And then there were three (NYNs)… Do you find plot more difficult than character? | Roz Morris (original – sent to wordpress from blog)

Nail Your Novel

SONY DSCPhew, the plot book is ready. It seems to have taken a marathon of effort; much longer than the characters book. So much that I’m wondering if this tells me something about the nature of plot.

In writing the book, I’ve been pinning down the ultimate essentials – what a plot is, what it needs – whether you’re a genre author, a literary author, or anywhere on the spectrum between the two. Indeed, if you want to defy convention, are there some story and plot principles that still hold? I found there were. I also found that even an apparently loosely structured book followed a few simple patterns.

But honestly, Roz, you’ve been promising this book for most of the year.

Yeah, why did it take me so much longer than characters? As I wrote up the tutorials – starting from blogposts and mentoring notes – I found that each…

View original post 919 more words

Joyce Carol Oates: This Love Has Come Upon Me Slowly

This love has come upon me slowly, quite unsought for and quite unexpected. I see now that it has stealthily wormed into way into my heart, this love of the intricate way you work upon words. The craftsmanship is so honest, so dedicated, so pure, that it was perhaps inevitable that I should succumb, but I did not see it coming, and this is unusual, for one who cannot contemplate life without reading words to find a pattern.

There have been other loves; flashier ones perhaps such as Ayn Rand who lit up my university years with her capitalist philosophy of excellence, more quirky oddball ones such as John Irving who never ever bored me with his equally horrifying and sentimental tales. And there are ones like David Mitchell who, chameleon-like, changes the colour of his coat and transgresses between worlds.

But your books are something like a prayer to me. They require me to persevere and work hard so that I may gain, so that I may perceive the unwitting unconsciousness that underlies life, and pity the characters and honor them as metaphorical representatives of the humanity we share. There is nothing big or over-the-top about your work, but you are the grand mistress of sheer resplendent trueness; not a word wasted, not a single emotion over-dramatised. The truest moments collect in the form of unshed tears and shrieking silences. You show what it is to be alive in someone else’s skin.

When did I recognise my absolute allegiance to your craftsmanship? It was a blinding moment of immaculate admiration that came as a gasp from nowhere; for a moment I shared with you the deep eviscerating joy and simultaneous pain of being human; I found myself engulfed by an emotion so deep I could not speak or breathe or give it a name.

Because it is Bitter, and Because it is My Heart

It was in a lesser-known book of yours with the peculiar title of Because it is Bitter, and Because it is My Heart (How odd, my writer’s mind thought, and why the present tense?), and the cover is no better with its slender black silhouette leaning for support against what looks like a corn-stalk. I see her as a frail dreaming shadow. Did you, JCO, oversee that cover design I asked myself? If so, why a corn-stalk?

But still my hand went out to the tattered novel on the second-hand book sale table. Where books are concerned, it has always been as if my hand has jurisdiction over my mind, always a step ahead knowing what it needs and wants. Of course when I reached home I asked myself the inevitable question I’d asked myself before: Why on earth did you buy another Joyce Carol Oates?

The sentence that transformed me into a believer is on page 403 of my dog-eared copy of Because it is Bitter and Because it is My Heart, two pages from the end. You must know which one I mean? You wrote it thus: “On the reverse of the print Jinx had written in that large looping lazy-seeming hand, ‘Honey – think I’ll ‘pass?'” 

It will seem like nothing to anybody else, just an innocuous silly sentence, but that could only be because they have haven’t lived through Iris’s story, page by gut-wrenching page, or because they are not human. But I had read your book and lived it and never knew how much I loved it – felt it as Iris did – until that shocking sentence, with its declaration of unsuspected love, hit me in the solar plexus.

