Sunday, September 24, 2017

Character Types: The Bookworm

How do you make readers happy?

Give them books. Give them more books. Give them books with characters who like to read. Throw a gift certificate to their favorite bookstore at their face. Gift them a library card. Leave them behind in a bookstore. Lock them in a library. Give them books. Leave them alone while they’re reading the last fifty pages the whole book.

I’m sensing a pattern here…

Today, I’m here to write about the bookworm as a fictional character!


For my examples, I’ll be drawing from some of the main characters in Fahrenheit 451, the Inkworld trilogy, Anne of Green Gables, and The Book Thief. Please note that the characters in these books do not include all the fictional bookworms. Here are just a couple traits common for fictional bookworms:


1)      They tend to be counter-cultural.


Before he even discovers the joy of reading (after burning so many books), Guy Montag (Fahrenheit 451) enjoys going for walks in a world that is obsessed with speed and driving. In a world where reading is illegal, once he discovers how eye-opening reading can be, he practically gives up his life for books. If that’s not dedication, I don’t know what is.
But let’s face it, bookworms, if your house was on fire, how many of your books would you try to save?

“There must be something in books, something we can’t imagine, to make a woman stay in a burning house; there must be something there. You don’t stay for nothing.” (Fahrenheit 451)


Liesel Memminger (The Book Thief) first discovers her love for reading by stealing a book from a grave digger. And she continued to steal books, even saving one from a fire built by the Nazis to destroy books they didn’t agree with.

Okay, so you and I might have more ordinary bookworm origins. Perhaps your parents read to you when you were a child, your teacher introduced you to your favorite book, or you checked out a lot of books from the library. Either way, books can be eye-opening, and they teach readers to be more empathetic.


2)      They’re dreamers.


Mortimer “Mo” Folchart passed on his bookish appreciation to his daughter, Meggie. But Meggie doesn’t just want to read books. She wants to live in them. And she soon finds she gets more than she bargained for when she starts meeting characters her father once read out of a book.

“Her curiosity was too much for her [Meggie]. She felt almost as if she could hear the books whispering on the other side of the half-open door. They were promising her a thousand unknown stories, a thousand doors into worlds she had never seen before.” (Inkheart)

Like Meggie, Anne Shirley (Anne of Green Gables) can often be found with her nose in a book or dream up stories. She even gets into trouble at school for reading Ben Hur during class, and more than once, her wild imagination gets her in trouble, whether its spraining her ankle by falling off a roof or by getting stuck in a sinking boat in the middle of a pond. But it’s still enjoyable to read about someone with such an imagination!

“Oh, it’s delightful to have ambitions. I'm so glad I have such a lot. And there never seems to be any end to them—that’s the best of it. Just as soon as you attain to one ambition you see another one glittering higher up still. It does make life so interesting.” (Anne of Green Gables)


3)      They’re easy to relate with.


Meggie Folchart carries books with her when she travels. I usually take along at least five books whenever I go anywhere—one to read, a backup in case I finish the first, my journal, a notebook for story ideas, and my Bible. Meggie carries even more, at least twelve. If that’s not admirable, I don’t know what is.

“‘What on earth have you packed in here? Bricks?’ asked Mo as he carried Meggie’s book-box out of the house.“‘You’re the one who says books have to be heavy because the whole world's inside them,’ said Meggie.” (Inkheart)

On the other hand, Anne often struggles with being stereotyped whether it is for her red hair or her talkative nature. And people misspell her name.

“But if you call me Anne, please call me Anne with an ‘e’.” (Anne of Green Gables)

Dear Anne, try having my name. I’ve been called Aslan, Ashlyn, and even Ashley. How is that even remotely close to Azelyn? When you have the rare character who points out how often their name is misspelled, such as Anne, it’s easy to relate.


4)      They tend to inspire people to live better.


Except for Guy Montag. I don’t remember him being a very admirable character.
Mo, on the other hand, works as a book binder, treating his books with care and doing his best to look out for his daughter.

Likewise, Anne’s imagination may run off with her, but she taught many people in her neighborhood to love and be more accepting of the unusual. And most of all, she taught me to dream.

“Isn’t it splendid to think of all the things there are to find out about? It just makes me feel glad to be alive—it’s such an interesting world. It wouldn’t be half so interesting if we know all about everything, would it? There’d be no scope for imagination then, would there?” (Anne of Green Gables)

Finally, Liesel looks beyond stereotypes and her culture’s expectations and shows not only a care for books but also for people.

