Posts Tagged ‘reading’

Whether Contracted or Expanded

March 18, 2012 Leave a comment


All people have routines of some kind, and writers are no different. Routines can be elaborate, superstitious, or just plain odd. That’s allowable.

Contracted reading preferences can become as much a routine as the genres that keep a writer comfortable. During my teen years I concentrated on literary genre and classics. When I hit twenty, I moved on to—dare I say it?—romance novels. Okay, I was a normal young woman.

For decades after I left young adulthood, I read science fiction/fantasy almost exclusively. I had an entire library, floor to ceiling, filled with the genre. During the last several years most of that library was donated to larger lending libraries in my area.

Expanded reading can have a profound effect. On a whim, before getting rid of my personal library, I went to the local library and borrowed several books from the mystery genre and a few in non-fiction science. That whim led to a feeding frenzy of reading. A new world had opened up before me, showing authors, writing possibilities, etc. that I’d not anticipated.

I tried to read everything. Non-fiction came in so many forms that I almost glutted myself trying to sample all the entrees. I revisited ancient history—pre-Biblical–and philosophy, along with world history from 500A.D. to 1700A.D. History became a friend that could keep me fascinated for hours with its tales of intrigue.

“Salt” held me in thrall for days as I discovered its particular journey through civilization and the part it played in developing the world. “The Tao of Physics” left me speechless and questioning about the very nature of reality. Volumes on theology piled up beside the bed.

There was something wondrous and invigorating about expanding one’s book bag.

My personal expansion had come and I’d reveled in it. The groaning board of literature presented itself to my every desire. That’s when writing took over and contraction began.

Writing has its own form of contraction. For me, it was children’s literature. I studied it, wrote it, and enjoyed its delights. I still do.

After a couple of years my enthusiasm faltered. When I used my own style, stories didn’t work well. I couldn’t find the groove that would send me into the genre full-time. I’d never had problems writing fiction for children, until I started studying it and working with it constantly.

Ideas surfaced from everywhere. Short or long, stories moved inside my head. Fiction or non-fiction, it didn’t seem to matter. I was told that I expected children to read at level higher than standard. It was true. I expected kids now to be like kids when I was in school, and they’re not. The standardized language levels used now seem more elementary than those used in the 50’s and 60’s.

Once again, expansion would come to my rescue. I couldn’t connect with editors seeking stories for younger children, but I could connect with older children. I could write for the YA market, but that dealt mostly in novels. I wasn’t sure I was willing to invest that much time for a novel at that moment.

What I did was begin a book of poetry for the YA/Adult market. I’d experimented with several forms of poetry for years, when I stumbled onto a form known as “sestina.” It fit the bill perfectly for what I wanted to do.

I wrote the entire book in sestina form about the journey the moon makes in orbit and what it would see on its journey each night. I grafted visual verse onto social studies and geography and took it for a spin around the world. With satellite photos to illustrate the locations referenced by the verse, the journey broadens into an educational opportunity for the reader. This marriage of verse with both concrete and abstract reality breaks no new ground. It merely expands on what is available for the learning.

Soon “The Moon Sees All” will go to a publisher for evaluation. It may be rejected. It may not. Time will decide that issue.

In the meantime, I continue to expand my options. I do well in literary. I have fun with fantasy. I thoroughly delight in non-fiction. I can choose now to contract and focus in one area at a time, or expand to embrace several areas of focus. There is no longer a conflict.

My active routine now is to embrace whatever crawls onto my plate that day. Ask any bushman. You never know what’s palatable unless you try it.


Turning Points–Then and Now

February 12, 2012 Leave a comment

To all intents and purposes I never belonged where I began. Not as a full-time adult, I mean. I learned more than I can remember about too many things to count while growing up. I’ve used that learning numerous times as well. I enjoyed the wave-like movement of all that education and wish that I could recall it all clearly.

But, I never really fit that mold. I was the one who loved classical music and opera. Somehow, I was the one who introduced me to it. I was the one who taught myself about ballet and other dance forms and watched it whenever I could. I also read Shakespeare and Tennyson in upper elementary and middle school when others my age were devouring Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys. I never heard of those books until I was an adult.

