The Profound Gift of Laughter

With Thanksgiving Day approaching here in the States, you probably expect to see a post on gratitude or family—a subject people normally write about at this time of year. And I have seen a number of thoughtful posts along those lines.

But this is not one of those posts.

It’s not that I’m ungrateful for the blessings of family or a holiday in which you can eat till you drop. (Every holiday in my opinion.) And I had every intention of writing one of those Thanksgiving gratitude posts. But instead, I can’t help writing about the gift of laughter.

Nancy Hatch over at Spirit Lights the Way usually writes about this subject much more eloquently. If you follow her blog, you can probably recall a post or two. But the reason why I’m thinking about laughter is the fact that I discount the power of laughter sometimes. Yet a sense of humor is one of the traits I look for in a friend.

Years ago, I remember laughing with some friends as one of them told a story about a friend of his. Even after six years, we still laugh about that story. Sorry. I don’t have permission to tell it. There’s a chance you wouldn’t find it even remotely funny. But the first time I heard it, for a solid week it made me laugh every time I thought about it.

The fact that we can laugh at all these days seems like a miracle, especially with all of the sad things happening. Grief has a way of piercing the heart. But laughter does too, in a different way.

I guess I’m stuck on the power of laughter because I know what depression is like. It’s like a place with endless gray walls and not a speck of light. That’s why I treasure laughter. it brings the light in.

I remember reading Terry Pratchett’s book, The Wee Free Men, for the first time when I was feeling down. It made me laugh really, really hard. I searched for my copy of it as I thought about this post, but couldn’t find it. It has a tendency to wander about. But it always turns up when I need it. I laugh every time I read it.

You already know this, but in case you don’t, here is one of the health effects of laughter, which this post at healthguide.org describes:

Laughter boosts the immune system. Laughter decreases stress hormones and increases immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies, thus improving your resistance to disease.

What was the last thing that made you laugh really hard?

May your holiday season be filled with laughter.

Though ’tis the season for Thanksgiving, Kitty is already planning her Christmas scheme. She plans to sit on the sidewalk and ask people for money. Her motto: “Give till it hurts.”

Barbie and Ken can only roll their eyes. But somehow they’re thankful for the laughter their adopted daughter Kitty bringing into their lives.

After eating copious amounts of turkey, these friends plan to binge watch their favorite show, The Great British Baking Show. And of course they will have pie as they watch it.

Turkey from wallyball.homestead.com. Book cover from Goodreads. Great British Baking Show logo found at thats-normal.com. Other photos by L. Marie. Apple Blossom by Moose Toys.

Terry, You’ll Be Missed

220px-10.12.12TerryPratchettByLuigiNovi1One of my favorite authors has passed away. Sir Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books have been among my go-to books whenever I needed a laugh or just wanted a good book to read. His fantasy books are a constant reminder of the glorious adventure of reading and the wonder that can be found in a well-built fictional world, even one teetering on four elephants standing on the back of a giant turtle. These books never fail to make me laugh out loud. Many times, they’ve made me cry. Because of his skill, Pratchett’s books earned him the Carnegie Medal and other awards, honorary degrees, and a knighthood. The elegance of his prose and breadth of vision always challenge me to be a better writer.

I cried when I heard the news of his death. I couldn’t help thinking back to when I saw Sir Terry in person when he popped by Anderson Bookshop in Naperville, Illinois in 2006 to talk about his third Tiffany Aching book, Wintersmith. Believe it or not, the crowd was not as huge as I would have thought it would be with an internationally known author in the house. But the small crowd enabled me to talk with him and tell him how much his books meant to me. (And no, I don’t have a picture of that event, much to my regret.) I later learned, like many others did, that he had early onset Alzheimer’s. What a blow for him and for those of us who admire his rapier wit. It felt like the countdown had begun. Though he lost the ability to type, he continued to write with the help of dictating software and friends and family. And we’re all the richer for having those books.

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Pratchett wrote about witches, wizards, politics, police procedures, and many other subjects with equal skill. Among my favorite characters are Granny (Esme) Weatherwax, who considers herself the head witch in Lancre; Tiffany Aching, a young witch in training; and Commander Sam Vimes, the head of the City Watch in Ankh-Morpork, a huge city-state. I love Pratchett’s crackling dialogue, which sharply delineates every character.