Other book-obsessive characters include, but are not limited to, Mr Norrell, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell; Marie-Laure, All the Light We Cannot See; Cadence, We Were Liars; Cress, The Lunar Chronicles; Kvothe, The Kingkiller Chronicles; Claus, Series of Unfortunate Events; and Aibileen, The Help.

Petition to authors: We need more male bookworms. Seriously, though. Why are most of the bookworms in fiction female? That’s not fair to all the guys in the world who like to read!

As a bookworm, I enjoy reading about bookworms. Sometimes, I even find my favorite characters giving me book recommendations.

Speaking of bookworms, the print edition of Last of the Memory Keepers is out! Be sure to add it on Goodreads and get your copy on Amazon

Let’s chat! Who are your favorite bookworms in fiction? Did I miss any? Have you ever been left behind or locked in a library or bookstore? What’s your most memorable experience as bookworm? 

***

Literary references: Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, Cornelia Funke’s Inkworld trilogy, L. M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, Marcus Zusak’s The Book Thief, Lew Wallace’s Ben Hur, Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See, E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars, Marissa Meyer’s The Lunar Chronicles, Patrick Rothfuss’ The Kingkiller Chronicles, Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events, Kathryn Stockett’s The Help

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Just Breathe: Novel Announcement and Beta Readers Wanted!

Good news, everybody! I’m almost always working on my next novel, and while some of them don’t make the cut to revisions, this next one did! Announcing: Just Breathe, a contemporary fantasy for young adults! (The title is likely to change, especially since Just Breathe is a common book name according to Goodreads. But for now, I don’t have anything better. Suggestions are welcome!)



Agatha Jordan never expected a used car for her graduation any more than she expected to get stranded in the middle of a corn field during its first drive. She heads to the nearest town in the hopes of calling a tow truck and covering it all up. But the nearest town is abandoned, and there’s more to the Midwest than ghost towns—there’s the North American Labyrinth, the legendary home of the lost. And Agatha finds herself stuck within its never-ending walls where ordinary physics don’t seem to apply.

Determined to escape, Agatha takes paths that will take her to the Pool of Reflection and the Riddle Square to the Summer Inn and the Maze Market. Along the way, she meets with peers and con artists and struggles to separate myth and reality. Because ultimately, before she can leave the Labyrinth, she must confront her past before she can choose her future. 



1. Why am I writing this novel in particular?


One of the questions I always get tired of people asking is “What are you going to do next?” Sometimes, I don’t know. And that’s okay. I don’t have to have all the answers. Neither does my protagonist, even though she may want to. 

The Labyrinth in this story is known as the home of the lost. When people, specifically those in North America, don’t know what they’re going to do next in their lives, one way or another, they end up in the Labyrinth. Sure, such metaphors can only go so far, but they make for interesting stories. I’ve drawn from elements both real and imaginary, mashed them together, and experimented with how they might react. 

For example, what would a farmer’s market look like in the confines of three-foot wide passageways? How does technology respond within a parallel dimension? And how does a mythical place from Ancient Greece end up in the Midwest in the first place? 


2. Why is this novel important to me?


This novel has to be the hardest story I’ve ever done. Not because of the amount of the research that’s had to go into it, and not even because of the plot points. This novel has been the hardest because it’s so close to my heart. Like me, Agatha struggles with anxiety. And while I’ve put a fantastical twist on her panic attacks—this is fantasy, after all—they have been hard to write because they’re so personal. 


3. Why am I the one to write this novel?


In order to write this book, I’ve not only done research on anxiety, but I’ve had to draw from my own fears and insecurities. Although I’ve never had a panic attack that’s nearly as intense as Agatha’s, that doesn’t make them any less impactful. Every time I wrote such scenes, I had to take a step back and do something uplifting, like take a walk, read a book, or talk to a friend. 

I’ve touched on depression before in Last of the Memory Keepers, but Just Breathe deals with mental illness on a deeper level. 



Beta readers wanted! 


Do you enjoy reading contemporary fantasy? Does the book blurb interest you? Would you like to read a book before it gets published and have your name added to the acknowledgements? Then beta reading is for you! 

I’m currently looking for 3-5 more beta readers for my novel. If you’re interested in becoming a beta reader for Just Breathe, please get in touch. If you want to serve as a beta reader, please answer the following questions. They’re just a way for me to get to know you as a reader before I send you my latest draft. 