I didn’t see anything by C.S. Lewis until in my late 30’s. All I had was adult reading material, and I learned to suck it in like a vacuum.

My family listened to early Country music much of the time that I didn’t tolerate very well. None of them could tolerate my preferences either. We accommodated the differences.

We attended great auctions back then. They were better and cheaper than going to the Drive-In theatre. Dad didn’t have to spend more than a few bucks for a hot dog and drink for each of us, and we could spend an entire evening watching people go frantic with bidding paddles and someone else’s junk. Learning how the operation worked was an education in itself. I especially learned to watch the auctioneers.

We all loved going to them.

One dat, when I was in eighth grade, my dad went to an auction without the rest of us. He returned with many things, plus a box specifically for me.

Inside it were books. The box was filled with books. The pièce de résistance nearly floored me. Nestled among the novels by Faulkner and Updike and English books, to the side of those volumes on history, was a complete set of Shakespeare bound in moss green fabric and gilt lettering (pub. England, 1863), including his sonnets and other poetry.

I knew I’d died and ascended to Heaven without realizing it. That’s when I saw the tiny tomes. Hawthorne, Melville, Whitman, Thoreau, etc. (pub. NY 1909 approx.,) each bound in exquisite jacquard fabric, small enough to fit inside a pocket, huddled behind Shakespeare like so many children behind their mother’s apron.

That one act of consideration on Dad’s part sealed my fate. I was a classicist and would never truly fit into my birth family completely. I would always love them and honor them, but never be one of them. I’d been set free with that box of books and the knowledge that my father had unwittingly given me the ticket on the train to a literary career somewhere in my future.

Looking back on that moment, I can relax now. I understand that the family that I love doesn’t have to understand why I do what I do, or even how I do it. It’s enough to know that they acknowledge that that’s who I am and that they accept the fact that I can’t be anything else.

Pleasure Reading That Teaches

November 18, 2011 7 comments

Recently I’ve been re-reading a favorite series of mine: “The Cat Who…” series by Lilian Jackson Braun. The best-selling author is a favorite with many readers and for many of the same reasons.

Braun wrote characters that leaped from the page, wrestled the reader to the floor, and came away with a life-long commitment to light mystery, love for the backwoods country, and a passion for quirky people and quirkier places. That’s no small feat in our world of fickle reading habits.

There’s nothing complicated about Braun’s work in this series, not really. It only gets complicated when the reader is also a writer who tries to analyze her style and capacity for subplot design and execution. The problem that arises in this instance is that the writer quickly becomes so involved in the story and characters that pausing to analyze anything becomes compromised.

One of the specific tools that Braun uses is a love of language that many authors seem hesitant to use. She’ll have one or more characters speaking in a local dialect that holds little in common with the normal English language at the same time that she has another character or two using vocabulary that English majors with a Master’s degree have to look up for definitions.

For those who’ve not read this woman’s series be sure to keep a good dictionary handy while reading. You’ll never be sure what kind of word will pop up on some obscure page about half-way through the book. At the same time, keep a small notebook to hand with a good ball point so that you can write down the literary recommendations from the author.

There are always several classics referenced and quoted during a book. My list has become a tangled illustration of my reading future.

Braun weaves fanciful tales, with memorable characters, and packages it all in a setting that clamors for new residents or summer visitors from Down Below. If you take on this reading challenge, you’ll undoubtedly wish for a map and weeks of leisure so that you, too, can travel to Moose County for the lake air and the invigorating country atmosphere.

If you’re a writer, you’ll find stand-alone volumes of the series that engage and puzzle. These aren’t written as masterpieces or even great literary prose. They are, however, fun and whimsical, which transport the reader to a more fun environment where problems get solved, people live—while not in harmony—with respect for the county’s history and that of the founding families.

