Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Impact and Inspiration

It's surely no secret to anyone who reads this blog that we're a bunch of bookworms, the six of us. I'd hate to have to be the arbiter of who has the biggest Dr. Suess hat, but I'd certainly nominate myself as a finalist. Then again, we'd have six finalists, so there you go.

For the past month or so, it's felt like I've done even more reading than usual. (Even as I feel like there is never enough time. Never enough!) Maybe that's because nearly everything I've read lately has hit a nerve, either because it was so honest as to be shattering, or because I've read and admired and thought, Yes. That is it. That is what I want to do. There. It's inspiring, and daunting, and inspiring all over again.

In fact, it's why I write at all, to try to engender the same kind of reaction from readers that I've gotten from some of these books. That's something I think we all crave, to impact the world in some way. For writers, it's through words. For some, that means to make people laugh. For others, writing is the vehicle to help people escape reality and visit a different place magicked up by their pen. Some write to shed a glow of beauty, even fleeting, on readers' lives. Plenty write to expand knowledge by sharing their own.

For me, it's all about the emotion, though I hope other elements come through as well. The words I love most when they land on my page are the ones that make my own skin rise to bumps, the ones that fill my eyes with tears for the characters who have become real to me. And my fervent hope and the reason to continue is so those same words will give rise to other people's goosebumps, thrust hard knots in their throats, force them to rub at their now-blurred eyes to enable them to read to the end.

Here's what I've been reading, and how these books have affected me.

The Knitting Circle by Ann Hood and Day After Night by Anita Diamant. Reading these was an exercise in encouragement. One of my manuscripts has a similar style of storytelling, a group of women helping each other through trials with a core character serving as the glue. These are the kinds of stories I've always loved to read, and they reinforced my belief that there is indeed an audience for my own novel.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon and When We Were Romans by Matthew Kneale. All about the voice and crafting and so well done. Both writers draw a unique main character whose lack of understanding creates both sympathy and empathy--which was surely the point.

Vinegar Hill by A. Manette Ansay and Between Here and April by Deborah Copaken Kogan. Harrowing reads both, about women in difficult marriages and worse situations. One set in the early '70s and the other tilting back to that decade, both served as reminders that life as we know it now isn't the way it's always been. Useful for anyone with an ear toward the past, as mine leans. Coupled with beautiful writing and perfectly imperfect characters, these are the kinds of books that stick with me for years, ideas and images popping up randomly like a lost friend calling unexpectedly--with terrible news.

Sleepwalking in Daylight by Elizabeth Flock and Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay. Both of these were told in alternating viewpoints, and both dealt so bluntly with difficult subjects and themes that I wondered where the heck the authors got the courage to be so honest. Between the crafting of the plots and the sheer gutsiness of storytelling, I saw the kind of writing to which I aspire, galvanizing experiences both. Though not comfortable. Not comfortable at all.

Having It and Eating It by Sabine Durrant. This one blew me away with the plotting, so much so that I outlined it after I read it to better understand exactly how Durrant strung me along in the best way, turning the story realistically just when I thought I'd figured things out, and keeping me just ahead of the main character but never so much that I found her stupid. And then, bam! A satisfying and logical ending I didn't see coming. This is a book I suspect I'll turn to again when I get lost in my own plotting, sort of like the fictitious Edgar Wallace Plot Wheel, but in a good way.

And 78 Reasons Why Your Book May Never Be Published and 14 Reasons Why It Just Might by Pat Walsh. Need I say more?


  1. Elizabeth: Right now I'm reading The Help by Kathryn Stockett and love it. I didn't realize before buying it that it's written in first person/present tense (which everyone tells you not to do, but I'm doing it anyway in my WIP) and done so beautifully.

    I'm going to have to pick up 78 Reasons/14 Reasons, although I find it a bit discouraging that the table is so unbalanced. If I could do math, I'd write something such as: Wow. There are 5 times as many ways to sabotage your career as there are to help it. Is that close?

  2. Dear Elizabeth,
    I was alerted to this blog via a google blog alert, and I just wanted to say thank you for such a lovely comment about my novel. I really appreciate it, and I wish you all the best in your own literary endeavors!
    Sincerely yours,
    Deborah Copaken Kogan

  3. Deborah, I'm so glad you stopped by, thank you! I stopped by your website, too, and it's inspiring to see what you went through en route to novel success. I look forward to reading more of your work. Note to self: add Shutterbabe to the list. And remember DCK had a better title. (One of my manuscripts has three verbs, too, also named before I'd heard of Ms. Gilbert's book.)


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