Tag Archives | Novel Matters

The Epic Nature of Great Fiction

Today’s post by author Latayne Scott of our sister blog, Novel Matters | @NovelMatters

A dear friend once told me that people must “once and for all, give up the doctrine of coincidence. ” What he meant is that when unexpected incidents or ideas happen to occur concurrently or in proximity to one another, you must reject the idea that such things were random and should instead look for a divine hand, and divine messages.

Such a coincidence happened to me recently. I’ve been exploring the idea that the building of faith and character comes in three phases (and, in my own life, in the midst of painful experiences.) The middle phase is one in which victory seems absolutely impossible.

The “co-incidence ” of ideas—or perhaps, a collision of concepts –came when that idea of the phases collided into a passage I was reading from The Odyssey. If you’ve not read it lately (or at all), it is the very essence of great novel structure: a good person has everything, loses it and even seems to become beyond hope of ever regaining it.

In the middle of the story, a great monster, the Cyclops, has eaten some of his men and when the hero Odysseus sails away from him, the beast roars out at him across the waves:

Hear me, Poseidon. . .grant that Odysseus, who styles himself Sacker of Cities and son of Laretes, may never reach his home in Ithaka.

But if he is destined to reach his native land, to come once more to his own house and see his friends again,

let him come late,

in evil plight,

with all his comrades dead,

 in someone else’s ship,

and find troubles in his household.

But when Odysseus does get home, all is set right. He dispatches the spongers who have been trying to seduce his wife, regains his estate, and lives happily ever after.

But—the satisfaction of following him through all his troubles (as indeed the curse of the Cyclops came true), comes exactly BECAUSE he lost everything — except hope.

Here’s the great truth that hit me: The greater the obstacles, the greater the rotund and satisfied feeling we have at seeing the resolution. That’s a timeless idea.

What novel have you read lately that overcame obstacles in such a satisfying—shall we say epic?—way?  

About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is co-founder of the popular online book club, She Reads, a novelist, blogger, and life-long reader. She lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee with her husband and four young sons (aka The Wild Rumpus). Her novel, THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS, will be published in January 2014 by Doubleday. Ariel believes that Story is the shortest distance to the human heart.

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Creative Connections

Today’s post by Bonnie Grove of our sister blog, Novel Matters | @BonnieGrove

Bonnie Grove

I’ve finished writing a novel this week. A three-year journey of frustration and hope. As I combed through one last time before sending it off, I lingered over the pages that contained song lyrics. There are lyrics from eight songs in the manuscript. Snippets mostly, the apt verses that fit the moment in the book, except for one song I transcribed in its entirety. The songs had to be included in the manuscript because they add a dimension of emotional expression unattainable through any other method.

Music and novels are, for me, two sides of the same storytelling coin.

When I was a kid, I had bemoaned the fact that a soundtrack did not accompany real life the way it did in movies. It wasn’t until as an adult, I looked back and saw that I had created a soundtrack for my life after all. Summers were Chicago’s power ballads on a sandy beach holding hands with a boy I’d met two days ago. And The Beach Boys singing oldies but goodies while I learned to waterski and windsurf (I was terrible at both). Grade 11 was the soundtrack to Purple Rain as my friends and I acted out each song. (I was a drama geek.) The stories in those songs became my story.

How does that happen?

I think part of the answer is that storytelling is the creative connection between people and life. Both the novel, with its long view of unfolding events, and the song with its explosion of emotion capsuled in a few verses, weave themselves into our life journeys and help us express a prism of meaning and depth we cannot articulate on our own.

The lyrics from the eight songs I included in the manuscript add emotional depth and dimension to the story. A mother holding her child sings,

Baby mine, don’t you cry.

Baby mine, dry your eyes.

Rest your head close to my heart,

never to part, baby of mine

A fisherman faced with the daunting task of making an outsider understand how his life and livelihood have been wiped out sings,

They filled their dories twice a day

They fished their poor sweet lives away

They could not imagine then

No more fish, no fishermen.

The songs become something beyond language and usher us into the place of feeling and experiencing. Story weaves into story. A novel’s reach is extended by the songs ability to quickly touch the tender talon of longing, the ache in the bone, the explosion of hope.

I no longer bemoan the fact that life doesn’t come with a soundtrack. I’m convinced we create our own soundtrack thought the creative connection of storytelling both with the stories we read, and the music we listen to.

How about you? Which novels and/or songs have woven into the fabric of your life?