If you’re not a writer, enjoy the stories for the antics of the Siamese cats who solve the mysteries before they’re discovered, who know the murderers before anyone else can point the finger, and who eat better than most people on an unlimited budget.

When you’ve read one or more of these volumes, you will come away with new knowledge from a well-researched manuscript. Braun doesn’t throw out anything, no bit of knowledge that can be used to create an interesting character with a twist, a flaw, a fascinating tidbit to share. You’ll learn about foods from all over the country, hobbies that you wouldn’t consider before, Scottish history and how to wear a kilt, and other useful info.

All of this and a story, too, comes in a compact book that never leaves you wanting for detail. Take one out for a spin and see if you don’t go back for more. Follow the main character, Jim Qwilleran, as he moves from one mysterious adventure to the next with “The Cat Who…”

Until next time, a bientot,


Narration’s Perspective

July 4, 2011 1 comment

I ran across a blog the other day that set me to wondering. Heaven knows it doesn’t take much sometimes, but this time was different because it concerned narration.

One of the things that has bugged me about that subject in the past several years is how the term is used. I remember the term”‘narration” as meaning a specific type of writing. The writing centered on the author telling a story from his/her own perspective, though not as one of the major players in the story.

Those types of stories are sometimes hard to find nowadays. At least they’re hard for ne to find. There are other types of narration to consider.

Probably one of the most famous narrative novels was “The Great Gatsby.” It was most definitely written through the eyes of a major player. It’s lure, at least for me, was the fact that while we saw the whole story through the narrator’s eyes, we also saw only memory. It acted as a memoir(fictional, of course,) novel, and commentary all rolled into one neat package for consumption.

At the other end of the spectrum is omniscience; also a type  of narrative which comes from the viewpoint of the cosmos telling the story to whoever will listen. Personally, I thoroughly enjoy this type because I get to know each major player in the story on a personal level through their thoughts.

When I was reading Laura Page’s blog about narrative,, I realized that I’ve been narrow in my view of the term and its use. Oh, I probably  already knew about my personal prejudice toward expanded definitions for the term. I admit to being in denial about encroaching changes in word usage.

Her discussion of narrative, however, allowed me view my own relationship with that writing technique. She spoke about characters with flaws that humanize them and make them more attractive. Now I’m wondering about all of those characters that have held me in thrall for so many years.

The late Janet Kagan drew characters that will live in my memory forever. Her SF book “Mirabile” is a study in how to write funny, memorable, and carry a reader to a place you want to live. Did the main character/narrator have flaws. I suppose she did, but they were so well woven into the stories she told that the reader would be hard pressed to pluck them out.

Elizabeth Moon’s “Deeds of Paksenarrion” is a framed series of books that follow  a young warrior through her trials to become a paladin and her first quest. Paks had plenty of flaws and she struggled with them on the pages, flaunting them before the reader so that all could witness her struggles and find strength within themselves to fight the good fight.

Whether light humor and mystery are on the plate with such writers as Susan Albert Whittig and the late Lillian Jackson Braun or an epic such as Jordan’s “Wheel of Time” series, some genres lend themselves naturally to flawed main characters that grab your by the throat and refuse to let go. Grisham and Patterson, too,  create characters that stick with the reader.

Literary novels, oddly enough, seem to hold a different kind of following and expectation. “To Kill a Mockingbird,” for instance, asks the reader to sit in a courtroom and witness drama unfold toward an end that, in many ways, satisfies no one but leaves the flavor of characters and story forever imprinted in one’s forebrain. The imperfections, as Laura calls them, come in both the setting, circumstances, social commentary, and the characters. A writer just can’t get more sweeping that in 296 pages.

I am learning to stretch my definitions and expectations of term usage. I know. It’s taken me long enough. It’s that Midwestern training I had so long ago. I’ve had to reframe my use of word poem this week, too. That experience left me ripe for this.

So, whatever fare you, as the reader, choose to slap  on your before-bed snack plate, decide for yourself if you prefer the hero/heroine to be perfect or to have flaws. You’re going to  anyway, but now you may stop  and ponder the question.

Until later, a bientot,