Taking Wonder with a twist of Danger

During a recent martial arts class, Rob asked his students whether they saw the world as a dangerous place with moments of wonder, or a wondrous place with moments of danger.

Definitely a wondrous place, I thought. Then I considered my writing and realized that to move the action forward in my novel, I need more moments of danger. Nobody wants to read a book about a happy well-adjusted young woman in a great relationship who loves her dogs. That’s why I didn’t have a memoir until Isis died. Pain equals conflict equals drama.

A few days later, I made one of my fictional doggie characters viciously bite someone.

I didn’t stay in the dangerous world long. Last weekend, I participated in Stephanie Renee Dos Santos’ Saraswati writing and yoga workshop.

Saraswati

Saraswati is the Hindu goddess of knowledge, music, arts and science… depicted as a beautiful woman to embody the concept of knowledge as supremely alluring… Saraswati is the goddess of learning, and not a god; the feminine aspect signifies creativity. … Saraswati is known as a guardian deity in Buddhism who upholds the teachings of Gautama Buddha by offering protection and assistance to practitioners

I’ve dabbled in yoga for many years, but never connected it to my writing practice before. We met on the labyrinth at Fairhaven Park, a perfect setting for outdoor yoga. After an hour of poses targeting our hips, back, neck and shoulders, opening ourselves to creativity and culminating in Tibetan meditation, we sat down to write.

Stephanie guided us through writing prompts focusing our attention on the natural world. The yoga gave my writing an awareness of my physical surroundings that I sometimes neglect. We returned to our mats for a few more vinyasas before a final writing exercise to bring it all together. I was quite surprised to find that the stream-of-consciousness observations from the earlier prompts fit perfectly into my novel, and I wrote a short scene that I didn’t even know my story needed.

After that infusion of wonder and beauty, I went to a dark place. Literally. I pulled Gillian Flynn’s Dark Places off my shelf. I tried to start it a few months ago, but wasn’t in mood for dark that day. I read the first line (I have a meanness inside me, real as an organ), and thought “Not today.” Can’t remember what I read instead, but since then I’ve read some Chuck Palahniuk, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and I Am Forbiddenthe latter being this month’s book club selection.

Without any sense that this book could help me with my novel, Dark Places looked good to me on Monday. I don’t write violent psychological thrillers, but I sure do enjoy reading them. Once again, my inner reader knew what I needed even when my conscious mind didn’t. The main character in Dark Places is a damaged young woman with a violent past. She is angry and stunted, rather like my main character in Fight Like a Lady.

You find inspiration where you least expect it.

Revisiting first novels

books

After a novel has had tremendous success, readers often seek out the author’s first books, which for whatever reason, escaped notice when originally released.

More than a decade before The Art of Racing in the Rain became a New York Times Bestseller, Garth Stein published Raven Stole the Moon. The jacket summary intrigued me: a Seattle woman grieving the loss of her five-year-old son returns to her ancestral hometown in Alaska where she is confronted by Tlingit spirits. In the afterword, Stein confesses that when the book was reprinted in 2010, the only thing he wanted to change was the overuse of swear words.

I wanted to enjoy Raven Stole the Moon more than I did. I didn’t relate to main character Jenna as much as I related to the dog narrator of The Art of Racing in the Rain. Sometimes male writers have trouble realistically creating female characters (and vice versa, I’m sure). In some ways, the plot was predictable and both Jenna and her husband’s choices irritated me. The supernatural aspects to the story didn’t quite work for me either.

I expected to be similarly underwhelmed by Sharp Objects, the first novel of Gillian Flynn, whose Gone Girl was the psychological thriller of 2012. Instead, I found Sharp Objects to be the more satisfying of the two. Another very dark thriller, Sharp Objects is about a second-rate newspaper reporter returning to her hometown in Missouri to write about the possible serial murders of two young girls. I didn’t exactly relate to the heroine, Camille Preaker, who has pretty disturbing secrets of her own, but found myself rooting for her even at her batshit craziest.

Both books contained one sentence too many on the jacket summaries, telling me more than I needed to know before beginning the books. This is why I hardly ever read back covers before starting a book anymore. For example, the first nine words of the summary for Sharp Objects give something away that isn’t revealed until page 60 of the book.