Restoring the equilibrium

When you write for a living, sometimes you forget that not all writing is the same. I’ve spent much of the last 24 months writing non-fiction for work, creating masses of new material for lots of different contexts.

It’s all had a lot in common with writing novels in many ways: strong voices, understanding your audiences, great structure, readability, distinctiveness, imagination. But even for someone who writes as quickly as I do, it has felt mechanistic, process-based, and – paradoxically – very uncreative despite the enormous amount of innovation involved.

But I have missed my own writing so much. So much it has almost broken my heart. And although I have retreated to the short form of songs to keep assonance, rhythm and, above all, storytelling in my words, there is nothing to replace the all-consuming encompassing soul-enriching obsession of writing a novel.

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Writing fiction has always been a matter of equilibrium for me. I have written for so many years alongside other work that it has always balanced out my service to others in my job with my service to myself in writing. It has been my sanity, my passion, my escape, my sense of perspective, my abandonment of logic, my beliefs, my cynicism and my way of working out what matters. Does that mean that when I was writing only for others that I lost those things? Well, the songs gave me back my sense of perspective and a way of working out what matters. And, to be truthful, when things have not gone well of late the first thing I have done is write a song.

But now it’s time to go back to novels. It is time to prioritise my sanity, my passion, my escape, my sense of perspective, my abandonment of logic, my beliefs, my cynicism and go back to my way of working out what matters. As a writer, I have lost my equilibrium by writing for others and by prioritising their stories in my life.

Is writing for myself, my themes and my stories selfish? Perhaps.

But am I a better person when I write for myself? Oh yes.

Lucille, where have you got to after all this time? I hope you’re still around, because I’m coming home now.

Preserving Hell for All Eternity?

This week, Cadell Blackstock ponders the wisdom of drawing from the worst of life for one’s fiction.

Years ago, when I first began writing, I had a co-worker who was terribly difficult to get along with. He had a number of professional strengths, but also some crippling weaknesses, one of which was to put anyone else’s idea down almost before it was out of your mouth. He was also somewhat distinctive to look at, and I observed to a friend at the time that I was so annoyed with this co-worker, and so often, that I desired to seek an element of revenge by writing him into a book one day, thus enabling me to do with his fictional alter ego whatever I fancied. My friend, a poet, rather sagely observed that it was all very well to have that as a resort, but then the annoying co-worker would be preserved for all eternity in one of my books, and I would never be able to get away from him.

Years on, and I find myself in a similar position, albeit not in my own life. A close friend has suffered what is evidently a raging injustice, and one which is unanswered by any of those who could actually fix the mess. The context is narratively vivid, and there are a number of key personalities involved, each of whom would make a stunning character in their own right. There has been morally dubious behaviour, and the situation is rich with dramatic dilemmas that require resolution. He has all but begged me to restore his world to rights in a fictional way, thus providing the outcome that he will never get in real life.

I find myself uncertain of what to do. My friend has given me carte blanche to write the story’s ending in whichever way is most fitting, with the only caveat that at least one of the ‘villains’ will get a comeuppance. My friend doesn’t even have to appear in the book, he says, but he is desperate for wrongs to be made right in the fictional world because he has absolutely no ability to achieve that in the real world. I have no fear of writing fiction which will magically convert itself to fact in the real world – although there is a supernatural element in my stories which is absolutely begging to be let loose on this situation.

No, it is more that I wonder whether writing my friend’s disastrous life experience into a novel will prevent him from ever moving on from it. There will be no real resolution, not one he can draw any satisfaction from, and while we have all read books with the desire to see them come to life in some way, won’t the frustration with the real world be all the more acute? And won’t I be making the situation worse by reminding him for all eternity of the hell he has been through? My allonymbooks stablemate Evie Woolmore would no doubt say that it is a matter of playing my part in restoring his equilibrium. But I do wonder if I would be helping him or making things worse. And what do I do with this great idea for a new novel?

Magical Realism Blog Hop 2014: Evie Woolmore on the Six Senses

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For this year’s Magical Realism Blog Hop, organised again by author and reviewer Zoe Brooksallonymbooks author and magical realist novelist Evie Woolmore discusses the significance of the Six Senses in her writing.

One of the joys of blog-hopping, rather than just surfing, is the structured way in which new insights come to light. Not that I have a problem just rambling through the byways and back lanes of other people’s consciousness, you understand, but it is easy to get lost in the blogosphere if you have no general sense of direction (as I don’t), and a few signposts are always useful. Last year, through one thing and another and all because of Zoe Brooks’ first Magic Realism Blog Hop, I discovered the American magical realist writer Sarah Addison Allen.