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Granny Weatherwax

Last year he announced that his daughter Rhianna will take over the Discworld series. If you haven’t read any of the Discworld books, I recommend giving them a try. Though the first book is The Color of Magic, I didn’t start there. The first book I read was Equal Rites, about gender politics and wizardry. That’s all I’ll tell you about that hilarious book.

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386372I moved on to Mort, which made me want to read other books Pratchett wrote about another on my list of favorite characters: Death, a Grim Reaper who speaks in ALL CAPITALS. If you’re familiar this character, a recent tweet from Pratchett’s Twitter account with his assistant Rob Wilkins will seem all the more poignant if you imagine Death speaking:

AT LAST, SIR TERRY, WE MUST WALK TOGETHER.

I’ve read (and reread) most of his books—some more than five times. There is one book in his Discworld wizard miniseries that I haven’t yet read. I’ll get to that soon. There also are some picture books I haven’t yet read.

Terry, I’ll miss you. Thanks for being a mentor, though you didn’t suspect that you had that role in my life. At least I had the opportunity to tell you that when you visited my little neck of the woods. And I can still visit you whenever I open one of your books.

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A sweatshirt given to me by friends who also love the Discworld

Terry Pratchett photo from Wikipedia. Book covers from Goodreads. Granny Weatherwax from somewhere on the internet.

Soft and Strong

007A glance at the label of the generic brand of bathroom tissue I use (yes, I dare to go there) got me to thinking. I can see the value of softness and strength in bathroom tissue. But as human characteristics, softness and strength seem like polar opposites, because softness is often equated by some with weakness. I take umbrage to such a notion.

My mom’s got the softness and strength combination down. You probably think the same thing about your mom. My mom’s a hand patter. If you’re miserable, she likes to sit beside you and pat your hand, telling you that everything is going to be okay. But Mom morphs into steel when she goes into battle mode. She’s quick with a handbag upside your head if you decide to break the law. Yes, there is a story attached to that statement, but I won’t go into it now.

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Kate Spade handbag—a classy way to hit someone on the head

I love the juxtaposition of softness and strength in the males and females who populate various fictional worlds. Yet I have very little interest in heroes or heroines who are only seen in one light—that of strength, whether they are viewed as purely cool, physically powerful, or hilariously snarky. I can’t sympathize with a character who completely lacks a soft side. I can understand if he or she desperately wants to hide the fact that he/she is vulnerable. But the absence of any discernible softness causes me to put a story down.

Even Captain America (played by Chris Evans) has a bit of softness beneath his rock-hard abs. Don’t believe that? If you saw Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) [SLIGHT SPOILER], remember the hospital scene when he visits Peggy (who has her own show now on ABC—Agent Carter)? [END SLIGHT SPOILER.] That scene caused even my jaded heart to melt. And I loved the scenes between Cap and Sam Wilson (the Falcon, played by Anthony Mackie), where they talked about their difficult adjustment to civilian life.

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Cap and Peggy

34529Here’s a great example of softness and strength from Terry Pratchett’s Lords and Ladies. (For the plot, click on the book title.) The narration below shows what a character named Shawn thinks about a witch named Magrat who needs to rescue Shawn from some murderous elves. [SLIGHT SPOILER] Shawn doubts her ability to help until he realizes a fundamental truth:

Mum was right—Magrat always was the nice soft one . . .
. . . who’d just fired a crossbow through a keyhole. (268)

Shawn later learns that Magrat (who works with Greebo, a vicious cat described as “just a big softy” [269]) was extremely lethal, even as she “daintily” raises the hem of her dress to kick an iron-allergic elf with shoes bearing iron attachments. [END SLIGHT SPOILER.] Good stuff!

Because of the desire to portray heroines in a strong light and not as damsels in distress, sometimes authors (and I’m thinking mostly of myself) fight against bringing out a heroine’s soft side, hoping readers won’t judge their characters as weak.

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You might get the impression of softness when you see this cupcake. My plans to take over the world, however, might cause you to think something entirely different.

