Surrendering to The Story
It has been a while since a book swept me off my feet.I had forgotten what it feels like to get so lost in a book that time slips away and chores go undone. It’s a lovely feeling. Secret. Intimate. Delicious. The temptation and the anticipation. The savoring and the rationing – how many chapters left? How many pages? I can’t wait to read the next bit, but I don’t want the affair to be over.
I bought the book on Sunday afternoon and our whirlwind tryst was over by Tuesday night. Four hundred some odd pages devoured in a matter of hours. The story drunk down in stolen sips and unabashed gulps, leaving me intoxicated. For the two weekdays that I was entangled in the book, it was difficult to concentrate on any task – domestic or professional. I sat at the desk in my home office, feigning focus on the screen but really just counting down the minutes until I could find an excuse to sidle up to the dining room table – only a few feet away – and read just one, quick chapter.
The television didn’t have a chance. Though it tried to lure me away with the promise of mindless relaxation, I was having none of it. I wanted the real thing. The one-dimensional screen wasn’t enough. I wanted to slip between the pages and into the story. I didn’t want to just watch. For three nights, I went to bed early, clutching my book in eager hands. In the dark of my room, I curled up in the glow from my booklight and surrendered to the pull of turning page after page until I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer. I felt like a kid again.
Sadly, it was over too soon. There were only so many pages to read. I knew it had to end, but was still bereft when I turned that last page and had to bid the characters and the storyline farewell. I know there will be others, but not many will conjure that feeling of unmitigated, literary ardor. Still, like any hopeless romantic, I will never stop believing and searching. I know that someday soon I will stumble across my next great bookish crush. I can hardly wait.
What I’m Writing:
As usual, life is keeping me awfully busy. I have precious little time to do any writing beyond my client work, column, and various blogs. I am still, however, always writing in my head. This week, that “writing” consisted mainly of noticing (perhaps for the first time) a few of the story attributes that I find almost irresistible. As I am starting to think more and more about the kinds of stories I want to focus on writing, learning about the kinds of stories I love is turning out to be very enlightening.
Though I have what some might consider eclectic reading tastes, my most recent read made me notice some common themes and elements that consistently make me swoon:
- An Element of Magical Realism Though my younger self was most interested in literary fantasy and quality SciFi, grown-up me has developed a taste for stories that are based in this world but have elements of the magical.
- An Element of Mystery Though I don’t read many books in the mystery genre, I do love a bit of mystery. Many of my favorite stories include a puzzle that needs solving – an unidentified character, an unknown origin story, a mysterious artifact.
- A Poetic Voice Though I know little of poetry proper, I love when a book includes poetic prose and/or unorthodox structure. Though some people dislike a disjointed flow, I love finding and falling into the rhythm of a unique narration style.
- A Female Protagonist Though I have loved plenty of books with male protagonists as well, I am particularly smitten with stories that tell the tale of a girl or woman. I suppose this is because I can relate to the story more easily.
- True Transformation Though I am not immune to the allure of action and comedy, my favorite stories are the ones about the evolution of a heart, a mind, or a soul. I’m a sucker for a good before and after.
- A Satisfying but Open Ending While I like closure as much as the next reader, my favorite endings also leave me with a sense of what might come after the words “The End.” It’s not so much about hoping for a sequel as it is about feeling like the story and its characters live on beyond the pages I’ve read.
It has been an interesting exercise to think about how to define what makes me love a story. I felt a bit like an archaeologist or a detective. Now that I’m starting to paint this general picture in my head about what my favorite story “looks like,” it’s easier for me to develop and prioritize story ideas. I’m sure I’ll still experiment, but I like knowing (roughly) where I want to go with my own writing.
Meanwhile, if anyone can recommend any books that fit the above criteria, lay them on me!
What I’m Reading:
So, at this point, I hope you’re curious to know the name of the book that sent me tumbling head over heels. It’s called The Art of Floating and was written by Kristin Bair O’Keeffe. I “discovered” O’Keeffe this past Sunday morning while waiting for my beau to pick me up for a drive. O’Keeffe had penned a cover story about magical realism for the latest edition of Writer’s Digest magazine. It was odd that I read it since my writing magazines are usually doomed to the lonely fate of The UnRead. On this morning, however, the planets aligned and I got all the way to the end of the article where I noted O’Keeffe’s website and went to take a look.
I was intrigued by the teaser about The Art of Floating and downloaded a sample to my Kindle for later perusal. My beau arrived and we headed to Portsmouth where we enjoyed a lovely, waterside lunch at The Oarhouse, complete with rather delicious rum punches. After our repast, we wandered to our favorite stores. Well, if I’m completely honest they are my favorite stores. He’s just endlessly patient. After picking up a few beautiful letterpress cards at Gus & Ruby, I casually meandered in the direction of Portsmouth’s indie bookstore, RiverRun Books.
And what do you think was perched in a stand on the near edge of the center display table? That’s right – one copy (signed) of The Art of Floating. Though my recent move had inspired me to swear off new book purchase, I took the fact that I’d read O’Keeffe’s article and then come across what appeared to be the last copy of her book in one of my favorite book stores as a sign from the literary gods. This book was meant for me. I picked it up and read the first couple of chapters standing right there at the table. I was immediately hooked. There was no maybe. The book was mine.
My beau bought it for me (perhaps to keep me from feeling too guilty about breaking my promise about no more new books), and I went home feeling that warm and fuzzy feeling that a new book always brings. Later that night, I started to read in earnest and that was when I knew I’d found a keeper.
O’Keeffe’s style manages to be quick and thoughtful at the same time. Though many of the chapters are very short and the story jumps lightly between several timeframes, there is a comfortable weight to her story that grounds the decidedly magical story in a very worldly context. Though the characters are quirky, their emotions are rendered beautifully. I also enjoyed the fact that, unbeknownst to me when I bought the book, O’Keeffe is a local author and the story was set in nearby Plum Island. My own town of Ipswich even has a very brief cameo in a jump rope rhyme.
If you like stories like Chocolat by Joanne Harris, The Art of Floating might be right up your alley. This is a book I will hang onto and definitely read again.
And let’s not forget the blogs. Here are a few of my favorite writerly posts from this week:
- We are entering a new age of Publishing Enlightenment by @cjlyonswriter
- The 5 Biggest Barriers To A Stellar Social Media Presence (& How To Overcome Them) by @chloemasongray
- 4 Sneaky Hacks to Squeeze More Time Out of Your Day by @lkr
- Tolstoy on What Makes “Real” Art: Infectiousness via @99u
- The Joys and Benefits of Cursive Writing by @bioko
- Strangers talking to people like they talk to writers by @chrisrobley
- This is Why Young Adult Books Are Not Only Acceptable, But Beneficial to Adults by @maddiecrum
- Written to Death by @VaughnRoycroft
Finally, a quote for the week:
I hope each of you finds a new favorite book and gets to enjoy the luxury of stepping into another world for a little while. Happy reading. Happy writing. See you on the other side!
Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who also happens to be a marketer. She helps her Suddenly Marketing clients discover their voice, connect with their audience, and find their marketing groove. She is also a mom, a prolific blogger, and a student of the equestrian arts, voice, and trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.