Sparked by Words

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I like odd. I like Danish modern chairs set around my antique American Renaissance table, red shoes worn with a staid blue outfit, tempura appetizers served with lasagna. I like reading odd stories as well, the unexpected plot twist when I thought I’d figured it all out, a tale played out somewhere in the world that is just out of this world, but still here on earth. Even though I love vanilla ice cream because of all the syrups and toppings I can dollop on top a few scoops, I don’t enjoy reading vanilla.

My own writing research plumbs dusty scrapbooks and newspaper stories below the fold line on the last page of the newspaper. (Yes, we still subscribe.) Human interest columns, Supreme Court decisions, follow ups on last year’s headlines. The weird stuff, the news barely fit to print, local color masquerading as important items to know, and occasional gossip about people who should have known better. I like bringing disparate pieces to a new life in my fiction.

I just finished reading a book by a well established author who wrote one of my all time most favorite stories twenty years ago. I’ve read the book three times and will read it again to celebrate its endurance as an amazing story told by a gifted writer. The story is unusual because the heroine is someone many know about in the most minimal way but no one knew in depth. Her story had been left on the back step of a strange and magical time in history until the author grabbed a quill, examined the era closely, and began to write. I cried and cringed and choked and was charmed chapter after chapter at the life imposed on the young heroine, and listened spellbound to a theatrical reading of the most gripping chapter in the book – the one about the – oh, wait, I can’t say, as I don’t want to reveal the title. Then I did what I always do when I fall in love, in lust, in cahoots with a book. I read other books the author has penned.

And fell to the floor in abject disappointment. The others are weak, with one-dimensional characters, little insight about their dilemmas, a cursory glance at history, and not a single paragraph or sentence worth committing to memory. I can’t determine if it was a lack of research, an arid relationship with the characters, or dwindling interest in his/her own subjects, but the other books in the author’s library neither grip nor compel nor reveal anything not found in high school English assignments. Quirky in an unsatisfactory way.

Fortunately, other authors maintain excellence in all their books. Joanne Harris has been a favorite for years, not just with her famous Chocolat, made into the movie with Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp, but consistently wonderful stories, book after book. The most unusual is Gentleman & Players, a story I nearly bypassed because it sounded like a card game. The story is told from a double POV, with one narrator who’s a teacher at the school where the trouble takes place, the other a mystery narrator whose identity is kept secret until about the last page. The book won me over with lyrical writing, brooding darkness, and quirky characters, the most important one changing shape faster than ping pong balls bounce. I could never predict the next surprise yet always found it believable if shocking, right to the end of the tale. It’s a psychologically twisted story of false identity, betrayal, and revenge. To tell more would be to reveal too much, but prepare to be enchanted – and horrified.

Prolific author Alice Hoffman dealt with the real issue of the loss of crucial habitat of monarch butterflies in Flight Behavior. She transplanted millions of butterflies to Appalachia, a place where they don’t actually roost, and constructed a novel about a failing marriage that follows a year of precarious environmental consequence. Dellarobia, a woman in search of herself, finds she’s the center of a suspected miracle while her family is destroyed by deceit, eventually to be rebuilt in a new configuration. Dellarobia discovers that the truth she thought she knew was a lie she’d told herself. Hoffman’s other books are equally as compelling.

Garth Stein wrote The Art of Racing in the Rain, a deceptively simple story about a man who loves to race cars, and whose loyal dog helps bring him back from miserably unjust circumstances after his divorce. Denny struggles to make his living doing what he loves and does best, car racing, as seen through the perspective of his loyal dog, Enzo. The book is rich with metaphor and humor as Enzo describes the world sometimes with more sophistication and insight than the humans around him, sometimes with the wild impatience of his natural instincts. All of Stein’s books enchant no matter the subject.

Identity, miracles, and justice, three themes I treasure when told with wisdom, insight, and affection, and presented in unusual locations, with peculiar characters, or under bizarre circumstances. I quest for quirks because I like odd. I also like a wonderful story well told.

