Posted in Ideas generation, Reading

The things that shape us: Books & their stories

Green Darkness: The original cover from 1972. I remember it well.

From time to time I wonder if what I read as a child and young adult has had any impact on what I write today – or on what I like to read.  It would make sense that it would, since what we read and experience do influence us in many other ways (our beliefs, attitudes etc.).  It’s in my mind right now because I’m currently re-reading a book that was one of my favorites back in the early 1970’s and has stayed in my mind for many years (it has also made me wonder if books I loved years ago would feel the same to me now.)

The book is Anya Seton’s classic historical novel Green Darkness.  I remember the feeling of the book more clearly than the content of the story.  I remember being swept up in it as the characters move from the 20th century to the 16th and back.  It’s a bit of a romance I guess, but it’s the historical detail and the characters that paint the picture for me.  As I read it now, with the benefit of maturity (I guess), I’m struck by the writing this time around.  Seton is a classic historical novelist who died in 1990 but not before writing more than a dozen books, many of which were bestsellers, and several of which were subsequently made into movies.  But, back to my original musing: has this book that I first read thirty years ago influenced my writing?

I think it probably has – but it’s difficult to say which came first – the reading or the influence.  Why did I choose the book in the first place?  I think my sister recommended it, but if I were not interested in historical fiction I would likely have ignored her – God knows I have ignored other recommendations she has made over the years!

So, there must have been something that compelled me to read and enjoy historical fiction at that time – long before I ever considered writing it.  Somehow, though, that love of reading historical fiction has manifested itself in my love of research and writing in this area, and not because I studied history in university.  I did not.  So if Anya Seton’s work (after Green Darkness I read several others all of which I enjoyed), influenced me, what other kinds of books influenced me?  Or at least, what are the most memorable books I read over the years?

At the top of the list – more of a favorite than Green Darkness – is Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier.  If asked to identify my favorite all-time book, this is it.  It is, of course, now a classic (originally published in 1938) and it has been made into a move more than once.

Eighth Moon: Today's cover with its sub-title.

I also remember a book called Eighth Moon by Sansan as told to Betty Bao Lord which I notice now has a sub-title (I’m certain it did not when I read it – I wonder if we need sub-titles these days to select books).  The modern sub-title is The True Story of a Young Girl’s Life in Communist China and it takes me back a very long time.

I know that I read a lot of books back then, but this is the only one I remember.  I can remember particular aspects of the book, like when she had to work in fields where human feces were used as fertilizer, and that’s going back a very long time in my life.  I read it in junior high school.

Eight Moon: The original cover -- the one I can actually remember!

I can only imagine how I found the story so divergent from my own life experience with this young woman who was about my age at the time of the story.

I can’t really articulate what it is about the book that it is the only one I remember from that point in my life, but I’m sure that remembering is reason enough to think it has influence.

What books influenced your work?

Posted in Backstory, Book promotion, Book trailers, Reading

Book trailers (Part 1)

Everyone has an opinion about movie trailers.  If the trailer is foisted on you without your consent at the beginning of a movie in a theater, and it’s a genre you hate, you probably don’t hold a high opinion of trailers.  On the other hand, if you actively seek out movie trailers on sites like YouTube, you’re a fan.  And then don’t get me started about movie trailers that show you the only interesting/funny/scary parts of a movie you hope will be interesting/funny/scary only to find out (after paying to see the movie) that those were the only interesting/funny/scary bits in the entire film!

With all of that in mind, I’m fairly certain that you are not quite as familiar with book trailers since they are a relatively new phenomenon.  As you might have figured out, a book trailer is a short video clip that presents a small sample of a book in a similar format to that of a movie.  As a reader, when I first heard about book trailers I thought that the concept was odd.  After all, isn’t part of the attraction of reading its ability to trigger readers’ own internal imaginative processes to create their own internal visual interpretations of characters, places and environment?  At least that’s how it works in fiction – non-fiction is another story.

A book trailer, then, although intended to entice us to read the book, seems to give the imaginative reader too much outside opinion of the visuals that a writer wants a reader to develop for him or herself.  However, in my view, that depends on the visuals presented and on whether or not there is narration or only titles.  In my mind, titles are more genuinely connected to a book (after all, we read a book, we don’t watch a book – that would be a movie.  Sometimes we listen to an audio book, but then we still create our own images).

This leads me into my backstory for this week.

My new book, Grace Note, (Grace Note US version) whose full backstory is interesting, is just out and the book trailer, a seemingly de rigeur part of book marketing in the cyber age, is now live.

Next week we’ll talk about the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of book trailers to entice readers to buy and read books.

Posted in Creativity, creativity generators, Cross-writing, Reading

What writers should read

It’s been raining here non-stop – almost—for months—almost.  At least that’s the way it feels. This is terrific for our lawns and gardens, but not so much for anyone longing to get a bit of (dry) fresh air and sunshine.  If you’re anything like me, though, a rainy day is an invitation to a good book, or any book, good or otherwise.  It’s an opportunity to lose yourself in the pages (or electronics if that’s your preferred platform), to learn something, to be entertained, to be provoked, to daydream.

I have two questions for you: What does a writer read?  And…What should a writer read?

The first question is, of course, making the reasonable assumption that writers read.  Of course they read.  The answer to the question is obvious: whatever he or she wants to read.  My answer to the second question – what should a writer read – might surprise you.

Perhaps you think that writers should read about writing.  Or they should read books in their specialty area (for example if you’re a creative non-fiction writer, you should read  creative non-fiction; if you’re an historical novelist, you should read historical novels; if you’re a women’s lit writer, that’s what you should read and so on).  Of course it’s important for you to read the kind of literature that you write.  In fact, it’s probably more important the other way around: you should probably write what you like to read.  So, it’s likely that you will read all of this anyway.  But in my view it’s only part of what you should read.

I think it’s important to cross-read.  This is a natural extension of last week’s discussion of cross-writing and is related again to the concept of creativity cross-training.  Reading in genres far afield from your everyday work and writing is one of the best ways to keep your creative mind working overtime.  And it’s fairly easy to tell if you’re a cross-reader; stack up the books you are currently reading, and the books that you have on your next-to-read list, and see what’s there.

Here’s my current stack of reading-now books…

Books I'm reading now.

As I mentioned, it’s been raining, so both my husband and I have managed to take on Stieg Larsson’s trilogy and I’m on the final one The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.  We added onto that experience by watching the Swedish (with English sub-titles) movie versions.  We’ll watch the final one this weekend after I finish reading it.

But you can see a real range of literature in this pile.

  • London Day-by-Day is a representation of my favorite way to prepare for a trip.  I’ve been to London several times before, but next month we’re meeting my son (who lives in Europe) there for a few days before ticking off one of the experiences on our bucket list for which he will join us: a transatlantic liner crossing from London to New York on the Queen Mary 2.  This little book series is my bible for walking new areas of cities.  Sometimes they are even useful in the future when I’m writing about those cities.
  • No Exit and Three Other Plays by John Paul Sartre is a bit outside my usual reading.  In fact, I can’t remember the last time I actually read a play.  However, one of my avocations is writing ballet libretti and I promised a new one to my son who is a budding choreographer.  I’ve been inspired by the notion of Sartre’s take on hell.
  • Health Communication – what can I say?  I’m also working on the development of a new course in my department (many of us writers do still have day jobs).
  • Finally, the book on vintage purses represents one of my passions: handbags.  I actually have a collection of vintage Coach handbags.  The truth is that one of the antique handbags I came across in my cross-reading is the inspiration for some research for another historical novel.

See, what did I tell you about cross-reading? What are you reading now?