So you have crept up on me over the years, and book by book I have read your words and now I have reached the position of faith, which means that I am forever indebted and transformed, and will perhaps have to re-read every book of yours I have already read. But fortunately you are as prolific as you are true to your art; so there is no real danger that I shall ever run out of the pleasure of reading the stories you tell.

~~~ Joyce Carol Oates, 1938 – ,  Bibliography:

KEEP READING

_____________________________________

Missing Mom by Joyce Carol Oates on Goodreads
Image result for goodreads iconView all my reviews

Missing MomInteresting to see how the UK and USA Editions have different titles. This is the UK edition which I read:

Mother Missing

A Swashbuckling Premise

 

The Fall, with Catinca Untaru

The Fall, with Catinca Untaru

The Fall by Indian movie director Tarsem Singh is one of those big-screen wonders that catapulted me into unexpected wonder. Its swashbuckling premise is that if you can trust in a paradigm where reality and fantasy are allies then anything can happen and brave little girls get to be Zorro.

The heroine Alexandria, a small girl who befriends a fallen stuntman (fallen in both the ways of movie horses that gallop away instead of standing still for an important second when the stunt actor is jumping off a railway bridge onto their back, and in the way of the hopeless romantic adulation of beautiful women who love the things money can buy and are hence shamelessly loose with their affections) is played by Rumanian child actress Catinca Untaru who is not only ferociously talented but utterly convincingly charming as she slips between reality and fantasy with the easy agility of an old pro (think Meryl Streep 10 years old).

Suffice it to say that I deeply, jealously, wished that I had invented her before they did. I resented that director and his whole film crew for having discovered this amazing child before I could breathe her form onto the page. As entertaining as the film was I considered Alexandria (or was it Catinca?) ill-used.

In my novel, the one I might have produced if someone else hadn’t dared to pluck her out of the ether, she would have reached full potential as a fully rounded character. This is the deceit of every writer – we believe that we can invent a world entirely from scratch and people it with such original, such charming, such fully breathing characters that we can trick our dear readers into not only suspending disbelief but believing this is a scene of reality that has never happened in life.

Catinca became the first Rumanian child to star in an international movie, winning the role from hundreds of hopeful child stars, after learning english in her native Bucharest from the age of four (indeed showing such an aptitude for it that she could do various accents). Catinca’s agent Andreea Tanasescu convinced Tarsem Singh to let her audition and she was apparently so good at slipping between fantasy and reality at the audition that the director adjusted all his ideas of who should play the role and selected her.

Her mother said that Catinca returned to being Catinca, leaving Alexandria behind on the film set, as soon as she arrived back in the hotel room. But I cannot help thinking that only Catinca could have created Alexandria, and in that sense her imagined interpreted Alexandria is quite singular and unique, a fruit picker’s daughter in 1920’s Los Angeles who exists as an avatar of Catinca Untary. Out of a movie called The Fall, has come a personality that DID NOT EXIST BEFORE.

It is possible, that’s all I’m saying.

P.S. I discover only today that Catinca Untaru nearly missed her plane to the film shoot because of difficulties getting a visa for South Africa (my home country) where The Fall was being filmed. I regard this as a strange coincidence. And so it is that the imagination, a rubber elastic band with its own tension, bounds back and forth between reality and fantasy with remarkable pliability.

Was Ayn Rand Wrong? An Essay on Capitalism

Was Ayn Rand, provocative author of Atlas Shrugged [1]and The Fountainhead wrong about Capitalism? And by implication, the women of my generation who fed our capitalist aspirations on her discourse, as if it were mother’s milk that would protect and nourish us, have we trodden the false path ever since? What an unbearably intriguing question.

I imagine educated, middle-aged women all over the world cleaning out their book shelves, loading them with the new versions of capitalist literature; throwing out their old Ayn Rands

That’s what triggered the heretic thought that Ayn Rand might have been wrong all these years: a chatty newspaper piece by a bookish woman confessing to cleaning out her book shelves, throwing out the Ayn Rand novels (amongst others); she would just buy new freedom-1editions if she wanted to. She got me thinking. Of course it’s not likely (that she’d go and buy them again). Why should she? We privileged women have absorbed the message; us university girls, the cows of silken gaze who have grazed in the corridors of literacy and enlightenment. But there are some interesting new covers out there…

The new versions of literature for female capitalists are the self-help guides written by personal finance gurus of the likes of Suze Orman (Don’t spend more than you earn!). But it doesn’t seem quite as enjoyable a way of absorbing the message as reading about the heroic efforts ofRand’s bigger-than-life main protagonists, so some of us are holding onto our Ayn Rand novels and lending them out to our up-and-coming capitalist progeny.