In the first incarnation of my novel, my heroine didn’t seem to have any flaws. She only mildly annoyed some of the secondary characters. Her inability to laugh at herself—to see herself as flawed—was a flaw on my part as the author. I had to start over with her and her story.

The first thing I needed to do was take myself out of the equation. While I hate to be ridiculed or abused, that doesn’t mean I should avoid writing a character’s journey that involves horrible bumps in the road. And while I like to be liked, a character who is liked by everyone isn’t a very compelling character.

One of my VCFA advisors once told me to pay attention to the way secondary characters act toward the main character. While that might seem elementary to you if you’re an experienced storyteller, that advice instigated an epiphany for me. The friction of interactions, often caustic, helped shape the pearl of a better character. Even more interesting, it provided the mixture of softness and strength I find compelling.

In what ways are your characters soft and strong?

Pratchett, Terry. Lords and Ladies. New York: HarperCollins, 1992. Print.

Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter from somewhere on the Internet. Kate Spade handbag from thebusinesshaven.com. Book cover from Goodreads.

Cover Makeover: A Gift of Wings

Today on the blog is the fabulous Stephanie Stamm, who is here to talk about a cover makeover for her novel, A Gift of Wings. Here is the old cover:

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Now feast your eyes on the new cover by the also fabulous Ravven, who also designed the cover for Kate Sparkes’s Bound.

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Continue to feast away while I talk to Stephanie.

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Stephanie: (1) I just got a Smart TV and have recently become a Netflix addict. (2) I’m afraid of spiders and falling off ladders. (3) I don’t have any tattoos. (4) I love avocados and cilantro, which pretty much makes guacamole the perfect food.

El Space: Guacamole is pretty awesome! Tell us about your book, A Gift of Wings. How many books will there be in the Light-Bringer series?
Stephanie: A Gift of Wings is an urban fantasy set in Chicago about a girl named Lucky who, on the eve of her eighteenth birthday, starts seeing wings on people and gets drawn into a world of angels, demons, and ancient gods. As she joins what is to her a new world, she also pulls half-angel Aidan back into the life he’d walked away from two years before. The book gives us both their stories as they come to understand who they are and what they are capable of.

I envision the series as a trilogy. But I’ve also thought about writing additional novellas exploring the stories of some of the supporting characters.

El Space: Why angels? What do you find inspiring about them?
Stephanie: (1) I’m fascinated by winged beings. I once created a shadowbox art piece for a charity auction that I called “Luna Venus” where I gave Bouguereau’s Venus Luna moth wings. Wings are an ancient symbol of power. Plus, who doesn’t want to be able to fly? (2) I find something compelling about combining the human with the angelic “other.” Playing with the mythology of the angel-human hybrid Nephilim is great fun, because they are both human and more than human. Different angels have different traits and abilities, so I get to play with those as well. (3) I love mythology and fairy tales, and the Judeo-Christian tradition is the one I know best. I decided to create my fantasy world out of that tradition.

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Luna moth

El Space: How did you come up with Aidan or Lucky? Who are you most like? Least like?
Stephanie: It’s funny, but Aidan (then unnamed) first occurred to me as a joke. I was just contemplating the bare idea of the story, and I thought, Oh, and one of the characters could be the front man for a band called Icarus. You know, because of the whole flaming wings, falling from the sky thing. My next thought was, Yeah. Why not? I ran with it. And then Aidan had his own ideas about where his story should go.

Lucky took her time in coming to me. I knew some of the things I wanted to have happen to her, but I didn’t know who she was or what her overall story was for a while. That came to me in bits and pieces.

Between Aidan and Lucky, I’m more like Lucky. I’ve lost loved ones—in my case, a much older sister and my mother—to Alzheimer’s, and I lived in Hyde Park—though I was older than Lucky when I did. But her background is different than mine, and she’s braver than I am. Maybe that’s why I found it easier to write the scenes from Aidan’s perspective. The words flowed more easily when I was writing in his voice.