About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is co-founder of the popular online book club, She Reads, a novelist, blogger, and life-long reader. She lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee with her husband and four young sons (aka The Wild Rumpus). Her novel, THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS, will be published in January 2014 by Doubleday. Ariel believes that Story is the shortest distance to the human heart.

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First Time For Everything

Today’s post from the brilliant Kathleen Popa at our sister blog, Novel Matters | @kathleenpopa

My first kiss was forgettable. I just brought it up to you of course, so obviously I didn’t forget it,   but that is only because I was struck by what a non-event it was. The let-down was memorable beyond words.

His name was Gary. I wish him well.

Ever notice how wonderful first times are when they happen in books?

Around that time I liked to read the kind of love stories where the lead fell haplessly in love with the one man who wanted her dead, and the kisses in those books were nothing short of breath-taking. Lucky for my mental health, that phase was short lived. I read many other kinds of books, both before and after, and they provided me with many of my favorite firsts.

Like the time I picked up A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh, read a few lines, and for the first time laughed out loud at the words on a page:

“HERE is Edward Bear, coming downstairs now, bump, bump, bump, on the back of his head, behind Christopher Robin. It is, as far as he knows, the only way of coming downstairs, but sometimes he feels that there really is another way, if only he could stop bumping for a moment and think of it.”

I think it was two years after that when L. Frank Baum’s Wonderful Wizard of Oz compelled me to view the world through new glasses – or more accurately a green shooter marble I carried in my pocket. Any time I wanted to see the truth behind the illusion, I could pull out that marble and peer through at the world around, and there it was: The Emerald City.

Not long after, Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s The Little Prince introduced me to that exquisite pleasure of reading something you know is deeper than your mind can hold, so deep you end up reading it again and again throughout your life, waiting for your mind to grow, waiting till you understand.

Similarly, J.D. Salinger’s Franny and Zooey taught me, when I was in high school, that Jesus could be thought of – and talked of – outside of church, and that there was serious thinking to be done about him, that there was a mystery big enough to merit a second look:

“But I’ll tell you a terrible secret — Are you listening to me? There isn’t anyone out there who isn’t Seymour’s Fat Lady. That includes your Professor Tupper, buddy. And all his cousins by the dozens. There isn’t anyone anywhere that isn’t Seymour’s Fat Lady. Don’t you know that? Don’t you know that secret yet? And don’t you know — listen to me, now — don’t you know who that Fat Lady really is? … Ah, buddy. Ah, buddy. It’s Christ Himself. Christ Himself, buddy. ” *

It was in high school too, that I first stole a book. I didn’t mean to.

It was an anthology titled Being Alive, and in it were two essays by the poet, Dylan Thomas, and in those essays I found paragraphs like this one:

  “I was born in a large Welsh town at the beginning of the Great War—an ugly, lovely town (or so it was and is to me), crawling, sprawling by a long and splendid curving shore where truant boys and sandfield boys and old men from nowhere, beachcombed, idled and paddled, watched the dock-bound ships or the ships streaming away into wonder and India, magic and China, countries bright with oranges and loud with lions; threw stones into the sea for the barking outcast dogs; made castles and forts and harbours and race tracks in the sand; and on Saturday afternoons listened to the brass band, watched the Punch and Judy, or hung about on the fringes of the crowd to hear the fierce religious speakers who shouted at the sea, as though it were wicked and wrong to roll in and out like that, white-horsed and full of fishes.”

I only borrowed the book. But then one thing led to another, and I found myself in love. I discovered the deep melting pleasure of sentences written by skilled hands.

And I never took the book back.

You understand, right?

Could you let go of words like those? Could you ever pry your fingers from “ships streaming away into wonder and India, magic and China, countries bright with oranges and loud with lions?”

I thought not. Because you never forget your first time.

* Editor’s note: a bit of strong language was removed from the J.D. Salinger quote  out of respect for our more sensitive readers. Our apologies to Salinger who, if he was still around, would likely be preparing a very colorful tirade in his own defense. We like you J.D. Truly, we do!

About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is co-founder of the popular online book club, She Reads, a novelist, blogger, and life-long reader. She lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee with her husband and four young sons (aka The Wild Rumpus). Her novel, THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS, will be published in January 2014 by Doubleday. Ariel believes that Story is the shortest distance to the human heart.