And if one of these young people (in my case a nephew) should be sufficiently impressed to buy their own full set of Rand novels, as if the whole caboodle were an encoded manual on how to become a good capitalist, straight off the Internet, ARO_Fiction_Anthemwe’re left smugly pleased that the young person in question leans heavily towards the promise of legitimate wealth and power in a world where warlords, drug lords, gang leaders and criminals are often the kingpins. As if the threat of a confining humiliating incarceration is not enough to dissuade our gentle protected youth from that so-called ‘easy’ path. Naturally, we Randians are totally opposed to white collar crime; Rand’s heroes would not have stooped to such dishonourable behaviour.

It’s taken me all of my life thus far to get to Germaine Greer and I’m a reasonably well-read individual, although I’ve missed out about twenty-something reading years, all due to a prolonged period of my life where I indulged in the headlong pursuit of wealth and power. Now here I am, three years along from a desired retrenchment, having spilled my guts into countless beautiful notebooks and even written a fiction novel, never having been bored (except once or twice maybe), with a desire to take up philosophy. I have an urge to ask questions and seek answers about the important stuff. And all due to Greer directing my thoughts into novel paths. Why have I avoided her? But then what sensible woman wouldn’t be put off by a title like The Female Eunach? So at a mature age, with sufficient experience and suffering under my belt, I pick up Daddy, We Hardly Knew You by Germaine Greer at the library sale. I’m quickly absorbed by her true story.  It’s probably because my own father has passed on to green pastures and was hardly known.

Which is harder, to know nothing and suspect lies and come to the conclusion that one’s own father is nothing but a straw-filled scarecrow, or to know everything: exactly where he was born, to which grandparents, who the siblings were, what he did in his free time, the date he embarked on a ship for South Africa; and yet know nothing, understand nothing, comprehend nothing, of the silence that has accompanied one’s father all one’s life. I have hundreds of photographs of him from birth to death (yes, even as he lay on the flowered sheets of his death bed), and yet I know nothing about him. He never told me stories of his life, of who he loved and hated or just bore with patience, of why he loved or hated or bore with patience, of his trials and tribulations and confusions, of his victories and triumphs and achievements. Nothing. Was my father an empty man? Was the past too much to face? Was it enough, just to cope with the present? Just to love us and be a good provider? Just to produce the paper that kept the paper mill and our small village alive? Could it be that my father was as naïve as he was good?

But I digress, one man’s struggle to be a good capitalist is not necessarily the same as  a profoundly intellectual world view on the matter. It’s Greer’s account ofIndiathat fascinates. There’s something measured and scholarly and dignified and human and touching about her account. I would love to know Mrs Vaishampayan and her sisters. Mr Vaishampayan is a hero of manhood. How unexpected, this vista ofIndia, spiritual well-being that includes floating melody and gentle laughter founded on a bedrock of wealth and status. So even the rich can aspire to and achieve spiritual happiness. This is a revelation. Elsewhere in the book she talks about the life of small towns and how the sense of community is dying out with the advent of television. I know that I regret the television’s arrival in our house. But perhaps even Germaine Greer can be naïve. Did these happy villages with their happy village life really exist? Perhaps one or two here and there, exceptions to the rule of poverty and degradation. But weren’t the rest happier after capitalism arrived, on average, all things considered? That is the question a capitalist would ask.

The young girls I see are flabby and fat. The newspapers call them curvaceous as if this is something desirable. I cut out an article on ‘curvaceous’ mannequins who take their hot and sexy cues from the voluptuous curves of Beyoncé and J Lo.  ‘Mr Knoth…said that people seemed bewitched by the Sex line mannequins…Men, women and children wanted to touch them, he said.’ There’s no surprise in any of this. Everyone would agree that a mannequin should reflect the times we live in, and since ‘attitude’ seems to have become the antithesis of ‘substance’ why shouldn’t mannequins have ‘attitude’ as shown by bigger, sexy derrieres? But there’s another take on this. There’s a general expansion of body shapes due to the fact that we’ve got all that leisure time we’ve worked so hard for, and now we use that leisure time to sit in front of our televisions and live vicariously. We have become sedentary slothful people. Our heroes and heroines, and super-heroes and super-heroines, are those supermen and superwomen who live our lives for us. We spend precious time, our leisure time sitting down and watching them and admiring them. Take the phenomenon of Lance Armstrong. Now there’s a man who can’t have much time to sit in front of the television. He’s too busy cycling, writing books, attending celebrity functions and fielding questions about performance boosting drugs.

