismus. Analogisia. Or, the worst ever, metaphorimia.

Serious, serious ailments, believe you me.

I've been a writer for a few years now, but it wasn't until recently that one of my daughters finally erupted with a bad case analogisia.

We'd just come back from Spring Break. My daughters and I had visited their godparents in Charlottesville, VA. My husband and I had lived there for five years around the time our first was born. I would still love to move back. I love the outdoors there.

While we were there, we had a great time. We went hiking at lots of different parks. Went up to DC and got our very own DC Cupcakes. Saw the Air and Space Museum. Did the Mount Vernon and Ash Lawn thing. We were everywhere. Did tons. The girls loved it.

They loved it so much that when we came home my youngest crawled onto my lap one day after school, and started crying. Uh-oh.

"What's wrong, sweetie. Do you miss Charlottesville?" We all missed C-ville. Our friends. The works. 

"Mama," she sniffled. "Charlottesville is like Dragon Wishes and home is like Rope 'Em." 

I should have seen the signs right away. The word "like".  The commonality of books vs. places. It was analogisia for sure.

But I'm just a writer not a critic. I nodded and came up with my surefire mom response when I had no clue, "Uh-huh."

Not exactly Shakespeare, I know.

"Gees Mom," she said with an exasperated tone. "You know, Dragon Wishes is a middle grade novel."

[my middle grade novel]

"And its gots lots of stuff in it. Rope 'Em is a picture book."

[um, yeah, my picture book]

"It's shorter. Not as many pages of things happening. That's what home is like. Do you get it now?"

Um, yeah. Got it.

I wrote it down, too. Because, as you know, good writers borrow. Great writers steal. But that's a different post.

So now I watch for the telltale signs of secondhand writing. She's already exhibited a few others. Making up her own words. Geroninball. Yeah. Gotta love that one. Editing my work. Don't love that one so much. She's tough! 

So beware writers out there. Your family members may have already come down with any or all of these pesky ailments. The only thing you can do is be prepared. Keep paper and pen handy at all times. And family members, be forewarned.

The effects of writing are serious. They get under your skin. Change the way you think. The way you talk. Make you...dare I say, into a writer!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Book Review Club - Twisted

Laurie Halse Anderson
young adult

It's not brand-spanking new like Wintergirls, but Twisted is definitely worth a read. First, it is not a girl book. I'm very into boy books these days since I'm working on one. Go figure! And it's a real gem to find a boy book that deals with boy emotions from a boy perspective BUT is written by a woman.

A woman's approach to a male character and the result is all way in the forefront of my conscious writing after listening to Mike Sullivan speak at a conference I was speaking at last weekend. He drove home the point that we "girls" like connection and peaceful resolutions to problems. We're internally driven. Boys need to make connection. They need to experience tactile-y how something feels, works, and affects them. That's why they drive their bikes off of cliffs and that kind of extreme sports stuff. Sure, there are girls who do it too, and Sullivan says that both boy and girl readers who are reluctant readers share this hands-on approach to life. They need to experience.

Having said that, as a woman, I felt like Anderson did a great job with bringing her boy character home. Granted in this story of the dweeb turned bad boy, there is the Anderson element of darkness. Tyler does ultimately consider suicide. He also considers blowing up his school. Hurting his peers. Shooting his father. Yet, in the end, he decides to make a turn. To man up and face up to his dad. To win respect with guts rather than guns.

In all that, I can't help wondering if that's a woman's take or a man' reality. Trouble male teens don't all blow up schools or shoot themselves or hurt others. But, is the journey to manning up grittier and more experiential than even Anderson gives us? Compare her work to Walter Dean Myers' Monster. Myer's novel is rawer. It made me feel physically ill with worry as the character told his story. The emotion I came away with from Myers' work was uncomfortable. Unfamiliar. Unfemale.

Can we women portray Myers' type of gritty male? Absolutely. If we're willing to understand it. Which may or may not take actually experiencing it like a man might choose to.

What do you think? I'd really love some input on this. I'm trying to understand the male mojo. Not an easy feat. But doable, right?

For more great reads, hop over to Barrie Summy's site. You're sure to Spring into something fun!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Book Review Club - Moon over Manifest

Moon over Manifest
Clare Venderpool
middle grade

When a book wins an award as prestigious as the Newbery, I am burning with curiosity to read it. Can I learn something new? Any tricks of the trade hidden amongst the pages? Character development done in a new way? And what didn't work? Because we writers are all human and we make mistakes, but how does an award-winner make mistakes and make the piece still work?

With great anticipation, I downloaded Moon over Manifest to my new iPad. Yes, the virgin iPad read was a Newbery.

Basic plot summary - Abilene Tucker is sent to the town of Manifest by her father to live indefinitely while he works the railroad during the Great Depression. There, she learns the town's past, as well as her father's, which redeems Abilene and her father's relationship, heals old wounds, and rejuvenates a tired town.

There is a lot to like and to learn from in this book. Vanderpool does an amazing job of weaving multiple different storytelling patterns together to create her story. There is Abilene's narrative, the Hungarian woman's, and letters from Ned to Jinx, and the newspaper clippings. If a writer has to skip back and forth in time, this method of using multiple perspectives to fill in backstory is pretty creative and works well because it keeps the process of storytelling fresh.