“Crumbs!” I hear you cry, “how could you possibly have failed to discover her until then? Call yourself a magical realist writer?”

Well, yes, as it happens I do. But I stray towards the literary end in my own writing and reading and, as readers of Ms Allen’s lovely books will know, her writing falls equally into the category of romance as it does into magical realist. But once discovered, never forgotten, and I gobbled up her books as eagerly as the residents of Bascom gobble up Claire’s extraordinary cooking in Garden SpellsFor one of Ms Allen’s great talents as a writer – and indeed the common theme in all her books – is the power of the sensation of taste. Not the enjoyment of eating, but the sheer evocative glory, pleasure and mystery of taste and all the sensory delights that go with it.

Much as a stalwart of the Women’s Institute annual baking competition might envy the crisp crust and succulent juicy filling of cherry pie made by the newcomer to the village, so I wished that I could have written a book like Garden Spells, purely because I don’t imagine anyone else would ever be able to capture that sense with quite the same immersive quality. It is not the joy of eating that Ms Allen celebrates, but the utter power of taste to captivate, motivate, engulf and endure.

And then, quite without warning, like a cherry stone stuck in my tooth, I realised that Ms Allen and I were not quite so far apart as I had first thought.

equilibriumWhen I first started writing magical realist fiction some years ago, I did so because it felt like the best ‘home’ for the sort of writing I wanted to do about matters of spirituality and the sixth sense. In fact, in the blog I wrote for last year’s Blog Hop, I observed that I chose magical realism because of that very deliberate juxtaposition of the familiar and the unfamiliar, the believable and the challenging. I wrote that “[t]he magical realist aspects in my novels do not exist in parallel to our world, they are right here in it. They are discoveries like electro-magnetism and radiation in the nineteenth century and the Higgs-Boson particle in the twenty-first, they are part of the fabric of this all-too-real world, visible all along if only you would just tilt your head a little further to one side and set yourself free of some of your pre-conceptions.

The five senses are a perfect example of that very juxtaposition. Medical science has helped us understand the way those senses function biologically, and yet it is powerless to rationalise why we can feel the presence of others with our eyes shut or why I hear the name of a person just before they phone me. I wanted to explore each of the five senses individually in my novels, but with ever-present reference to the sixth sense, the one that I feel connects the implicit power of those five senses together, the one that ‘makes sense’ of the information they offer that is beyond the merely cognitive, the one that plunges us into the less charted spaces of memory, emotion, insight.

The Salt Factory by Evie Woolmore

 

I didn’t want to make an explicit claim for ESP or a certain school of parapscyhology – though I never stop hoping that scientists and sceptics will be more patient and admit that in all science there is still so much we don’t know and understand – but I did want to say that nothing is never as simple as it looks, and to propose a loosening of our intellectual corsets in favour not merely of imagination but possibility. I don’t expect readers to go away from reading my books with a revised view of the world, merely a more heightened awareness of their own world, a greater attention to detail. And what Sarah Addison Allen does so precisely and so perfectly in books like Garden Spells is to focus on every tiny detail of the sensation of taste. That she does so in different ways in her books shows how much there is to express and explore in that one sense alone, how taste does not exist without smell or sight or that sensory awareness that does not yet have a universally accepted label.

In my first three novels, I have chosen to write about three different senses. Equilibrium is about sight, about what we see, Continue reading

How I Met Your Mother: Don Giovanni lives again…

This week, allonymbooks author Cadell Blackstock wonders how old the story of HIMYM really is.

The massively successful American sitcom How I Met Your Mother, which recently began its ninth and final season on US television, is a clever, brilliantly constructed series which is worth watching if you’ve never seen it before (though how can anyone on Planet Earth not have seen it, seriously?). Architect Ted Mosby is telling his children how he met their mother in a seemingly endless series of instalments from his largely unsuccessful love life. His journey is contrasted by the true love partnership of his college friends Marshall and Lily, the conquest-driven sexual adventures of his would-be best friend Barney, and the lingering presence of his erstwhile girlfriend Robin. The comedy is perfectly pitched,  from satire to farce to slapstick, parodying itself and its favourite cultural reference points, as well as glorifying and celebrating its home of New York. It’s also really cleverly constructed both visually and narratively, using fragmentation, flashbacks within flashbacks, deconstructed story-telling and multiple points of view both within episodes and, unusually, across the series. The characters might spend a good portion of each episode in their favourite booth at MacLaren’s, but the stories are never static, and not merely because they are propelled forward by the journey to find out who Ted eventually marries.