In Ayn Rand’s carefully constructed world the will of man is paramount. I intend man in the generic sense, outside of gender connotations, any heroines in her books were at the very least shadows of the heroic epic figure of the Howard Roark prototype. Everything is driving ambition and power, the full focus of the mind is on the achievement of self. Where there is will there is also ego. There is no tomorrow, only one life. Man’s creative potential as a producer is exalted. A good capitalist is one who renounces religion and spirituality since they are anti-reason. On the same grounds altruism, collectivism and mysticism cannot co-exist with capitalism. Selfishness is a virtue. Reading Germaine Greer has opened a window; I realise how insinuating Ayn Rand’s evangelical message was; I welcomed it, absorbed it and made it my own. My little wavering attempts at a new-found spirituality are hampered by my life, my constrained capitalist life with its straight lines and sharp corners, its demand for proof, its obsession with reason.  I’m brought to mind of an appreciation to a mapmaker in Time magazine – a man who revolutionized mapmaking by focussing on aesthetics first and then only introducing mathematics. Perhaps this is the answer to our quandary. Perhaps capitalism has been too much of one thing and not enough of another.

Ayn Rand’s achievement was to transform capitalism into an art form through her eloquence. Time has moved on. The pendulum swings to the other side. There’s a new class of Haves and Have Nots. Those striving for a state of spiritual wisdom, and those not striving. The trick is to work out for yourself if capitalism and spirituality are two congruent worlds or overlapping realities. We are inundated by books written by so-called professionals – from psychics to self-help gurus – who make a healthy profit out of leading us away from worldly thoughts, in a mass turnaround, like lemmings from the cliff edge,  to the realms of obscure higher thoughts. The fervour of these armchair philosophers is superseding Ayn Rand’s capitalist zeal, swaying us in new directions, no doubt taking us to new heights of folly.

I am bothered by a philosophical question Greer asks: ‘Can a man step in the same river twice? At first I don’t understand why the answer is ‘NO’. Of course I can step in the same river again and again. There are times when ignorance is frustrating and debilitating. Then it comes to me as I write this piece; the river is flowing, ever-changing, so that the exact moment can never be repeated. So I concentrate on the river and reach further high thoughts. Where I step into the river, the river is changed for a moment, as it flows around. I go a step further; within me my thoughts are flowing, ever-changing, so that I am also changed by my act. I go all the way; outside circumstances are also flowing, ever-changing, like the seasons and the weather, the time of day. How could I have not understood? It is immensely profound. Heady stuff, this philosophy.

 1.  According to a survey by the Library of Congress and Book-of-the-Month Club, Atlas Shrugged ranked second after the Bible as the that most influenced people’s lives. (http://www.libertystory.net)

Essay written for “Illuminating The Spirit”; Department of Arts & Culture

LADY LIMBO is the Next Big Thing…

Writer of literary mystery novel Lady Limbo, Consuelo Roland plays a little blog tag. She was tagged by the wonderful short story writer Liesl Jobson, and here she shares a quick Q&A about her new novel Lady Limbo. 

IMG_9031x

What is your working title of your book?

From early on I had two working titles, partly because I knew it was volume I of the Limbo Trilogy;  the one title was With My Last Breath and the other was Lady Limbo. When my agent wanted my manuscript to submit it to Jacana Media for their consideration, I hesitated over which title to use. Eventually I went with Lady Limbo, and then once we had a signed contract I mentioned the alternative title as a possibility. But Jacana Media were adamant that it should remain Lady Limbo. I think they were right in retrospect because the cover design perfectly complements the title, and as my niece pointed out “Alliteration is always good in a title!”

Where did the idea come from for the book?

A ground hostess told my mother a very sexy naughty story one long night at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris. Her name is forever lost in the torrential downpour of that stormy night. Lady Limbo is the story of a globe-trotting career woman whose life unravels when her husband disappears. Paola Dante’s search leads her to a mysterious international organisation that hires genetically superior men out for the purposes of face-to-face procreation.

Real Man International (aka RMI), the name of the secret organisation she visits, is an invented name, but the organization exists; it’s details reside in a ground hostess’s little black book as per her own words. It was fun to turn things around and evoke a world where men are  paid ridiculous stud fees to be at the beck and call of willful high-flying women who can afford to be extravagant. If one believes the ground hostess’s story then it’s clear that occasionally a perfectly ordinary independently-minded woman – such as  a ground hostess – might use RMI’s services, and get herself into a spot of trouble.

IMG_8930x

What genre does your book fall under?

Lady Limbo is perhaps best described as a literary mystery novel with some big dollops of mind-twisting suspense. There’s plenty of character development as well as sex, fear and violence. The mystery genre aims to keep the reader perched on the edge of his or her seat, without being as restrictive as a whodunit. It allows for the whydunit perspective which is far more interesting. In Lady Limbo the emotional stakes are high and the internal conflict is mirrored by villainous external forces.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem are the obvious choices for the lead roles of career woman and missing husband in the movie version of Lady Limbo. The girl at the bus-stop would be somebody newly discovered who has that ‘it’ factor which combines the innocence of freckles with wide open knowing eyes and a blonde ponytail… the daughter of somebody I know is perfect. The male half of the French villain couple should be slim, suave and able to wear a dinner jacket – maybe Ben Kingsley – and the female half should be Naomi Rapace of Girl With The Dragon Tattoo movie fame.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Forced to hunt down Lady Limbo, the elusive internet ghost of a youthful love affair that ended in betrayal, Paola Dante risks everything and learns to trust no one in a race to find her missing husband.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency? 