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Books Plus…Accessories for Readers

Today’s post by Patti Hill of our sister blog, Novel Matters | @PattiHill

Your reading friend already has a stack of books on her nightstand. Does she need another? (The answer is yes, of course, but there are other options.)   Perhaps she’s a bit particular about what she reads. How about a gift certificate? (Yawn!) Instead, consider these gift suggestions:

Imagine waking up to Mrs. Dalby’s Buttermilk Scones from James Herriot’s All Things Bright and Beautiful or sitting down to a steaming bowl of Amish Chicken and Dumplings from Jodi Picoult’s Plain Truth. For dessert, there’s Effie Belle’s Coconut Cake from Olive Ann Burn’s Cold Sassy Tree. These and many more culinary treats are inspired by literary treats in The Booklover’s Cookbook by Shaunda Kennedy Wenger and Janet Kay Jensen. I suppose a word of caution should be given about the Turkish Delight from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. It’s addictive.

The next best thing to a new book is a new purse, especially one that declares your friend’s love of reading like this book-turned-purse I found on Etsy.com. You can Google “purses made from novels ” and find a cache of possibilities, or is that clutch of possibilities?

 

The Reading Woman collection includes vintage portraits of women reading on every page. The collection includes mini calendars, full-sized calendars, address books, and other useful items, all reasonably priced.

 

 

Does your friend have to borrow reading hours from her sleeping hours? I use a headlamp to read in bed, so that Hunky Hubby have to pull the blankets over his head. It’s hands-free lighting with a pure light that lasts and lasts.

I highly recommend Books I’ve Read: A Reader’s Journal for the serious readers on your list. No matter how unforgettable a book may seem as you’re reading, details and plotlines do have a way of fading with time. If you’re of a certain age, titles and authors might as well be smoke.

Tea and books go together like—well—tea and books! Novel Tea adds quotes from our favorite stories to sweeten the pot.

All that’s left is to decide which one you your friend will love.

May the joy of our Savior’s birthday enrich your Christmas and all the days of 2013.

 

 

About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is co-founder of the popular online book club, She Reads, a novelist, blogger, and life-long reader. She lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee with her husband and four young sons (aka The Wild Rumpus). Her novel, THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS, will be published in January 2014 by Doubleday. Ariel believes that Story is the shortest distance to the human heart.

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Falling Into The Hole

Today’s post from Kathleen Popa of Novel Matters | @KathleenPopa

I approach today’s post with an assumption about you: that some time in the past month – or week – you’ve felt a wobble in the wheels of your wagon of life. One more setback, one more bill, a single word more of bad news, and your wagon might collapse altogether.

I feel safe in my assumptions. I know so few people who haven’t commented that surely the present trial couldn’t last much longer. The five ladies I blog with certainly understand the feeling. When we first banded together – most of us strangers to each other, all of us newly published authors with big plans and high hopes – we thought our purpose as co-bloggers would be to encourage our readers and hoist each other to ever higher levels of publishing success.

We found out different. Even as our shared relationship flowered into a rare and special kind of friendship, we discovered that our purpose was in fact to help each other survive the coming wave of hardship. Maybe this is a case of “you had to be there,” but I cherish our lifeboat friendship much more than the hand-up-the-ladder kind. Or – to say it better, I hope: the surviving is more precious to me than success.

There is something lovely about falling into the hole you hoped to stay out of. Once you’re in there, you can walk its circumference, and feel the cool clay of the wall, and realize that you can settle in for as long as you must, and you’ll still be alright. The fear you might once have had of not being able to take it begins to show itself as the lie it was.

Even in the hole, you have friends. You learn, in whatever state you find yourself, to be content.

My prayer for you is that you will find the kinds of friendships that  make surviving a beautiful thing. In that hope, I offer a few suggestions:

Choose people with a capacity for affection and optimism, generosity and humor.

Love them well.

Cheer them on when the news is good, sympathize when it’s not. Be lavish about this.

Stay in close touch, close enough to feel the pulse. We ladies at Novel Matters live far apart, but we email each other every day. We may not know how to pull each other from the hole, but we sing to each other till the wind picks up.

You know the wind, right? Ever hear the Ojibwe saying?

“Sometimes I go about in pity for myself, and all the while a great wind  is bearing me across the sky.”

About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is co-founder of the popular online book club, She Reads, a novelist, blogger, and life-long reader. She lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee with her husband and four young sons (aka The Wild Rumpus). Her novel, THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS, will be published in January 2014 by Doubleday. Ariel believes that Story is the shortest distance to the human heart.