El Space: Now tell us about this beautiful cover and how it came about.
Stephanie: I have you among others to thank for this beautiful cover! 🙂 Awhile back you did a cover reveal for Kate Sparkes’s Bound—an awesome book, by the way—and then later did an interview with Kate. That cover blew me away. It’s just stunning. I had been wanting to get a new cover for A Gift of Wings, because I knew the one I had didn’t really speak to the novel’s genre or target age group. So, I checked out Kate’s cover credit and then contacted the multi-talented Ravven about doing some covers for me as well. She did a gorgeous job with this one and the cover for the sequel, A Gift of Shadows.

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El Space: What brought you to the urban fantasy genre?
Stephanie: Reading Neil Gaiman, Cassandra Clare, and Holly Black, among others. In some ways, my attraction to urban fantasy is the same as my fascination for hybrid beings. It’s that sense of the extraordinary hiding or barely hidden right behind the ordinary, everyday world we inhabit.

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El Space: How would you finish this sentence: “In the urban fantasy genre, I’d like to see more ______________”? Why?
Stephanie: I know it’s a current buzzword, but I’d like to see more diversity—not just in urban fantasy. I tried to include diverse characters in A Gift of Wings, but I know I could do more in future work. No one book or series will ever be able to include all possible variations, but we could do better at avoiding common tropes and learning about other cultures, etc., so we can write outside our comfort zones.

El Space: Amen to that! What books/authors inspire you as an author?
Stephanie: I have a huge writer crush on Neil Gaiman. I love Neverwhere and American Gods. The man knows mythology better than anyone. Good Omens, which he wrote with Terry Pratchett, is also a favorite—well, it is about angels and demons. I find Kate Griffin’s Matthew Swift series—A Madness of Angels, The Midnight Mayor, The Neon Court, and The Minority Council—completely compelling. Talk about urban fantasy. In her novels, the urban is fantastic and the fantastic is urban. I’m in awe. On the YA front, the Harry Potter books, of course, and the Hunger Games, and Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series.

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El Space: What advice do you have for authors who want to write urban fantasy?
Stephanie: Read it and read it and read more of it. Then, let your imagination run. What kinds of places and images do you find evocative? And who do you want to people your world? What kind of characters do you love? Mostly, I think, whatever genre we write in, we need to read it. And we need to write what we love. There’s no point in trying to write urban fantasy if cozy mysteries are what light you up. That’s not to say that we can’t explore or write in multiple genres, just that we shouldn’t try to force ourselves into being who we aren’t.

El Space: What writing project are you working on now?
Stephanie: I’m working on the second volume of the Light-Bringer series: A Gift of Shadows. It’s with beta readers now. I’m hoping to be able to release it at the end of the year. My mind is also churning with ideas for the third book.

Thanks, Stephanie, for stopping by the blog!

Looking for Stephanie? You can find her at her blog. A Gift of Wings is available here:

Amazon
Barnes & Noble
Smashwords

In honor of her cover makeover, Stephanie is giving away a paperback and an ebook of A Gift of Wings. Comment below to be entered in the drawing! Winners will be announced on Monday, August 18.

A Gift of Wings cover courtesy of Stephanie Stamm. Other book covers from Goodreads. Luna moth from fwallpapers.com.

More Valuable?

I don’t know about you, but when I was a kid, all you needed to do to make my day was to hand me an inflated balloon. Didn’t matter what color. Just hand me one and I’d be happy. And when it would pop, as inevitably it would since I was the kind of kid who quickly popped balloons or broke things because of my less-than-gentle grasp, I would be devastated. But for those moments of having that balloon, all was right with the world.

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What is it about a balloon that brings such joy? The fact that they float? Their roundness when inflated? I dunno, but I’m done trying to analyze the appeal. Let’s just leave chalk them up to fun, okay?

While pondering the issue with balloons, I couldn’t help segueing to the issue of humor in a story. I’ve pondered this issue many times, because I’ve had conversations about the subject over the years. These conversations raised the following questions: Are serious stories more valuable than humorous stories? Is the entertainment factor of a humorous story equal to that of the entertainment value of a balloon—here today and probably popped tomorrow? In other words, not long lasting?

By now, you might be calling for my head for daring to equate humorous writing with balloons. Rest assured—that is not my assessment. As I mentioned in the previous paragraph, I’ve been thinking about the subject. Part of the reason for my pondering comes from conversations in which I’ve heard unfavorable comparisons made between humorous writing and writing of a more serious nature with humor writing deemed as the lower life form. I’ve also been told that you’re not a “real” writer unless you write War and Peace, Antigone, or something else of a serious nature.