But what if Ted isn’t really the star of this show?

The narrative is certainly evenly pitched across the five central characters, but what if this is really Barney’s story, not Ted’s? Think of a man of independent means, for whom seduction and sex are the greatest pleasure in life. Think of his accomplice, a well-meaning, practical fellow who will help his friend whenever he can, but doesn’t exactly share his goals. Think of a couple, happy and devoted to each other, but all too aware of the wandering eye of this local lothario who, despite his generosity to both, would like nothing better than to steal the wife away for just a moment or two. And what of the jilted girl, once seduced by the great lover, once delighting him but all too soon abandoned in favour of the quest? Sound like a story you already know, or an opera you’ve seen?

The similarities are uncanny. Barney is Don Giovanni, of course, who even has a numbered list of all his girls (“Right Place, Right Time”, S4). His favourite wingman, Ted, is the intermittently reluctant Leporello, usually doing his master’s bidding even if he doesn’t quite agree with it. Don Barney must have a wingman at all times, and unsuccessfully tries both Marshall and his brother James when Ted is unavailable, but neither quite masters that enabling yet moralising elasticity that Ted offers Barney.

Don Barney is also quite the meddler, and his mostly harmless infatuation with Marshall’s girlfriend/wife Lily often drives him to interfere and manipulate his friends, professedly with their best interests at heart. Marshall does have something of the peasant Masetto’s lumbering innocence about him, and Lily has a sense of Zerlina’s sexual adventure about her, occasionally confessing to fantasising about Robin, and when required, revealing her pregnancy boobs to Barney just so that he won’t touch them (“Ducky Tie”, S7). She will never give in to Barney’s lust, but she concedes more than once to Barney’s manipulation of them, just as Zerlina does to Don Giovanni.

And then there is poor Robin, a hybrid in many senses of Donna Anna and Donna Elvira. She is a Daddy’s girl just like Donna Anna, who gives in to her attraction to Don Barney and then spends three seasons trying to deal with the consequences. Yet like Donna Elvira, her misery is public, particularly when Don Barney returns to his seductions (“The Playbook”, S5), and her desire for both revenge and restoration is utterly confused (“The Stinson Missile Crisis”, S7). At her most objective, she is a sort of conscience to Barney, especially as he wrestles with his feelings for her. But at her least objective she is even aided in her Anna-esque pursuit of emotional justice by her very own Don Ottavio, the shrink Kevin who, though much later on the scene than Don Ottavio, plays  the same role in trying to bring sense and stability to Donna Robin’s state of mind.

It’s a story as old as the hills of Andalucia and there are times when I wonder what happened to Leporello after Don Giovanni went off to meet his fate. There are some who might argue that Barney getting married is akin to a state of hell – including Barney himself – and one could argue that it is only after Barney marries that Ted is set free to find his own future.

But then, maybe it’s just about 5 people falling in love.

Crash Cole in 'The Rake Spared' coverCadell Blackstock is the author of Crash Cole in ‘The Rake Spared’, a satire on sex and celebrity, and a contemporary rewriting of the Don Giovanni story. Download a sample from Amazon (UK, US and other sites) or find out more about the book and Cadell’s other blogs on his page.

Interview with Leigh Podgorski, author of Desert Chimera

38d73-bloghopbuttonsmallAs the third and final contribution from allonymbooks to the Magical Realism Blog Hop, Evie Woolmore interviews fellow magical realist and spiritual author Leigh Podgorski about her influences and how her experiences have shaped her writing.

Evie Woolmore: Readers of Desert Chimera may not realize that it was originally created as a play. Indeed, they may not appreciate how prolific and talented an artist you are across a range of art forms. Why do you work in different media and how do those different outputs influence each other?