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A Surprising Catch

Today’s post by Debbie Thomas from our sister blog, Novel Matters | @NovelMatters

I know what I like. I’ve been reading for 40…ish years, so yes, I should know by now what floats my boat when it comes to books.   Strong characters, authentic motivations, deep and worthwhile themes that resonate with me as a reader and settings as character that make me loathe to leave at the end.  Where do I consistently find these books? If there were a section so labeled in bookstores, I would camp out on their shores.

But there is no such shore. So, I cast my nets wide in the stacks of new releases or trawl musty secondhand stores for well-thumbed books. Dog-eared corners don’t lie – they have a reader’s stamp of urgency about them.

Occasionally, I reel in a surprising catch.   Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s The Shadow of the Wind took me to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books and left me running breathless through the stacks.  His even darker book, The Angel’s Game, had me cowering under the covers with a booklight into the early hours of the next workday and thanking God for people of courage. Flavia de Luce pulled me onto the back of Gladys (her bike) to race through Bishop’s Lacey for poisons. I promptly downloaded her next three books on my Kindle at the end (thank you, Alan Bradley).  The unabridged version of Jane Eyre left me aghast at what incorruptible spiritual truths had been gutted for word count and brevity in the version I’d read early on. I tasted the desperation and joys of a New York slum in Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I laughed open-mouthed at Green Shadows, White Whale. Who knew Ray Bradbury could turn writing a screenplay for Moby Dick into a thing of hilarity?

So, yes, I love the heftiness of velum and cloth cover in my hand, the knowing scent of old type and fuzzed edges of well-worn books, the cover photo that stirs the waters of imagination, the lure of a title that befuddles, the quick catch of a downloadable world.

I never want to be so sure of what I like that I steer away from unknown waters.   What have you read that surprised you?

About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is co-founder of the popular online book club, She Reads, a novelist, blogger, and life-long reader. She lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee with her husband and four young sons (aka The Wild Rumpus). Her novel, THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS, will be published in January 2014 by Doubleday. Ariel believes that Story is the shortest distance to the human heart.

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Stuckness – A Novel Matters Guest Post

Today’s post from Bonnie Grove from our sister blog, Novel Matters | @BonnieGrove

So I’m stuck, right?

I’m plotting a novel, assembling the scaffolding on which my story will hang. Connecting bones, thigh to hip, spine to brain stem. Who knows if I’m getting it right. Novels don’t come with instructions.

Still, some of the pieces seem to saddle up, and I start getting that relieved feeling like this might all hang together after all.

Except.

Blast it all, who is this chick? The one who steers the ship, the flawed and weak hero about to visit this mild death? Cannot get a handle on her. I know what I will have her do. Know the holes she will have to squeeze through, the love she will face, the failure that will swat her sideways like a bug. But she’s silent. Until she speaks, I have nothing.

So I force it.

What else can I do but curl up on my writing couch (every writer should have a writing couch. So cozy) pencil in hand and write lousy dialogue. The process makes sense to me. I began my creative life in theater, so for me dialogue is the fastest way to character revelation. It’s always worked for me before.

Blast.

Nothing comes of my dialogue. I’m moving her lips, but she’s not in the words. It’s just my monkey chatter flowing onto the page. My hero is a no show. Maybe if I move to the computer, try typing instead of writing by hand.

Worse.

Not only is my hero a no show, but now I’m wasting time on Facebook. I need to heed Jonathan Franzen’s advice and write on a computer that has no internet access. There’s only one thing to do now. Pout. The whole things a waste of time anyway. No one will want to read this mess.

But.

It’s autumn up here in Canada. I have two ash trees in my front yard. Ash trees are known for being the last trees out in spring, and the first to lose their leaves in fall. My ash trees live up to this reputation and have littered all over the lawn. I grab a rake.

Then.

I’m pushing tree debris around the yard, the air is snappy-cool, the sun is falling behind my house. I’m muttering to myself, Who is she? What’s she really all about? Rake, rake. Mutter, mutter.

Kapow.

She starts yapping. Really letting it flow. And—get this—it’s not dialogue. It’s narrative. Huh? I keep raking while I listen to her narrate. After a few minutes she starts adding things, internal dialogue, nuggets of perception, even a few plot details I had no idea about. She’s brilliant!

Thunk.