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I’ve heard similar thoughts uttered about graphic novels and picture books—basically that their brevity of text and higher ratio of pictures (the nature of both types of books) make them entertaining but not as valuable as, say, Ulysses.

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I think we all know that such comments are subjective, rather than constructive. Anyone who has ever written a graphic novel or a picture book knows how difficult it is to write a good one. Because of the marriage of text and images, every word has to be chosen carefully.

Same with humor. Don’t believe me? Then read something by Dave Barry, David Sedaris, or Tina Fey.

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The funny thing is (and yes that pun was intended) humor is sometimes discounted, because the value of laughter is discounted. But you have only to Google laughter is good medicine to find many videos on the medicinal value of laughter.

I’ve had bouts of depression over the years. At those times, I often turned to books written by this guy:

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Sir Terence David John Pratchett or Terry Pratchett

At those times, books with a somber tone would have gone over like the proverbial lead balloon. Even when the cloud lifted, I turned to Terry’s books. Many have a gorgeous combination of humor and pathos—not an easy combination to get right.

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Don’t get me wrong. I love a good tragedy. Macbeth is one of my favorites. And I’m totally loving Babylon 5, a series created by J. Michael Straczynski that I somehow missed in the 90s and can now see, thanks to Netflix. It has a wonderful combination of humor and agonizing tragedy. Season 2 is heartbreaking!

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I’m reminded of this passage from Ecclesiastes:

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: . . . a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh. Ecclesiastes 3:1, 4

Sometimes a heartbreaking story or angsty poetry “speaks” to me. Other times, a laugh-out-loud-funny book is just what I need. So I can’t value one over the other, because they both meet a need at a particular time.

Getting back to the balloon, there’s a time for them too. While recovering from an illness or surgery over the years, nothing heartened me more than a cheerful balloon floating above my bed. There are some things, you never let go of. Balloons are one of those joys I never outgrew.

If you like John Cleese, click here for a great video on laughter. (And no, it’s not a Monty Python video. Sorry.)

Balloons from happypartyidea.com. Terry Pratchett photo from Wikipedia. Book covers from Goodreads. Babylon 5 image from brainstomping.wordpress.com.

Check This Out: Strange Sweet Song

adiruleGreetings one and all. I feel like singing. Know why? Here today is the awesome Adi Rule, author of the young adult novel, Strange Sweet Song (St. Martin’s Press), which releases today!

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Here is a synopsis:

18112933Music flows in Sing da Navelli’s blood. When she enrolls at a prestigious conservatory, her first opera audition is for the role of her dreams. But this leading role is the last Sing’s mother ever sang, before her controversial career, and her life, were cut tragically short.

As Sing struggles to escape her mother’s shadow and prove her own worth, she is drawn to the conservatory’s icy forest, a place steeped in history, magic, and danger. She soon realizes there is more to her new school than the artistry and politics of classical music.

With the help of a dark-eyed apprentice who has secrets of his own, Sing must unravel the story of the conservatory’s dark forest and the strange creature who lives there—and find her own voice.

Adi is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency. Let’s talk to Adi, shall we?

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Adi: I am left handed. I have never had a cavity. My favorite band is My Chemical Romance. I love video games.

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El Space: No cavities, huh? I wish I could say that about myself! How long was the process of writing Strange Sweet Song?
Adi: About two years.

music-note-icon-psd-psdgraphics-124893El Space: I didn’t know you were a singer until I read your bio on your book. So the obvious question is what commonalities or differences do you share with Sing da Navelli? But I have to ask what other character(s) do you see yourself in most?
Adi: In a way, of course, everything and everyone in the story is me, but I don’t see myself particularly in any of the characters. Sing deals with some psychological issues that are common among singers, so we share some of that. And she’s not always likable—that controversial word—which some readers have responded negatively to at first. But I tried to write honestly; classical singing is so cutthroat that a certain amount of puffy confidence is a matter of survival—but along with that is constant, vicious self-doubt. Sing’s emotional journey is her attempt to navigate between these two extremes to a place where she can actually grow as an artist and as a person.