Lady Limbo, my new novel,  is represented by an independent agency and is published by Jacana Media. It’s a more layered mystery thriller with an international setting, and the first of the Limbo Trilogy. It seemed to make sense to publish traditionally.

However, I self-published my debut novel The Good Cemetery Guide as an e-book after getting my world rights back in 2012. It provided an excellent opportunity to gain an understanding of what it means to self-publish.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

It took 18 months to do the first draft for Lady Limbo, but I did two other complete rewrites before settling on the current version. In total Lady Limbo took me about four (4) years to write. I’m hoping that volumes II and III of the Limbo Trilogy go much faster because the foundation has been laid and I know the ending for each of them.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Although the plot of Lady Limbo is vastly different and more akin to a thriller in many respects, The Blind Assassin, Atwood’s mystery story of extra-marital betrayal and sexual allure with its triangular love plot and multi-layered structure had long fascinated me, and it seemed always to be in the background.

But the major influence on Lady Limbo was Stieg Larsson’s sensational Millenium Trilogy which changed the face of the crime novel in the 21st Century. I read The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo on holiday in Europe with snow falling outside my window in-between tapping away at Lady Limbo on my laptop, and addicted to Larsson’s formula, polished off The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest in quick succession.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

A good thriller chills our blood, readying us for a mesmerizing journey through the glowing portals of hell. I’d tackled death in The Good Cemetery Guide so it seemed like the next obvious topic was sex. But I did not want it to be soft porn; rather I had to find a way of writing a story around the issues faced by modern professional women who have a plethora of relationship and sexual choices available to them, and how girl children are affected by our sexually charged online-media society.

Lady Limbo transports us into a parallel reality where humanity’s worst instincts are at play. The “dark web” (an invisible black hole of untraceable activity) is estimated to be an incredible 15 times larger than the web we know, with more than 900 billion pages. It is a world where the illegal is openly available, providing a hidden shop window for criminal gangs and sexual predators. On the dark web innocence is traded like any other commodity

IMG_8757x

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

The perfect life… Or a beautiful lie? The seductive Lady Limbo leads Paola Dante into dark territory she never knew existed, where she must question all she knows. How far would you go for love? All the way?

Lady Limbo is a thoroughly twenty-first century story with an international setting and full of enigmatic twists and turns. Just when you think the story is going one way then it suddenly gets even more interesting and ups the ante. The shocks and surprises keep on coming at the character like she’s in a shooting arcade, dodging a hidden shooter in a world of seduction and darkness. Paola has to think on her feet all the time, or the truth will find her before she finds the truth.

As this is a blog roll, I’m handing over to Ronald IrwinKerry Hammerton and   Jacqui L’Ange who’ll be posting their blogs next week.

Tagging other bloggers who have already done the Next Best Thing: Liesl Jobson, Ann Fisher-Wirth, Susan Rich, Susan Elbe and Cynthia Reeser

IMG_8795x

Connect with Consuelo: Website / Twitter / Lady Limbo Facebook / The Good Cemetery Guide Facebook

What Happens Next? Wrestling with Fiction

A few weeks ago I read John Irving’s The World According to Garp. It’s odd I took so long to get to it considering that I am a huge John Irving fan, but it was an early book and I found the title unappealing; still perhaps there’s some truth to the adage that the teacher appears when the student is ready. An overseas publisher at the Franschhoek Literary Festival mentioned the delight of completing a trans-Atlantic flight with the manuscript of The World According to Garp as reading material. In spite of the story’s unusual nature she pushed for it to be published and the rest is history. The World According to Garp became John Irving’s breakout novel.

Irving’s Garp writes a novel in which the central character knifes her rapist to death in a graphic first chapter.

Garp’s publisher considers the book to be x-rated soap-opera, nevertheless the visceral language and controversial subject matter have potential market appeal so he does what he’s done before with books he’s not certain about: he asks the woman who cleans his office to read it, not expecting her to read past the first few pages.

We learn that his reputation as a publisher of surprising books destined to be popular is in fact based on the opinions of this unlikely reader who doesn’t even like books. When he realizes that she has actually read the whole book he asks her why. This is the exchange between them:

“Same reason I read anythin’ for,” Jillsy said. “To find out what happens.”