There were a few things I wasn't so sure about. First, this is the first book I've read that I found myself editing as I went along. Now, this may be a side effect of an intensive MFA program, but I found this piece, while well-crafted, nevertheless hastily edited. There were extra words, poorly worded phrases, whole sentences that needed to be honed. I wondered if this is a sign of the increasingly crunched time of editors, or my better-trained internal ear, or both. Either way, the result was that these spots pulled me out of story and made me stumble in my reading.

Second, the character of Jinx gave me some trouble. He is in the 1918 story the Hungarian woman tells Abilene about the town of Manifest. We learn early on that Abilene hopes it is her father. As the reader, we are pretty certain it is her father. By taking away this element of surprise, the flashback story deflates. It is still interesting to read but then it just becomes a way for Abilene to learn more about her dad.

Finally, Abilene's internal growth seems fairly limited. True, she has to do physical labor for the Hungarian woman to learn the story of her father, but her processing of what she learns seems pretty minimal. I wanted her to have to struggle more, to grow internally. For me, she feels like much the same kid at the end of the story as she was at the beginning, just with more information about her dad. She didn't feel too damaged when she arrived, and she integrated herself well into the town while she was there. She didn't make any enemies. She made friends. She helped various characters. She realized what was her father's shortcoming and how to fix it, but that isn't the same as internal growth that the character herself needs.

All questions aside, if you are looking for a Katherine Paterson-like read, pick up Moon over Manifest. You won't cry (this is not something I consider a bad thing. I get weary of books that make me cry). You will enjoy the historical flashback and multi-layered storytelling technique that weave together a story about healing a father-daughter relationship.

And for more great reads, hop over to Barrie Summy's website. It's chalked full with winter wonders!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

You might be a writer if...

Have you ever asked the question, "Yes, but...what do they really mean?"

Everybody has asked that at least once, right?

But, do you find yourself asking it a lot? Wondering what the true meaning is behind any conversation? Certain there must be a hidden meaning, if only you could find it?

You might be a writer think everyone speaks in code.

At first, I thought this side effect of writing stemmed from the hazardous amount of rejection we writers expose ourselves to. Example: promising rejection letters that include a phrase or two about how the writer could make the manuscript better. They are so heartening. They mean, we are sooooooo close. But then, how close? And how could I really make it better? And why, suddenly, do the well-meaning editor's words seem like a code?

And then I'm off on a tangent dissecting, resectioning, imbueing, inferring, laboring without pause to get to what the editor really meant. Because it's hidden in there somewhere. It can't possibly be on the surface for all to see.

Because what my characters say never is. How could it be. Readers would never stand for it. They don't want idle chitchat. Fillers. Uh's and um's. Beating around the bush. They want code. They want puzzles. They want to get lost in a story and have to do some deciphering. They want a little fun! So we authors stylize, hide, weigh, infer, encode. We encode! Because everyone is doing it.

I think.


Oh, what do they really mean?

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Book Review Club - The Hero with a Thousand Faces

The Hero with a Thousand Faces
Joseph Campbell

I never thought I'd see the day I would review a craft book over a work of fiction or nonfiction. But here it is! Never say never. It's not that I don't read craft pieces. Or that they cause me undo pain (okay, maybe some). It's just that until now that I hadn't been moved so profoundly by one that I felt the urge to share. 

The Hero with a Thousand Faces changed all of that. Reading Campbell's book was more than an experience. It made me rethink the way I view literature, storytelling, the role of storytelling within humanity, religion, society, thinking. At one point, Campbell had exposed so much of what storytelling does so profoundly, I said to my husband, "All I've got left is Cogito ergo sum. That's it!" (And yes, even Aquinas appears in Campbell's work).  

Campbell's look at how storytelling affects us mortals alters one's perceptions on so many levels. In investigating the greatest stories of all times, predominantly those focused on creation, god, gods, the universe - those deeply moving issues we all struggle to comprehend and understand - Campbell shows so evocatively how important storytelling is, what role it plays, and ultimately, creates guideposts for today's writers. Why does a hero have to refuse the call to adventure? Why does he have to walk through fire? What is, ultimately, so important about experiencing the hero suffer?

I will readily admit, I don't always get things the first time around. And all of this stuff may be old hat for a lot of writers, but having it laid out, discussed, chewed, dissected, analyzed, evidenced and described really helped me to see how critically important each stage of the hero's journey is not so much to the hero, or to me, but to the reader, to her emotional experience of the story I am trying to tell.

In case you're like me and need a picture to understand it all better, Campbell gives one, laying out story in its circular nature, each part labeled meticulously so that the reader can also go to the section of the book that then describes that stage.

Reading this book made me rethink not only my writing style but the way I perceive the role of story within our existence. True, talking about religious stories can do that since religions try to answer the big, huge questions, but seeing that they all try in very similar ways and how all of their stories evoke emotions in similar ways by going through similar stages was nothing short of revelatory for me as a writer.

I know. I know. Revelatory? I'm getting carried away. But here is some fact to balance out my swooning. George Lucas used Campbell's work to craft Star Wars. Star Wars! Can anyone say amazingly successful story?

I'll stop there. I promise. But if you're up for rethinking your whole concept of story, writing, the importance of storytelling to our existence, grab this book! Go for it. It is so incredibly worth it.

For more great reads to put some skip in your 2011, hop over to Barrie Summy's website. You won't be disappointed!