MacawEl Space: Understandable. What was the inspiration behind characters like Nathan Daysmoor? The Felix?
Adi: Nathan, to me, is that unadulterated love of music that all the best musicians have at their core. He exists outside of the politics of academia and the music world in general, but that also isolates him. I’m actually not sure where the Felix came from. I think her name came first; I have a macaw named Felix—who is nothing like the Felix! OK, sometimes I can tell he wants to rip my throat out—and he’s gotten comments along the lines of, “Isn’t Felix a cat’s name?” But despite Felix cats of varying renown, the name doesn’t come from feles—“cat”—it comes from felix—”happy”—and I guess that train of thought was the seed of a character.

El Space: Reading Strange Sweet Song was like watching a staged musical. What musicals, if any, influenced the book? I couldn’t help thinking of Phantom of the Opera and operas like La traviata.
Adi: Angelique, which the students perform, is a gentle parody of nineteenth century opera. It’s the play-within-a-play that mirrors the events of the novel itself, except that Sing—who loves opera, and Angelique especially—has to eventually come to terms with its flaws.

Sunday_patinkin_peters_aThere are no musicals that specifically influenced the book, although I am a big fan of musicals as well. I like Maury Yeston/Arthur Kopit’s Phantom very much, though strangely enough, I didn’t have it in mind while writing SSS, even though the stories both feature young female singers and sort of darkly attractive mentors. Must have been my subconscious! My other all-time favorites are Sunday in the Park with George, Moby Dick: The Musicalone of the funniest things I’ve ever seen—and, I will admit proudly, Cats. Because, come on. Cats is awesome! And the brilliant Growltiger “opera excerpt” is one of the reasons I got into actual opera.

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Frozen-Soundtrack-frozen-35659358-1280-1280El Space: What songs would you put on a Strange Sweet Song playlist? I ask this, because I’m listening to the Frozen soundtrack on my phone. 😀
Adi: The Frozen soundtrack is very appropriate for the northeast right now! Ha ha! While some of the music and composers in SSS are invented, there are quite a few real pieces throughout the novel. I wanted to throw in pieces people might be familiar with, but they’re all easily accessible on the amazing Internet, anyway. 🙂 Definitely Brahms Opus 118, No. 2 (Intermezzo in A), because that piece features prominently in the story. Pamina’s aria, “Ach, ich fühl’s,” from The Magic Flute, plays an important role as well. And two heartbreakingly gorgeous soprano arias that influenced my idea of what Angelique’s aria might sound like are “Song to the Moon” from Rusalka and “Ain’t it a Pretty Night” from Susannah.

El Space: Which authors influenced you as a writer?
Adi: As a kid, I adored Roald Dahl and James Howe, and I still do. They taught me so much about how to use words and how to be funny, coming at it from opposite ends of the spectrum. Dahl is so delightfully big—just look at all those italics!—and Howe was that hilarious American-dry before it was mainstream. I love Diana Wynne Jones‘s simple, subtle, crystal-clear style that socks you right in the guts. I love every sentence Frances Hardinge has written. I will never be as clever or insightful as Terry Pratchett, and it makes me so happy that he intends to keep writing for as long as he is able. I’m inspired by Lemony Snicket, a master somewhat disguised as frivolous, who often prompts me to wonder, “Can he do that?” And for just perfect words, I am continually delighted by Alicia Potter.

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El Space: What advice do you have for authors who want to incorporate their previous job experience in their novels—i.e., they’re musicians and want to write about the industry; they’re actors or lawyers—whatever? How should an author guard against information overkill?
Adi: That’s a great question. I’d say start—and end—with character. Having real-world experience with the nuts and bolts you’re writing about will lend an easy authenticity to the story, but at its heart, the story is probably about someone who faces a difficulty and undergoes some kind of change. Readers will connect with the emotional arc of the main character regardless of the environment or field she’s in. In terms of info overload, I think it’s important to remember that readers are smart. They’ll get it! Define profession-specific words and situations by context whenever possible—a character’s reaction to something tells us a lot more about it than straight-up exposition. Also, give us the right details rather than all the details. The emotion and the sensory aspects of a scene have to come first, so choose actions and descriptions that both educate and illustrate. And if you have to pick one, always illustrate.