“So you read it to find out?” John Wolf said.
“There surely ain’t no other reason to read a book, is there?” Jilly Sloper said.

When she asks him for a copy he interrogates her as to why she would want to read it again, and she finally responds as follows:

“It feels so true,” she crooned, making the word true cry like a loon over a lake at night…. A book’s true when you can say, ‘Yeah! That’s how damn people behave all the time.’ Then you know it’s true,” Jillsy said.

The mind-blowing realization that hit me as I read these passages was that Irving has always clearly understood the formula for success. Writers in training tend to over-complicate the business of writing a novel and attracting readers to their work; in reality what compels a reader is what compels all of us; we all want to know what happens next to characters we care about.

And as for our own writing careers; we are after all the chief protagonist of our own life story. All novelists are waiting for their breakout novel, unless it’s been and gone, in which case they’re working on another one and waiting to find out what happens next. Top of the New York Times Bestseller List?

In my specific case I’m in the throes of tackling a second novel so I’m taking Irving’s directives to heart. Writing a second novel turns out to be a very different process to the first novel which took shape on the University of Cape Town Creative Writing Masters Program. Back then gentle suggestions and positive encouragement ensured that I reversed out of cul-de-sacs before hitting a brick wall, halted suicidal dashes down one-way highway lanes and limited how long I went round in circles before recognizing the correct exit to the desired destination. An excitable imagination was channeled.

With this second book I must find a way to ratchet the writing up to the next level while remaining true to a central plot and contending with the reality of a book marketplace teeming with original well-written books that have not broken even, never mind broken out. It’s not enough for a novel to be well received. For authors that are not yet established relatively low sales are a blow to any notion of financial survival and have the potential to plunge a writing career into a downward spiral.

As Irving points out any fiction writer worth his or her salt must work towards creating a reality that feels true and that begs the question of what ultimately happens to our characters. If we are serious about honing our craft and making a living as full-time writers then we must be serious about captivating readers. The world is full of readers; we just have to find ways of making them fall under our spell.

Original version appeared in www.livewriting.com; ‘South African writers on writing’

 

What a generous fellow writer can do for you

lady-limbo-front-cover_jacanaLADY LIMBO starts out with a bang. It gets picked up by the extraordinarily generous Joni Rodgers, a New York Times bestselling author, who gives it a fantastic Amazon review followed by a YouTube review that stuns me.  But LADY LIMBO doesn’t have an overseas publisher and for many months it’s not even available on Amazon for overseas buyers.

At home in South Africa reviewers have the enviable task of wading through a deluge of high quality overseas thrillers and mysteries – and the local writers who do get decent coverage are way cooler and better connected than others. LADY LIMBO gets a mixed bag of reviews. It becomes clear that marketing it as a thriller hasn’t been a good idea since expectations of a speedy high-octane read aren’t met. LADY LIMBO is repositioned as a mystery novel aimed at those readers who savour long satisfying reads.

The other day, suddenly, out of the blue, LADY LIMBO is given a breathtaking thumbs up by a fellow writer I’ve never met in person, who gets that LADY LIMBO is just itself. This is the power of social media and Facebook. The power of generous connectivity can replace negative energy with positive energy.

The lucky ones get picked out by the readers who were meant to read them. So it was with John van den Berg and Lorraine I like to think. IMG_1380 John mentions an illustrious literary quartet – Milan Kundera, Salman Rushdie,  Khaled Hosseini and Umberto Eco. I am a devoted fan of these grand masters of chiaroscuro fiction – how did John know?

Writing a blog post seems like a sensible way of making sure I keep remembering this lesson.

I’m one of these funny people who appreciates clichés in the same way I like my old shoes. These funny reworked sayings become part of us, accumulating nuances and overlays of meaning that attach themselves to the words in stages, stages of a life. When we say them we believe because we’ve said them before and heard others say them. And belief is a powerful weapon in a writer’s arsenal.

So, for those of you starting out: every cloud has a silver lining, let it go like yesterday’s snow, everything passes, you can’t be everything to all readers, no writer is an island, whining or complaining never helped anybody (thank you Johnny Depp and Kate Moss), there’s always another review, the show is not over till the fat lady sings, and finally – a personal favourite borrowed from a minibus taxi slogan – ‘Don’t be a Hater’!

Oh, you get the idea. Dredge them up. Whatever makes you sit down and write another paragraph, another page, another poem, another short story, another novel. Whatever keeps you focussed on the act of creative energy.

When an unpleasant review comes along my first thought is to crush it into a tiny ball and bin it, and then never think of it again. Unfortunately, modern-day social media doesn’t allow for quick relief, it’s more the slow water torture variety of psychological torture.