 

Northern Lights, image courtesy Pixabay.com public images

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Comments on: "Q is for the Quest for Quirks" (14)

  1. I too read every book by an author once I decide I love them. Usually they live up to the first. What a disappointment in your example.

    I so loved Enzo. Once I started his journey I couldn’t stop and still often honk of how he saw the world.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Enzo was a wonderful narrator. I knew you’d love him, Jacqui. Not sure I’d find a feline narrator so appealing, but maybe if the human assistant was as good as Stein, I could be persuaded.
      (Enzo just said, “Woof.”)

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I hope my other comment came through. I writing from my iPhone and it is quirky at times.

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  3. Not trying to defend authors, but I think the publishing industry may be partly at fault for this. Many of today’s writers start cranking out books and stay locked in one topic that begins to get old. Literary agents and Editors don’t want them to stray from what worked in the past (even if their voice has become stale). My current novels are one thriller and one sci-fi. There are other books/screenplays in my head that are love, historical, and devoted more to women drama. If I ever have success, my agent/editors will fight to keep me from straying into another genre where I can keep my work fresh. I would have to follow the path of other writers who have to publish these works under a different name. It is hard enough to continually come up with something fresh. Like in music, there are authors that are “one shot deals.” I haven’t even had my one shot yet, so what do I know. Pleasure reading this post my dear. Have a good one.

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    • I don’t disagree with you at all, Andrew. The author in question, and I’m not revealing this person’s name out of the huge affection I have for the first book, has written other books of very different genres under same name. All were well researched according to author’s notes. It’s why I’m stumped by such poor writing quality compared to the first book. Despite all indications, it seems the passion isn’t there, the voice is flat, and the stories lack depth, intrigue, or insight. Perhaps stale, as you suggested. The success of the first book is carrying the rest. Nuff said about this.
      Getting published is a big crap shoot, especially today with so many self-pub opportunities. Without doubt, agents and editors often choose easy sales – they’re in the business of business, just happens to be in books. There seems to be a particular small set of demographics more likely to obtain traditional publication: very young and straight out of a respectable writing program (fabulous debut novel from an under-thirty-year-old who just completed the Iowa Writers’ Workshop;) supported by an established writers’ residency program (MacDowell Colony, difficult to be accepted, with alumni like Michael Chabon;) connected to the industry via other related avenues (worked as an intern or agent in a well known publishing firm.) And, must be very attractive, for the benefit of promotion. I don’t fit any of those categories. I’m not saying those writers don’t deserve the credits and opportunities they’ve been given, just that those traditional avenues are closed to me. But I do believe in myself, in my strength as a writer, and in the quality of my stories. I read somewhere that Kathryn Stockett shopped The Help to more than 100 agents before she was accepted. I’m not giving up the pursuit of traditional publication because the cachet is so noteworthy, but may someday become self-pubbed.
      Wishing you good fortune in all your pursuits, Andrew. Thank you for your support.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Please don’t ever say the door is closed. We just need to find a way to kick it open with a novel that leave them begging for our work. I won’t quit on the traditional path. That is why I turned to screenwritng, I am going to get in one way or another. Give it all you got before you self-publish. You have one loyal fan who will purchase your work. Thanks and best of luck to you.

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      • You’re making me smile, Andrew. 🙂 Thank you.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m so glad to learn you like odd – NOW we can be friends.

    The internet is now abuzz
    Quirky is as quirky does
    Shari is and Shari wuz

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  5. I like Aud, I mean, odd, as well. Smiles. I truly enjoy the odd moments and happenings of life. The best of them create laughter and deeply seeds memories.

    Reading your words. You’re one of the most intelligent women I’ve ever read. I’m such a Dummy. I couldn’t have written this with the help of an army of writers. I’m happy writing around the parameters. Reading you is a gift.

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