Leigh Podgorski

Leigh Podgorski: Though I have written short stories and dabbled in some poetry, the main media I have worked in is screenplays, stage plays, and novels. Different media demand different discipline. There is nothing like crafting a screenplay to teach the craft of economy, the art of lasering in to the high point or the very “kernel” of every scene you create. In a good screenplay there is no fat. Stage plays teach you how to craft dialogue and character behavior. If you cannot tell your story through behavior and dialogue you have no play. Both of these formats have rather strict rules and time limitations. I trained in the theatre and spent many years practicing the craft as an actress, writer, director and producer. I love the American master playwrights: Tennessee Williams, Eugene O’Neill, Clifford Odets, and Arthur Miller. The theatre is a community, collaboration. There is no discipline on earth that can duplicate the thrill of performing or having your words performed before a live audience. Of the three disciplines, however, novels are the freest of all forms. With the novel, there are no rules, no set format, and unless you are co-writing, no collaboration. There is you and your universe, as you populate it, as you create it. You can zoom inside your protagonist’s head, and turn around and zoom into your antagonists’; you can lead your audience back a thousand years or forward 10,000; you can create a whole new planet, a new country, a new county or city; you can even kill and resurrect if, and this is a very big if, you take your reader along for the ride, if you create a universe your readers believe in. In the theatre, if an actor breaks the fourth wall, that is the imaginary wall that separates the actor from the audience, the magic is broken and the audience is lost.  In a novel, if the author is unfaithful to her universe, if she writes something that causes her reader to no longer believe in the world she has created, the author has broken the magic, she has shattered the illusion, and the reader is lost.  In the end, whatever discipline I have worked in, I have learned that it is all story.  I am a storyteller.  Will my readers come along with me for the ride? Having worked in different mediums has enabled me to call on a variety of different skills to build my story universe and to check it for resonance and stability. If I am false, if I break the magic, my audience will tell me. My audience will be lost to me.

EW: That diversity also reveals itself in your fiction, for Desert Chimera and The Women Debrowska are extremely different books. Many have argued that publishing directly to Kindle and other e-book formats frees authors from the tyranny of having to stick to one genre, so I’m interested in how indie publishing has helped you as a writer?

LP: I have spent a lifetime as an artist; as an actress, writer, director, and producer. Most of that time has been spent in the theatre, and save for some extremely bad video recordings of plays, there is no lasting record of my theatre productions in any of the disciplines above except for typed manuscripts of my plays. I do have a film I wrote, directed, and produced that I adapted from my play entitled We Are Still Here about Cahuilla Elder Katherine Siva Saubel. From the time I began writing, and this includes stage play writing and screenplay writing, I remember hearing the argument: Do you write what you love, or write what sells? And of course there was the companion argument that an author must establish his or her “brand” in order to be able to market oneself. We have all heard the stories of well-known authors who write under pseudonyms when writing outside their genres. What the advent of Indie Publishing has done for me addresses many of these issues. First, Indie Publishing has enabled me to create a lasting record and product, for I am publishing not only e-books but print books as well. However, even as a Kindle and e-book publisher, Indie Publishing has enabled me to establish a growing Internet presence. With the technology available to us today, e-books can be quite stunning in design, as can Author’s pages. Marketing one’s work is not easy; it is often as consuming, if not more so, than writing, and writing is far more fulfilling and fun. When I am writing—as I am doing right now—I am in the midst of completing the third book in my Stone Quest series – I am able to accomplish very little if any marketing and vice versa, especially as I teach as well. There are only so many hours in the day. My goal is to make my presence so visible and my books so lucrative that I can become a fulltime writer with no need for any other job. Indie Publishing has given that dream hope. As for the question of what to write— what you love or what sells? Sometimes what you love becomes what sells. Sometimes what sells becomes what you love. Sometimes—none of it happens. “Hope is the thing with feathers” Emily Dickinson wrote. Indie Publishing has given me lots and lots of feathers. And that is a very very good thing

Desert Chimera by Leigh PodgorskiEW: Desert Chimera draws on a wide range of spiritual themes across several cultures. What inspired you to bring these together, first in the play and then the book?

LP: I have been fascinated with the metaphysical as long as I can remember. My favorite authors as a child were Poe and Asimov, and then, when I got a little older, Jung. I conducted research for a book Ouray’s Peak, about the Ute Indians. Their lives are so connected with the Earth and with nature in a way that non-native modern man is not.  I’ve also read a good deal of Tom Brown and his Tracker series; his influence can be seen in the characters of Luke and Grandfather. Armand Jacobi is an amalgamation of Anton LeVay, the creator of the Church of Satan, and L Ron Hubbard, the creator of Scientology. Both LeVay and Hubbard are fascinating men who created vast followings. Their spirituality, especially LeVay’s is dark, but they are charismatic, beguiling characters. I researched Satanism for some film scripts I was writing for a company that was producing horror films, and had read Messiah or Madman the book L Ron Hubbard’s son Ron deWolf wrote about him.  Eppie Falco is drawn from my work with Dr. Elisabeth Kubler Ross whom I interviewed for another play, Windstorm. Dr. Ross was a celebrated doctor who saw visions, communicated with the dead, and who, through her visions, taught us more about, as she said, not how to die, but how to live.  The play Desert Wolf was written about fifteen years ago. I was a member of a theatre company here in Los Angeles, and I developed it specifically for members of the company, one of whom is my husband, actor/director Dave Florek. Going from the play to the novel was very interesting. I had the opportunity to widen the scope and explore the spirituality of the characters far more intimately and deeply. This was especially true for Luke and Armand’s relationship while Luke lived with Armand and the lost boys in New York.