  • Do you subscribe to the Word Storm Newsletter? (Recommended, not required.) 
  • Are you a writer? If yes, what have you written/published? Do you have a blog? (Recommended, not required.)
  • What are your favorite genres? List three of the best books you’ve read this year. 
  • Are you willing to commit 6-10 hours of unpaid reading to an unpublished novel? 
  • Why do you want to be a beta reader for Just Breathe? (e.g. I know somebody with/have experience with mental illness. OR I’m a book blogger. Etc…)

Once you’ve got all your responses, please send them to me on Facebook, Twitter, or at word.storm.blog@gmail.com

***


Let’s chat! What did you think of the book blurb for Just Breathe? Is this the kind of novel you would like to read? Do you have any alternate title suggestions? What are some of your favorite contemporary fantasies?

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Controversy in Fiction: Christianity vs. Intellectualism

Last year, I started a mini-series called Controversy in Fiction. Each post can stand alone and discusses a fiction-related topic with differing, often controversial opinions. Now I’m here to continue the discussion, starting off with a couple things that I’m particularly passionate about—Christianity and intellectualism.


Observation


Before the separation of church and state, there was the separation of church and science. The main principle behind the separation was that religious beliefs should not determine the principles of science. As a Christian, I firmly believe in creationism, and I’ve always been curious, particularly when it comes to science, psychology, and literature.

But today, it’s incredibly hard to be a Christian and an intellect simultaneously, especially when a lot of non-Christians claim that in order to have faith, one must be stupid. It’s almost as though Christianity and intellectualism are pitted against each other. Faith versus fact. Is it possible to be religious and intellectual simultaneous?

Disclaimer: This post may contain controversial opinions that are not necessarily the same as those of readers. While my personal experiences come from a Christian perspective, I have done my best to remain objective and mean no offense. Similarly, I do not claim to know everything, but I have done my best to research this topic.

 Hypothesis: Life is Short


In light of the age of the Earth, whether you believe it’s several thousand years old or several billion, an individual lifespan is minuscule in comparison. One such quote about life comes from one of its most memorable villains:

“Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,And then is heard no more. It is a taleTold by an idiot, full of sound and fury,Signifying nothing.”(Macbeth, Macbeth)

In life, many people search for meaning. But it’s not always so easy to find. While secularists’ opinions on the meaning of life may differ (and I cannot claim to know their opinions), Christians tend to view life as a means to serve God by loving and serving Him and loving and serving their fellow humans.

But despite their belief in purpose, Christians may still experience doubt. Take the book of Job for example. In this particular book in the Bible, the book’s namesake, Job, though a righteous man, loses everything, his belongings, his children, his health. Instead of comforting him, his friends berate him, claiming he must have sinned for God to punish him. According to David Bevington’s The Complete Works of Shakespeare, Macbeth’s speech contains several “biblical echoes” including passages from Psalms and Job. For example—

“Mortals, born of woman,are of few days and full of trouble.They spring up like flowers and wither away;like fleeting shadows, they do not endure.”(Job, Job 14:1-2)

Whether you’re a Christian or not, men and women both die. Life is short. But that’s not to say that we cannot live without purpose. What is yours?



 Evidence: The Progression of Providence


I enjoy BBC’s adaptation of the Sherlock Holmes stories. I really do. But in a way, I hope it ends with the fourth season. While Season 3 had a lot of people questioning Sherlock’s overly emotional state, Season Season 4 had me cringing, A LOT, especially when it came to the negative portrayal of religion.

John: Godfather. We’d like you to be godfather.
Sherlock: God is a ludicrous fiction dreamt up by inadequates who abnegate all responsibility to an invisible magic friend.
(Sherlock, “The Six Thatchers”)

While Sherlock and Mycroft may not get along, they sure share a lot of opinions when it comes to religion.

Mycroft: Heaven may be a fantasy for the credulous and the afraid. But I can give you a map reference for hell.
(Sherlock, “The Final Problem”)

That’s not even including what Moriarty had to say on the matter of religion.

The Holmes brothers do not believe in a God or an afterlife. Fine. I don’t have to agree with everything they say. But it seems like BBC ignores some of the aspects of Sherlock Holmes’ original character—namely, his agnosticism. Rather than claiming a particular religion let alone a belief in a Christian God, the Holmes in Doyle’s books advocated for science and deduction but was open to the possibility of religion.