I drop the rake, run into the house, throw myself onto my writing couch. “Where’s a pencil? I need paper? Where’d I put my glasses?

My husband, who is used to me in this mode, silently hands me all I ask for, and I start writing. Long hand. I don’t know the reasons, but pencil and paper are what work for me. I write five pages without looking up. When I finish, I smile at my hubby.

Duh.

Of course. I know this. Whenever I’m stuck, I need to go do something else. I can’t sit and try to force the words. Novels don’t flow from the frontal lobe. They leek out sideways, come at you from the peripheral.

I suspect this works in other areas of life, too. Whenever we feel stuck—maybe even a little desperate—for answers they only come after we get on with living.

About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is co-founder of the popular online book club, She Reads, a novelist, blogger, and life-long reader. She lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee with her husband and four young sons (aka The Wild Rumpus). Her novel, THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS, will be published in January 2014 by Doubleday. Ariel believes that Story is the shortest distance to the human heart.

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Dear Diary – A Novel Matters Guest Post

Today’s post from Patti Hill at our sister blog, Novel Matters | @PattiHill  @NovelMatters

I’m a sucker for those behind-the-scenes features on DVDs. A peek behind the story curtain is added value in my book. I enjoy seeing the actors being themselves—joking, laughing, perplexed over a scene. Seeing all that only makes me appreciate the art of story more.

That’s why I’ve decided to open my diary to you.

Normally, a writer’s life is dull as dirt, but I managed to find something for you. Below are the entries I wrote after I sent my latest manuscript off to my editor.

 

Dear Diary,

Feeling a bit blue. Aimless. Sent my manuscript off to the editor yesterday. I’m lost! I walk into rooms with a sense of urgency, only to stand slack-jawed and befuddled. “What am I doing in this room? “

I’ve started a list of revisions to add to my editor’s when the manuscript returns to me.

 

Dear Diary,

My daydreams are driving me mad. In one rendition, my editor over-nights a 5# box of dark chocolate and a note saying she’s never seen a more perfect story in her life. I fear my second, more persistent, daydream is true–my editor calls to say the publishing house is cancelling my contract. The manuscript is pig snot, drivel, weak in the knees. A reeking heap of rotting, slimy broccoli.   I knew it all along.

I think I have an idea for my next novel. Phew!

 

Dear Diary,

Nothing. Not one word from my editor. For goodness sake, woman, throw me a bone! Tell me one way or the other. Is it Pulitzer or the dung heap? I can take it.

I’ve gotten most of the dishes out of my office. But still, the scent of mac 'n’ cheese persists, and I’m missing a couple spoons from my mother-in-law’s silver, the set I borrowed last Christmas.   Yikes!

I’m buzzing about the Internet, reading up on telephone museums. Is this a red herring or the birth of the GAN (Great American Novel)?

 

Dear Diary,

Seven days of silence. Maybe my editor is dead.   Stop that! Why think such a terrible thing? She’s not dead, but her car could have veered off the road. Deer are a menace along that stretch of highway, and the woods are creepy thick. I can see it now. She swerved to miss a deer and ripped through the trees. Isn’t there a lake just off the highway? It’s quite possible her Prius is partially submerged; and she can’t call out because she’s unconscious. Snakes could be nesting at her feet, laying eggs; mosquitoes feast on her bare arms. Are there bears in the woods?

Reality check, Miss Patti: It’s only been seven days. Seven.

Found the spoons; dumped the telephone museum angle. Need. Killer. Idea. Now.

 

Dear Diary,

It’s been ten whole days. I can only imagine the pages of revision notes my editor has accumulated. I shouldn’t be surprised. I’ve filled a composition book with the changes I want to make. Clearly, the story needs more tension and conflict. Nothing really happens. There’s nothing at stake. I’ve written the first novel in the history of the world about absolutely nothing at all. In fact, what made me think I could write a novel? The first five were a fluke. I can see that now.

Mother-in-law says a knife is missing, too. I do not use knives when eating in my office. Is she serious?

Been reading People magazine, listening to NPR, and eavesdropping on conversations everywhere I go. Still no idea for the next novel. Must start writing soon.

I can see the top of my desk, and I finally found a cleaner to vanquish the orange ring in the toilets. Sometimes, life hands you a gold medal. Feeling good about these small accomplishments. Next, the refrigerator.