El Space: What writing project are you working on now?
Adi: My next novel from St. Martin’s is called at the moment Redwing, and we’re currently in the editing stage. It’s a bit industrial revolution and a bit mythological. Plus ostriches! I’m very excited about it.

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Thanks, Adi, for being my guest! Happy Book Release Day!

Strange Sweet Song is available here:

Amazon
Barnes and Noble
Indiebound
Powell’s Books
Anderson Bookshop

Looking for Adi? You can find her at her website, EMU Debuts blog, Facebook, and Twitter.

I’m giving away a hardcover copy of Strange Sweet Song. Comment below to be entered in the drawing. Winner to be announced on the Ides of March. (Um, that would be fifteenth.) Thanks for stopping by!

Book birthday image from romancingrakes4theluvofromance.blogspot.com. Music note from wallsave.com. My Chemical Romance photo from Wikipedia. Covers from Goodreads. Author photo courtesy of Adi Rule. Phantom of the Opera logo from ukfrey.blogspot.com. Sunday in the Park with George image from Wikipedia. Cats image from catsthemusical99.blogspot.com. Macaw photo from adaptingeden.com. Ostrich from freefoto.com.

A Common Thread

needle-and-threadWhen I read this post at John Scalzi’s blog where Guy Gavriel Kay discussed the overarching theme of his novels, my mind started racing. (If you’re not sure who Guy Gavriel Kay is, click here. For John Scalzi, click here.)

Anyway, if you don’t feel like reading that post, Guy Gavriel Kay mentioned that he was asked why all of his books have the theme of exile. If you’ve read his books (I read Tigana), you might be nodding at this point and saying, “Yeah, I see that.”

I love the notion of having an overarching theme, a thread connecting all of my novels. It kind of reminds me of the dog that pops up in the illustrations of Chris Van Allsburg’s picture books—a fun extra readers know will be there. But on a deeper level, having something that links all of my novels is a way of sharing a passion of mine.

Now, you might be thinking, if I’m working on four novels (a duology and two stand alones), how on earth could I have a linking theme? Okay, I’ll tell you.

I’ve always been fascinated by the concept of the journey as teacher—the hero’s journey—and often gravitate toward books of that ilk: Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien; The Odyssey by Homer; Beowulf; Sabriel by Garth Nix; The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett; Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson; The Silver Chair by C. S. Lewis; The Princess and Curdie by George MacDonald. (And by hero, I mean male or female.) Once that realization dawned during my third semester of grad school, I knew I had settled on a topic for my critical thesis, as well as a structure for the young adult fantasy novel I was struggling with at the time.

With a journey story, the emphasis is on movement. No stagnant pool here, but a flowing river with rapids and turns. As Joseph Campbell stated in The Hero with a Thousand Faces:

The familiar life horizon has been outgrown; the old concepts, ideals, and emotional patterns no longer fit; the time for the passing of a threshold is at hand. (Campbell 51)

A compelling journey story involves struggles beyond the daily “I ran into traffic” grind. Consider the journeys you find most memorable: rescue missions, mountain-climbing adventures, immigration stories, migrations (of animals too, if you watched the documentary Winged Migration). With journeys, character strengths and weaknesses come into focus.

Blake Snyder, author of the popular screenwriting tips book, Save the Cat, uses the term golden fleece in his discussion of hero’s journey stories. If you’re up on Greek mythology, you know that the quest undertaken by Jason and the Argonauts involved the search for the golden fleece. According to Snyder:

The theme of every Golden Fleece movie is internal growth. . . . It’s not the mileage we’re racking up that makes a good Golden Fleece, it’s the way the hero changes as he goes. (Snyder 28)

Reading these stories, some larger than life, makes us want to test our own limits, don’t they? The most powerful journey stories can inspire us to be better people—to do what we can to effect change in our world.

What journey stories inspire you? If you’ve read all or most of an author’s books, what theme, if any, have you noticed as a common thread?

Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press/Bollingen Series XVII, 1949. Print.

Snyder, Blake. Save the Cat! Studio City, CA: Michael Wiese Productions/Sheridan Books, 2005. Print.