Friday, December 17, 2010

Carolyn Haines: The Tug and Magic

As 2010 comes to a close, I find myself glad to be tucked away on the farm. The cold weather has been a challenge again this year. I listened to a story on NPR about the farmers in Florida, and how two years of very cold weather has really worked a hardship on them. I remember back to years when I wore shorts for Christmas and thought how nice it would be if it were snowing—NOT! After enduring the awful summers here in south Alabama, I think we should catch a break on the winters and have pleasant weather. Any of you with pull with the weather gods—put a bug in their ear!

This has been a year of tremendous change, on so many fronts. E-books are the big news, and I’ve been reading about vid-books, which incorporate a video element. This is just far beyond my brain. But it is happening, and in this world of technology, it’s keep up or be left behind. But like Miss Scarlett, I’ll worry about that tomorrow. Instead of the future, I want to take a moment to visit the past.

I remember Christmases when I would find a stack of books, each individually wrapped, under the Christmas tree for me from Santa. Those days of Christmas break—when I was free of school and could read, read, read—were such a joy.

I think my brain worked better then, because I would read a few paragraphs of a book and be transported to a completely different world. I “fell” into the world the writer created with absolutely no effort, and often my mother would have to give me a tug of a pigtail to pull me out of my fictional adventure. I gave myself so willingly, holding nothing of my imagination back and reading without critical judgment.
Writing has changed that for me. Now an author must work hard to gain my “willing suspension of disbelief.” 

At the first sniff of coincidence, plot or character manipulation, and such, I am thrown from the world the writer has created. And it is often a rude awakening.

Several of my students have come back to tell me that I’ve made them critical readers as I’ve helped them develop the skills of a writer. They aren’t necessarily happy with this new skill set, but it is part of the journey of becoming a writer.  I find that my patience is thin for the writer who doesn’t work hard to create the magic. Like any art, it must look effortless, which is the deceptive part.
But when I find that book, when I can open the cover and transport myself to southern Louisiana or Boston or Florida—I am once again that young girl who wanted nothing more expensive than a book for a Christmas present. 

This Christmas break I hope to finish writing a book—something a little different from the Bones series. It’s a story I’ve wanted to tell for a long, long time, and I am almost at the finish line. That doesn’t mean I’ll sell it—only that I will finish the manuscript.

As I read back over the pages I’ve worked so hard on, I wonder if I’ve been able to create that magical experience. Will the reader smell the salty tang of Coden, Alabama? Will he or she see the house, Belle Fleur, that is the primary setting for much that happens in my fictional world.

If I have done my job properly, the reader will experience these things, and the voice of the narrator will be the thread that pulls the reader through the story.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about this remarkable bond between writers and readers. How do I transfer what’s in my imagination to the page? And then a reader processes those words and recreates the scene I’ve written in his or her mind. It is simply remarkable. Presto chango! Magic has been made.

I’d love to know which books have pulled you into a new experience or world. As a child or an adult. Or last week. Tell me about that book—what story made magic for you?

A native of Mississippi, Carolyn Haines lives in Southern Alabama on a farm with horses, dogs, and cats. She is the 2010 recipient of the Harper Lee Award.  Carolyn has a family with enough idiosyncrasies to give her material for the rest of her life and a bevy of terrific friends. Visit her on Facebook and her website and be sure to sign up for her newsletter.


sandy said...

The first book to ever suck me in was The Boxcar Children. I was "so" there !!!
The Secret Garden, Catcher in the Rye,To Kill a Mockingbird, Johnny got His Gun,all of Tolkien.
More recently, The Help (because I was there) The Shack, Michael Scott's books...I can't think of all of them. As far as your book's go... I think of "Bones" as your bread and butter, but I have not yet tired of them. I don't read them out of some sense of loyalty to you...I read them, because I know I'm going to get a good time from it...and, it's like "going home" to me now. You after a brief absence from your family, you really start to get homesick...well, I get homesick for Zinnea after a while. There is MUCH more to you, as an author, than "Bones" though, and THAT is what I really wait for...the deeper, darker side of Carolyn...Looking forward to Belle Fleur and the story that goes with it !

Peggy Webb said...

I am always immeresed in another world when I read Jodi Picoult, Pat Conroy, Elizabeth Berg, Alice Hoffman, and so many more great writers I don't have time to name them all. When I create fictional worlds, I often think of the CNN segment, Keeping Them Honest.

Carolyn said...

I love both of your reading lists. I can add James Lee Burke, Pete Dexter (the Paperboy is superb), Dennis Lehane's Mystic River. I just read an amazing book, LATE RAIN by Lynn Kostoff. What characters. Growing up I loved gothics and scary stories. Thomas Tyron's THE OTHER scared the pants off me. King's THE SHINING. There are so many wonderful books, and my tastes have changed as I've grown older. I love Kingsolver, Atwood, Alexie Sherman, Carol Goodman. Writers who employ passion.

JLC said...

The most important thing you said (in MHO) on this post was that teaching writing had made your students critical readers. An extraordinary high school English teacher began that course for me, and I was determined when I was teaching to do the same for my students. While a child's acceptance of whatever comes up in the story is a lovely memory for us all, without some critical faculty and facility, improvement and recognition are unlikely.

Boy, do I know what you mean about finishing and no assurance of selling the best you can do! Don't we all! Maybe 2011 will look better for more of us.

Jeannie Holmes said...

As one of Carolyn's former students, I would actually like to thank her for making me a more critical reader. Too often I've turned to a book based on its wonderful reviews and/or recommendations only to be disappointed with the experience. When I do find the books that can suck me into a fictional world and keep me reading for pages and pages, I remember those books and those authors.

My most recent finds that kept me reading were BONESHAKER by Cherie Priest (a Civil War-era steampunk zombie tale) and THE MAZE RUNNER by James Dashner (a YA post-apocalyptic scifi mystery).

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Michelle M. said...

Beach Music by Pat Conroy just pulled me in. There's a scene when they jump off a bridge and I could see myself doing it. And that's pretty amazing since I don't swim and don't even get my face wet in the shower much less let it go under in a body of water!!

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