 

Dear Diary,

It’s been TWO weeks! She never takes two weeks to edit my manuscripts. My husband refuses to talk about it, and no one is picking up my calls. Curse caller I.D.! Maybe I should call her, see if her daughter made it onto the soccer team, or if her husband remembered their anniversary this year. Do I want to know why it’s taking so long? Do I want to be told to rewrite everything but the dedication?  What to do? What to do?

Found my mother-in-law’s knife under the printer. That explains the mysterious rattle.

Trying on this idea for my next novel: An orphaned boy is terribly mistreated by his aunt and uncle.   They sequester him in a cubby under the stairs. Lo and behold, this kid’s mom and dad were wizards, and he has inherited their magical powers, but his magic is untamed and unpredictable. He must be trained! He must go to—what?—Hogwash School! Yes! This is great. Note to self: Come up with a better name for the school.

 

Dear Diary,

St. John’s wort doesn’t work. Fat-laden coffee confections don’t work. Date night definitely didn’t work. (Sorry, honey.) For good or bad, I need to hear from my editor.

Seems the wizard kid thing is an old chestnut. Going back to the telephone museum idea. This will be a tough sell.

 

Dear Diary,

The manuscript was delivered to my inbox this morning. Revision notes aren’t as bad as I feared, not as good as I’d hoped but doable. In fact, I love, love, love my editor’s suggestions. It certainly does take a village to write a novel. What would I do without her? I love that woman. I’m so glad she’s such a careful driver. The synergy between us is pure magic. This is it! This is my break-out novel.

Note to self: Send 5 lbs. of chocolate, the kind with nuts and sour cherries, to the most wonderful editor in the world. And she’s mine!

 

My diary entries are mostly tongue-in-cheek, but no small amount of anxiety and anticipation accompanies the relinquishment of a manuscript into the editor’s hands.

Sending off a manuscript is like watching your youngest child leave the house for kindergarten.   Did I prepare him for all the good and bad in the world? Will he embarrass me with stories about the family? Did I remember to put a napkin in his lunchbox? All the time for preparation is over. He steps onto the bus without looking back. Maybe if I kept him home one more year…

Letting go of something?

 

About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is co-founder of the popular online book club, She Reads, a novelist, blogger, and life-long reader. She lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee with her husband and four young sons (aka The Wild Rumpus). Her novel, THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS, will be published in January 2014 by Doubleday. Ariel believes that Story is the shortest distance to the human heart.

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Snapshots From Life – A Novel Matters Guest Post

Today’s post from Debbie Thomas of our sister blog,  Novel Matters  |  @NovelMatters

An interesting thing happened on my way back from a family reunion a few weeks ago. At the end of a very long five hour flight between Baltimore and San Diego, a passenger bolted from his seat as we were landing, sprinted to the front, grabbed the door handles and yelled, “Let me off this plane! I have to get off the plane! ”

Oh yeah.

Two male flight attendants tackled him and pinned him down as we all watched, dumbfounded.   It seemed like an eternity before the wheels finally touched the runway, but in reality, it took only moments.

What goes through your mind when stuff like this happens?  Initially, you can’t really believe what you’re seeing because you have no frame of reference for it.   It’s not every day that someone goes haywire on a flight and tries to get off before the plane has landed.   Fellow passengers glance around at each other, just as startled and nervous and disbelieving as you, seeking some kind of verification that it’s really happening.

It wasn’t until I’d disembarked and medicated myself with a white chocolate mocha that the reality of it set in.   It could have turned out so differently if… no, we’re not going there.     But I wouldn’t be a writer, if at some point I didn’t shamelessly wonder how I could use this in a story.   Most writers would.

Digging through the rubble of life gives stories authenticity.   As writers, we often process our own experiences through the thoughts and actions of our characters. Sometimes these experiences provide snapshots of what makes people tick. Sometimes it’s a way for writers to make sense of life.

Here are some things I stored away in my inner journal:

  • The young man on the plane didn’t struggle after he was tackled.   He grew docile and cooperative immediately.  Had he been subdued or was he biding his time?
  • He looked like any other 20-something in shorts and a t-shirt. He could have been my son…or yours.   Tragically innocent or understatedly evil?
  • The woman beside me in the aisle seat said that if she’d known he was coming, she would have stuck out her foot to trip him. It brought out her inner ninja.
  • Several passengers were gracious and wondered if he had mental health issues, rather than making assumptions of malicious intent.
  • The young man was barefooted.   The security officer found his flipflops at his seat. If he’d been intentional about causing harm, wouldn’t he have slipped his feet into his shoes before running to the front? It seemed more likely that he panicked and reacted to some turbulence.
  • The whole incident seemed to go on forever because all the window shades were drawn to keep out the heat and we had no idea how close we were to landing.   I remember thinking (praying!) and trying to will the plane to touch down.
  • It occurred to me how odd that all three flight attendants were brawny males.   When does that ever happen? In fiction, it would sound contrived, but in reality it was ordained, I think.
  • Even the babies and little children were quiet. There was a moment of silence — a pause in the universe — before people started whispering and questioning.