“‘My dear fellow,’ said Sherlock Holmes as we sat on either side of the fire in his lodgings at Baker Street, ‘life is infinitely stranger than anything which the mind of man could invent. We would not dare to conceive the things which are really mere commonplaces of existence. If we could fly out of that window hand in hand, hover over this great city, gently remove the roofs, and peep in at the queer things which are going on, the strange coincidences, the plannings, the cross-purposes, the wonderful chains of events, working through generation, and leading to the most outre results, it would make all fiction with its conventionalities and foreseen conclusions most stale and unprofitable.’”(The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, “The Case of Identity”)

If one of the world’s smartest detectives could acknowledge that man couldn’t come up with everything, what’s to say other people couldn’t agree with him?

“‘There is nothing in which deduction is so necessary as in religion,’ said [Holmes], leaning with his back against the shutters. ‘It can be built up as an exact science by the reasoner. Our highest assurance of the goodness of Providence seems to me to rest in the flowers. All other things, our powers, our desires, our food, are all really necessary for our existence in the first instance. But this rose is an extra. Its smell and its colour are an embellishment of life, not a condition of it. It is only goodness which gives extras, and so I say again that we have much to hope from the flowers.’”(The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, “The Naval Treaty”)

If you ask me, I would say writers have always adapted Sherlock Holmes to their times and their own beliefs. According to Professor Richard J. Evans, most Victorians “believed that the Bible was the best, indeed in many cases the only guide to a moral life.” But as more discoveries were made, more and more people have come to doubt religion and instead put their faith in the sciences.

“Yet in the longer run, the greatest threat to faith was to be posted by science. […] whether Darwin liked it or not, the popular debate on his theory of evolution pitted evolutionism was pitched against creationism, facts against faith.” (“The Victorians: Religion and Science”)

A lot of contemporary literature portrays a doubt in the supernatural. Take The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (yes, the title is a tribute to a Sherlock Holmes story). The protagonist, Christopher, has low functioning autism and is a genius when it comes to mathematics and doesn’t believe in God or heaven.

“And people who believe in God think God has put human beings on earth because they think human beings are the best animal, but human beings are just an animal and they will evolve into another animal, and that animal will be cleverer and it will put human beings into a zoo, like we put chimpanzees and gorillas into a zoo. Or human beings will all catch a disease and die out or they will make too much pollution and kill themselves, and then there will only be insects in the world and they will be the best animal.”(Christopher Boone, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time)

Even though I tend to enjoy reading books about characters with autism, I had a hard time connecting with this book. While it portrayed low functioning autism in a fairly realistic manner, it became tedious, and there didn’t seem to be any hope throughout the narrative.

Another contemporary example of fiction that portrays a contrast between science and faith is the show Scorpion. I’ve only been able to watch the first season so far, but in the Christmas episode, Walter, who has an IQ of 197, is talking with his sister Megan, who is “average” and is dying from multiple sclerosis. Walter doesn’t believe in miracles, just science. But Megan wants to believe in miracles, and ultimately tells her brother that she believes in him.

Can a person’s actions be a miraculous? Why not?

If you’ve noticed a trend in my examples, yes, I have selected fictional characters with a high IQ. But with a high IQ, there tends to be a low EQ (emotional quota, according to Scorpion). I have no idea what my IQ is, but from my ability to empathize easily with other people, I wouldn’t call myself a genius. I’m probably just average.

Conclusion: Christian Intellectuals


In general, a person with a higher EQ tends to be more open to the spiritual. Most people are not reasoned into believing in a religion. C. S. Lewis is perhaps the exception, for he was reasoned into his belief in God from a conversation he had with J. R. R. Tolkien. Today, Lewis is regarded as a creative genius and serves as one of the great Christian writers of the 20th century.

Lewis also tended to be very skilled in logic, and his stories tend to be clear. In his novel, The Screwtape Letters, written from the perspective of a demon named Screwtape giving advice to his nephew Wormwood, it appears that he supports the sciences as well.

“Thanks to the process which we set at work in them centuries ago, they [humans] find it all but impossible to believe in the unfamiliar while the familiar is before their eyes. Keep pressing home on him the ordinariness of things. Above all, do not attempt to use science (I mean, the real sciences) as a defense against Christianity. They will positively encourage him to think about realities he can’t touch and see.”

(Screwtape, The Screwtape Letters, “Letter I”)

Sure, it’s difficult to get a sense of what Screwtape means by “the real sciences” as opposed to false ones without examining the rest of Lewis’ writings. But he was not one to shirk away from facts.