So, every time the compulsive, nibbling urge comes upon me to check on new reviews for LADY LIMBO I find myself opening the negative energy reviews and regurgitating the critical comments as if I were grinding stones between my teeth. Sticks and stones may break my back, but words will never hurt. Not true.

Google likes  online publications that publish regularly and have huge audiences so a bad review can stay top of the pops for a (very) long time. An immovable granite boulder that no amount of obsessive checking can budge off the edge of the world wide web.

Maybe I should try writing something completely different? Oh dear, isn’t that what I said last time?

Honesty is so confusing. I’ve been in the situation myself where I’ve had to weigh honesty up against something else; usually a feeling of camaraderie with my fellow writer. Knowing how much blood, sweat and tears it takes how can I condemn anyone else’s attempt to tell a story that never existed before? But it seems that some reviewers don’t believe, as I do, that the stories are out there waiting their turn, and that we are merely conduits to untold readers.

All I can say is that powerful voices intrude when I write; voices that insist their story be told and they’ll take their chances. Allowed plenty of leeway but with strict oversight I am pressured to remain faithful to the essential message. If I stop listening it’s a bit like being underwater without a pen; garbled speech bubbles rise to the surface and come to naught.

The story loses its sinuous sense; my hand is restless but inadequate. It keeps writing and rewriting, an unstoppable itch, but wrong roads are gone down and gibberish emits, dissonant tracts out of sync with the whole; the rhythm lost, the writer forlorn. Listen, listen, listen.

It’s as if all the stories ever written were in a huge calabash and occasionally a giant medicine woman stirs them up and they scatter into the night’s firmament, twinkling messages, all jostling for attention.

_________________________

Postscript: I’m listening to Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns in audio book format at the moment and it’s breaking my heart. This is the power of fiction – to make us feel. For LADY LIMBO to be on the same bookshelf as any one of their books would be amazing. That is a dream worth contemplating.

 

____________________________________________

The Undercover Soundtrack | Roz Morris – Consuelo Roland’s THE GOOD CEMETERY GUIDE

Roz undercover soundtrack for-logo‘Music to wake the living’ Once a week I host a writer who uses music as part of their creative process – perhaps to open a secret channel to understand a character, populate a mysterio…

More here…

___________________              The Good Cemetery Guide began one fog-laden winter’s night in a dimly-lit music locale in Kalk Bay, South Africa. Three acoustic guitarists, jamming loud enough to wake the dead, shifted my world a step to the left.                                                   – Consuelo Roland 

____________________

More here: The Undercover Soundtrack – Consuelo Roland: The Good Cemetery Guide

Genre Genre Genre

In Writers’ World (think of it as an unscripted version of The Truman Show), ‘Genre Genre Genre’ is the equivalent of a property developer or estate agent’s ‘Location Location Location’.

It’s taken me a long time to accept the validity of this line of thinking. Partly because I’m stubborn. Partly because I’m ignorant. Partly because I’m naive. Or should that be ingenuous? Probably all of them. And there’s plenty of other partly’s I could come up with to explain why it’s taken me several years of devoted attention to the art and craft of writing to properly comprehend that not writing in a specific genre puts you out there in no man’s land. If the truth be told it has less to do with the ‘partlys’ than with my own inability to suspend belief. So this post has been sitting in draft mode since June 2012 (!)

I’m finally ready to accept it. The undeniable truth is it’s much harder to emotionally reach readers and garner good reviews if there is no framework or context to prepare the reader or reviewer for the story they are about to read. Covers and titles and even the splurb on the back book jacket are all necessary to create a consumer brand impression, which relates back to a genre type. This is how publishing works in the 21st century; the less hidden surprises the better. It’s become understandable if a reader feels cheated or misled, and just as understandable for a certain type of reviewer to slate a book publicly that is not their preferred genre/brand.

But easier is not always the way to go. Sensible is as sensible does. There is space for something harder to achieve, something that strives to be different. This post is finally being published because a penetrating and far-seeing clarity has been thrown on the matter by a guest post hosted on Jeri Walker-Bickett’s ‘Best Books’ blog, which focusses on Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin as a mixed genre novel. Thanks to A.K. Andrew’s thought-provoking essay I am ready to proceed knowing that, while as Andrews puts it “Mixing genres in one novel is not for the feint-hearted”, it is a way of writing novels that can be justifiably pursued.

I shall persist in calling it chiaroscuro fiction until I find a better term to describe the depth and breadth of mixed genre fiction.

P.S. It seems to me that this is a different nomenclature, my own personal inner definition. In commercial publishing terms ‘mystery suspense’ or ‘literary suspense’ is where the kind of books I want to write would probably fit.

Such is Life: Jeri Walker-Bickett | Review by Consuelo

A long overdue review commitment is squeezed into a tightly packed mid-year vacation.

Such is Life