What I observed in the reaction of such a large group of people to this situation was story fodder.   I saw how a simple thing like altering the physical setting (having the shades drawn, adding some turbulence) can disorient the protagonist, slow down time and heighten suspense.   How one person can find her inner ninja while another sympathizes with a potentially volatile and dangerous character.   How something as simple as shoes left behind can suggest the difference between spontaneous or premeditated actions, a confused soul or a scoundrel.

Every writer makes use of personal experiences, but if we fail to look past the obvious event and dissect the nuances of the scene and the reactions of those involved, we may miss the chance to incorporate them into story.

As a side note, when I had time to consider it all, I was deeply moved and grateful for the grace shown to us all on that flight.  And I sent an email to the airline commending the flight attendants for the quick response.

About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is co-founder of the popular online book club, She Reads, a novelist, blogger, and life-long reader. She lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee with her husband and four young sons (aka The Wild Rumpus). Her novel, THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS, will be published in January 2014 by Doubleday. Ariel believes that Story is the shortest distance to the human heart.

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Connecting To the Unseen – A Novel Matters Guest Post

Today’s post by Kathleen Popa of our sister blog, Novel Matters | @NovelMatters @kathleenpopa

It wouldn’t surprise you, would it, if I told you my two sons were exceptional? Even if you disagreed – if you’d met them and hadn’t found them special at all, you would at least concede that I would of course think they were, because I am their mom.

You wouldn’t disagree, though.

If you met them, you would find them handsome, kind, bright, creative and engaging. Really. That’s what I always hear from people who go out of their way to tell me. They truly are remarkable.

But what if I said that when I see them, I feel the light that emanates from their souls, I honestly see halos around their heads, I practically hear the angels sing? Well, you might believe me the way Scully believed Mulder ( “I’m sure you thought you saw… “), but you wouldn’t see the halos, and you wouldn’t hear the angels.*

Madeleine L’engle held that we are made like onions, with all the ages we have ever been still layered inside. The infant still lives, as does the two year old, the ten-year-old, the teenager. I believe this is true.

So the reason, I think, that I see these young men so clearly is that I have witnessed the formation of all those layers. Few others — their father does, and my eldest’s mother (I’m his step-mom) — understand the things I know because I was there.

I believe that when, as the Bible predicts, the lion will lie down with the lamb, then at that moment we will all see more clearly past our noses into the souls of each other. We will see one another the way I see my boys and be astonished that we ever passed a human on the street without looking up.

Because we will see what was formerly unseen.

Trust me — this all has to do with books.

Over at Novel Matters, we are having a long conversation about why the novel matters, and I believe the answer is connected to all I’ve just said.

The following video is an excellent interview with Eugene Peterson conducted in 2007 at Point Loma Nazarene University. Toward the end of the video (you can drag the slider to 26:11 if you’re in a hurry), he says something I like:

“Imagination is almost, not quite, the same thing as faith. It connects what we see with what we don’t see, and pulls us through what we see to what we don’t see. ”

When an author writes a novel, she must know her characters, layer by layer. She uses her imagination to blend what she knows of her own story with what she knows of the stories of others — some of them people she knows very well.

When you read a book, you use your imagination to flesh out the story the author has given. She has written down the words, but you supply the pictures. You bring to the page what you know of yourself and those you love.

And somehow, when this collaboration works at its best, the result is that you look at the stranger on the street with new eyes. You glimpse the light between the layers. You hear music.

*Their wives might, or if not yet, I think they will. You should meet the man I’ve come to know these past 27+ years. Light and angel songs.

About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is co-founder of the popular online book club, She Reads, a novelist, blogger, and life-long reader. She lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee with her husband and four young sons (aka The Wild Rumpus). Her novel, THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS, will be published in January 2014 by Doubleday. Ariel believes that Story is the shortest distance to the human heart.

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