When it comes to the Bible itself, both the learned and uneducated men act as apostles of Jesus Christ. Peter was a mere fisherman and uneducated yet he quoted from the Old Testament.

“Now when they [the Jews] saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13, NKJV)

Another one of the writers of the New Testament, Paul, was a tentmaker and a scholar, taught in the ways of the Pharisees, the religious leaders of his day.

“I [Paul] am indeed a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, taught according to the strictest of our fathers’ law and was zealous toward God as you all are today.” (Acts 22:3)

According to Scripture, both the educated and the uneducated may be Christians. You don’t have to have a degree or be an elitist. Similarly, you don’t have to be ignorant to have faith. To say that all Christians are uneducated is to discount those who have higher education degrees, whether it be a BA or a PhD.

Perhaps one of the best arguments I heard for an intellectual’s belief in God was during my senior year at Evangel University. I attended an open lecture on science, and the professor drew a venn diagram on the board, one circle representing facts we know, the other facts we don’t know. “Is it possible,” he said, “for God to exist in realm of what we don’t know?”

In conclusion, yes, it is possible to be religious and intellectual simultaneously. It may be rare, but possible. The main principle is to keep an open mind. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and don’t back down from answers that might scar you. After all, as I’ve cited one of my favorite quotes before:

“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” (Aristotle, Metaphysics)

***

Similar Posts: Controversy in Fiction: Christian Fiction and Magic

Film references: Sherlock and Scorpion

Literary references: William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, David Bevington’s The Complete Works of Shakespeare, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, C. S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, and the Bible (New King James Version)


Let’s chat! What’s your take on faith and science? Do you believe it’s possible to be both an intellectual and a Christian? What are some of your favorite stories, in film or books, that address science and faith? 

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Poem: Magpie


Like ravens, owls, and vultures, magpies don’t have a great reputation. While swans symbolize beauty and self-sacrifice, ravens are associated with magic, owls represent death, and magpies have a reputation for stealing shiny things and serving as a bad omen. I’ve never been much for superstition, but I enjoy symbolism. 

When I first saw a magpie in England I was surprised to learn that this particular subspecies had blue on its wings. This detail inspired a poem. I decided to combine my observations of the magpies and their thieving reputation with my experiences studying in Nottingham.

Personally, I like magpies—they’re allusive but pretty. If my poem seems a little too dark for my opinion of the birds, note that I have also compared magpies with the struggles of depression. There were plenty of times during my studies that I wondered whether or not all my efforts mattered. This poem is meant to be an exploration of emotion and nature. I suppose you could say writing poetry is one of my ways of coping with the world. 

Disclaimer: This poem is meant to be about birds and education, not race and politics. 



Magpie

Justice isn’t always black and white.
That’s why those colors adorn the Magpie,
full-time court jester, part-time thief—
and you thought your words were your own—
tell me, what is originality?

He laughs at your fumbling
with your bike lock, tripping over your responsibilities,
musing on your literature on Addison’s Walk—
who needs sophistication?
Your degree, your sheets of paper mean nothing
to a bird donned with all he needs—feathers.

Did I ever mention these thieves are camera shy?
Taking nothing they need, they strut, they chortle,
they spread their blue-tipped wings
to form a shadow o’er your confidence, o’er your joy
‘til you’re left with nothing but empty pockets.



***

Similar posts: The Crow and the Heron, Pile of Words, and Shadows

Let’s chat! What’s your take on birds and their symbolism? Do you have a creative outlet? What helps you relax? 

Sunday, August 27, 2017

7 Reasons I Enjoy Historical Fiction

This post was inspired by a friend who gave me a completely different blogging prompt. But hey, that’s what happens with writing! Not only do you get a million plot bunnies, but when you finally pick one, they also tend to run off on a rabbit trail. So long as you don’t end up down the rabbit hole… 

Enough with Alice in Wonderland, though. This post is all about historical fiction! I’m here to talk about another one of my favorite genres, where fact meets fiction. 


I’ve been on a historical fiction reading spree lately, particularly when it comes to WWII fiction. I read other historical novels as well, but this has been my latest preference, especially considering my recent travels in Europe. Here are just a couple of reasons I enjoy historical fiction: 


1. It’s informative. 

I get a better sense of place from historical fiction than from history books. While history books will tell you about dates, historical fiction will tell you what a city might have looked or smelled like and how people may have lived their day-to-day lives. 