Such is Life eBook

I read Such is Life by Jeri Walker-Bickett with the distinct feeling that I am missing something that is staring me in the face. I suspect that my mind, steeped in academic learning for the past several months and feeling akin to a pickled gherkin removed from its saline solution, is not fit to attempt this task that involves being a reviewer in the real world of social media.

The first read I act like a tourist in an art museum, my needs immediate and my expectancy urgent, waiting for a piece to strike an emotional cord so that I can take a mental snapshot of its noteworthy nature. Occasionally, the words flying at me coagulate into something more, then there is a brief leaping of the blood, a flush of recognition. But I struggle to stay involved, to feel what I know I’m supposed to feel; my head space is wrong.

It’s at this point that I do some short story research, the idea being to come up with a solid scaffolding for judging the merits of short stories. I also look at the author’s notes on Such is Life and other reader and blogger reviews – and there are a great many to choose from since Jeri Walker-Bickett is a well-known blogger and writing teacher.

I am entranced by Larry Crane’s excellent blog post (http://69.195.124.64/~mainelar/2013/02/02/review-of-such-is-life-jeri-walker-bickett/#axzz2YX5dV0PV) which throws a bright fresh light on Walker-Bickett’s deftly crafted collection as literary realism. From the other reviewers I gather that it’s okay to have a strong favourite in the collection, and between their fulsome enjoyment of Such is Life and Larry Crane I re-read the collection, more slowly this time, looking at each story with newly opened careful eyes.

It works! I get into it this time. I begin to appreciate the sometimes unusual language constructs which lend colour, the local humour which adds authenticity, the distinctive nuances of plot, place and character and I get a good glimpse of what it is that is holding the characters back and what it is that they are looking for and desire so badly. I start to see each story as a different framed episode in a bigger frame; the four shorter stories framing the teacher-versus-writer story, acting as emanations from her rebellious pen.  I grasp that it is this structure which frees Walker-Bickett to make no judgements – such is life, after all – but also to imply in a clear ringing tone (the teacher’s voice) that as hard as it might be, sometimes the only solution is to make a life choice which gets one closer to what one wants.

“Not Terribly Important” is the centre-point around which the other stories rotate as misaligned planets (different tempo, different drama) might do. Each of the characters in the four varied encircling stories have choices to make which will determine if they break away from their claustrophobic circumstances or not. The teacher is the emblematic central character of the collection; only she makes the big break, deciding that she will do what gives her satisfaction and write with no restrictions, rather than teach. By rebelling against the narrow mentality of the Mormon community she ‘escapes’ and becomes a talisman for choosing a different fate. Interestingly, in what for me is the most moving story, “For the Love of Dog”, the main character shows no sign of planning to leave her claustrophobic marriage, and that is perhaps the source of my sadness, understanding that the dog is a momentary interlude of reciprocated love, and there is no possible cure for her loveless existence.

It strikes me at some point that Such is Life is a worthy title – even if, indeed because there are other books with the same title which lend their own echoes of gravitas and wry humour.  Such is Life implies nothing and everything about a few ordinary lives, lives that might easily appear small and unimportant if viewed from a zoomed-out perspective. But the power of Such is Life to affect readers comes from its zoomed-in perspective on the emotional jeopardy faced by each central protagonist. Walker-Bickett appears to have intimate knowledge of her characters’ dilemmas, telling their stories with delicate precision. I experience the pleasure of human kinship that bridges differences, as if the secret life of the artist has some tenuous extraordinary relation to my own inner life.

After reading “Pretty Girl” I conclude that it takes a certain kind of bravery to have a Such is Life philosophy. By the end of “Not Very Important” I’m wondering at what point such a philosophy becomes counter-productive, encouraging lethargy and stasis rather than reaction and decision-taking? But Walker-Bickett allows for no easy answers, choosing her next two stories with care.

The tragic situation that unfolds in “For the Love of Dog” suggests that death may provide some kind of a solution, or resolution, to our unseemly untidy emotions. My heart breaks for the dog’s distraught mistress.

I reach “River Walk” with a strong sense of human fellowship; we are all in this together, a strange unscripted adventure that requires our participation and involvement. “River Walk” unsettles me. Is it a good decision to opt out when life can no longer be adequately lived? Walker-Bickett leaves this question open.

I’m left with the finality of unresolved sadness: some will find it in themselves to change the circumstances which restrict and limit their lives and some will not; some will find a way to endure and some will not.

“For the Love of Dog” hums quietly in my head; I consider it to be that rare pitch-perfect story, not a word too much or too little, not an emotion portrayed too sparingly or too excessively.  Such is Life, a collection of edgy and engaging stories about modern life, enlarges my worldview and shifts my perspective. What more can one ask?