EW: What did writing the book offer you, in terms of exploring that huge range of material, that you couldn’t cover in the play?

LP: One of the largest frustrations I had with the play was the final showdown, the final duel between Armand and Luke in the Desert Wolf Café. No matter how brilliantly choreographed as a stage fight this scene could be, it could only remain a stage fight. Even if one could imagine all the wizardry of a high tech production of Wicked, and Desert Wolf had no hope of ever receiving anything close to a fraction of that budget, if it were to even be graced with a full production at all, when producing for the stage, one is, at the end of the day, limited by reality. What are the limits in a novel? Credulity, solely. Create your illusions sufficiently to entice your readers to believe in your magic, and you can take them anywhere.

EW: Finally, what one piece of advice would you share with other indie authors that you wish you’d known sooner?

LP: Write. Do not despair. Do not give up. It really does not matter if your book is # 2,987,342 on Amazon. It really does not matter if you never get to give up your day job. It really does not matter if nobody knows your name. Write because the only thing that really matters is your voice. Write because, besides breathing, eating, drinking, and sleeping, it is the only thing in all the world that you really have to do.

That’s a great piece of advice, Leigh, thank you! And thank you so much for giving up your time to talk to allonymbooks. 

You can learn more about Leigh and her work at her web site: www.violethillsproductions.com; or visit her Author’s Central Page @http://amzn.to/YomRl1Leigh can also be contacted via Facebook @ facebook/leigh.podgorski, @ twitter @ twitter/leighpod52.
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To read other blogs on the Magic Realism Blog Hop, please visit the other participating writers:

Zoe Brooks (and this one) – Kirsty Fox – Karen Wyld (and this one) – Leigh Podgorski – Tad Crawford

Lynne Cantwell – Murielle Cyr (and this one )- Joel Seath – Edie Ramer – Laura at Curated Bookshelves

Christine Locke – Susan Bishop Crispell – Jordan Rosenfeld – Eilis Phillips – Cadell Blackstock

and Evie Woolmore’s first blog hop blog

Evie reviewed Leigh’s novel Desert Chimera a few weeks ago. To find out about Evie’s own magical realist novels, please visit her page.

The Salt Factory by Evie Woolmore: new to Kindle next week

This week, Evie Woolmore discusses her new historical magical realist novel, The Salt Factory.

salty9_optionI was chatting to a friend the other day about my books and she asked, as people sometimes do, ‘Where do you get your ideas from?’ I was able to answer, quite honestly, that the original idea for The Salt Factory came so long ago, that I can hardly remember. But it is a novel that, despite the agonies of plotting and rewriting, I have absolutely adored throughout.

As a reader, it is just the sort of novel I enjoy. It is a bubble of a world where time slows down and all the things we took for granted slowly stop being true. It captures that feeling of falling in love, of permanent change, of the dawning of a completely new perspective on the world. All those things happen to Thelonia Jones in one way or the other, and yet the novel isn’t really about any of them. It is, in the manner of all my novels, a book that seems to be about one story and ends up really being about another.

As Lector’s Books pointed out in my interview with them a couple of weeks ago, my novels do tend to have a twist in the tail, not in the sense of a thriller or a crime novel but in a subtle slide in the way the world is revealed. Unlike the writers whose magical realist works I admire, such as Erin Morgenstern or Carlos Ruiz Zafon, I do not simply present my alternative world as is, without explanation, because for me the explanation Continue reading

Evie Woolmore’s interview with Lector’s Books

Lector’s Books tells a wonderful tale of how a book can enchant you so much that you put your life on hold to read it straight through from start to finish. Fortunately for me, the book in question was my novel, Equilibrium (information about the story, an audiobook extract, and links to Amazon from the Equilibrium webpage).

So I was delighted when Lector’s Books invited me to give an interview about writing, about Equilibrium and about my new novel The Salt Factory, to be published later this month.  Read my interview, find out more about the excellent Lector’s Books website, and check out some of their recommendations for great indie published novels. Lector’s Books have also published a review of the novel on Amazon.