And let’s face it, reading or watching historical fiction makes us feel smarter. I know it does for me. Don’t deny it. 


2. It’s easier to remember a story if I can empathize with the characters/people. 

Need I say more? Fact: I can breeze through 300 pages of historical fiction, but it takes longer to get through 50 pages in a history book. 


3. Culture! 

I’ve touched on this topic before when it comes to 7 Reasons I Enjoy Sci-Fi, but I’m here to tell you about it again. I like culture. Once you take the time to truly understand somebody and where they’re coming from, they’ll be more open to interaction. And there’s nothing like understanding that not everybody lives their lives the way you do. If you can’t travel to a place to understand a certain culture, you can at least read about it. That way, you might even spare yourself the culture shock. 


4. Time travel. 

Time machines don’t exist… yet. And let’s face it, time travel would be a bit freaky. There are so many different theories about what could possibly go wrong and how such travel would work at all, but of course, that’s for a post on science-fiction not historical fiction. (Problems with time travel: germs vs. antibodies; language differences; spatial differences; the space time continuum; etc.) 

But when it comes to books, you can “safely” travel back in time and the most likely dangers you’ll encounter include papercuts, depleted bank accounts, and broken hearts. Okay, I never said you’d make it off easy. Reading is a dangerous game, my friend. 


5. Actual travel.*

It’s fascinating to read about a place and then travel there. That’s the problem with fantasy. The closest I’ll ever come to Narnia is the wardrobe in my house or visiting Oxford, which, let’s face it, looks nothing like I imagine Narnia to be. And sure, you can “visit” Middle Earth, but do you get to see Minas Tirith or Lothlorien? Unfortunately, not. (But I still want to go!) 

With historical fiction, you can visit actual sights. And while I’ve been to many, many places in my wanderings, I enjoy and understand a place even more if I’ve read a story about it before. I may even fangirl over a historical sight. I’ve visited Siena, the town where the Betarrini have been. (Okay, so the River of Time books are part fantasy, but they’re historical fiction too!) I’ve been to London, where many famous authors lived and kings and queens ruled. 

If you’re into actual travel and fiction, be sure to check out my latest newsletter, River of Books, and subscribe for more below!


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*I can tell when an author hasn’t visited the actual historical location or done their research. The setting tends to lack the personal touch that you can only get from visiting a place or talking to somebody who has. 


6. Author’s notes. 

Once I’ve engaged with a story, I thoroughly enjoy getting a bit more context. Maybe it’s the intellectual in me, but I like to learn the facts about something that’s already fascinating. Elizabeth Wein does a great job of this when it comes to her historical fiction novels. I would seriously like to see where more authors get their historical research from. 

And not just historical novels either. I want to know more about the facts and fiction when it comes to stories about people with disabilities or mental illness. A lot of stories just end, and I’m left asking what was real and what was made up. Sometimes, it’s hard to tell. Petition for YA authors to write more author’s notes. Seriously, people. I want to know more!


7. It’s sobering. 

Historical fiction reminds us that the world does not revolve around us. There were hundreds of thousands, millions of people who lived before us. Reading historical fiction can help us come in contact with just a few of those lives through stories of actual people or places. It also points out many of the tragedies that have occurred throughout the years and helps teach us what it truly means to be human. 


8. Bonus! (And because I can’t count): It helps me connect with my brother. 

My older brother is obsessed with history. I often refer to him as a walking encyclopedia. And even though we were pretty close growing up, so much so that we were often mistaken for twins, college has seen us develop different opinions and interests. So I may not have as much in common with my brother as I like, but at least there’s still history. 

Having watched BBC’s latest adaptation of Shakespeare’s history plays, The Hollow Crown, has enabled me to talk with my brother about the War of the Roses. Reading novels that include battle strategy is another favorite of mine because my brother could go on and on about the pincer movement or guerilla warfare. 

Enjoy historical fiction? If you related to this post, you might enjoy reading the following books: The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant (early 1900s, immigration, USA) All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (WWII, France and Germany), Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai (1975, immigration, Vietnam and USA), and Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein (WWII, pilots, France and England).

***


Let’s chat! Did I miss any great points about historical fiction? What are some of your favorite genres? How often do you read historical fiction? What is your favorite era to read about?

Sunday, August 20, 2017

No Story is Perfect

I go through various phases of reading. Some days, I’ll breeze through a really good book and then demand 100,000 more excellent stories. Other days, I’ll read 25 pages of a book I’ve been trying to finish for a week, and by the time I’m done, I don’t want to pick up another book for the next month. Good books are energizing. Mediocre ones are exhausting. 


All the while, I keep reading because I’m in search of the next great story. I have this picture in my mind of what such a story should look like, and even books I give 5/5 stars don’t entirely line up with my expectations. Even books I end up thoroughly enjoying and buying because I want to read them again, if I tried hard enough, I could probably find faults with them. It happened with The Chronicles of Narnia, The Valley of Fear, and the Inkworld trilogy and will undoubtedly happen again. 


Disclaimer: This post is not meant as an attack on your favorite stories. Therefore, I have picked my own treasured books to analyze and critique as an example. Likewise, when I say “story”, I mean fiction, not nonfiction, though there are certainly imperfections in nonfiction as well. 


“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” –Aristotle, Metaphysics


I was quite surprised when during my postgraduate, I heard one of my professors criticize Henry V for its awkward structure. Apparently, characters are running around every which way, and how on earth are directors supposed to portray an entire battle on stage through messengers? 

“It doesn’t really work as a play,” my professor said. 

Wait, what? This is Shakespeare we’re talking about. Isn’t he supposed to be a genius, the standard for writers? 

As it turns out, even classics have their faults. 

Despite fans’ obsession with the famous detective, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle hated Sherlock Holmes, so much so that he couldn’t even stay consistent with John Watson’s injuries, and there are parts where the third-person narratives don’t make sense. How is Watson supposed to glean this information if the point of view character is dead? 

In The Faerie Queene, not only is it difficult to follow the dialogue let alone the narrative, but also the later stories are, apparently, not as well thought out. Though I haven’t read all the books yet, I’ve heard characters disappear from the story if you’re not paying attention. That and Spenser never actually finished the collection. He only wrote six out of his initial idea for twelve books.

In Paradise Lost, audiences argue whether Satan is the antagonist or the protagonist. (Please be aware that the protagonist does not equate to a “hero”. Instead, the protagonist is the point-of-view character. That does not mean he/she is admirable.) 

The Lord of the Rings reverts to Dues ex machina when it comes to the eagles and the army of the dead. Likewise, The Chronicles of Narnia has some narrative issues. How does the narrator know what to write in The Last Battle if the seven friends of Narnia told him the events of the other books? 

I don’t mean to be terribly condescending when it comes to fiction. The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia will still be among my favorite stories from my childhood. Paradise Lost is among my Treasured Books, and I will probably always consider it to be among the best classics. 

But there still remains the idea that a story doesn’t have to be perfect for it to be enjoyable. If we didn’t enjoy stories because we dislike one or two aspects of it (or five or ten), we might never find a story we’d like. But that doesn’t mean, just because we thoroughly enjoy something, that we can’t talk about the elements that bothered us. Neither does that mean we have to get defensive if somebody else has a different opinion on a story than we do. 

“You can like things and also find them problematic. That is fine.” —Jen Campbell, “Let’s Talk | Villains and Deformity”

But what can readers possibly do when it comes to flawed fiction? First off, acknowledge the problem. Believe it or not, ignoring an issue doesn’t make it go away. Unless it’s a mosquito bite. Then you should definitely try to ignore it. Secondly, discuss the issue with others. Thirdly, and finally, if you’re a writer, address these issues in your own stories. You may not get it all right, but you are human, after all.


Sherlock: It’s not a pleasant thought, John, but I have this terrible feeling from time to time that we might all just be human.
John: Even you?
Sherlock: No. Even you.
(Sherlock, “The Lying Detective”)

Besides, I’d much rather read an imperfect story than a perfect one. After all, who can relate to a perfect life? As a gardener, I can often tell the difference between a fake houseplant and a real one. Fake plants are shiny and perfect and collect dust. Actual plants have scars and sometimes dried tips on their leaves, but at least they’re real. 

***

Film references: Sherlock

Literary references: C. S. Lewis’ The Last Battle and The Chronicles of Narnia, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Valley of Fear and Sherlock Holmes collection, and Cornelia Funke’s Inkworld trilogy, Aristotle’s Metaphysics, Shakespeare’s Henry V, Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene, John Milton’s Paradise Lost, and J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.




Let’s chat! What’s your take on fiction and it’s imperfections? What are some stories you enjoy despite their faults?