Books Where Nothing Really Happens

I’m reading a book right now by Carla Neggers. It’s called Secrets of the Lost Summer. I’m almost half-way through the novel, and, well, nothing has really happened. And yet, I’m hooked! This is a book that falls squarely in the “romance” genre, and yet the two main characters have shared only one quick kiss so far. 

I find the same thing with Nicholas Sparks books – the stories build ever so slowly… and yet I’m a huge Nicholas Sparks fan.

I think as long as the characters are believable and interesting, the writing is easy to read, and there is a continual building toward something significant, we as readers can be quite patient.



Real Life in Fiction

I’m scheduled to speak at a young writer’s conference next weekend, and my topic is Real Life in Fiction – writing about what you know. The more I looked into the subject and the more I thought about it, I realized, as writers, we are all inspired by our real lives and experiences.

Even fantasy and science fiction writers are inspired, to some extent, by their real-life experiences and the people they know. Hermione in Harry Potter is based loosely on JK Rowling as a kid. Ron Weasley is inspired by JK Rowling’s best friend.

Stephenie Meyer admits that her faith (as a Mormon) has influenced her Twilight stories and characters. She says that her characters “tend to think more about where they came from, and where they are going, than might be typical.”

As I started to dissect my latest book – I realized all the ways my real-life experiences had inadvertently seeped into my novel. The main character has a very different personality from me, but our experiences are similar. Meanwhile, the secondary character is strongly reminiscent of my mother.

I suspect you could find remnants of the author’s life and experiences in every work of fiction. We are inspired by our own experiences, by the things that interest us, and by the events, situations and people around us.

The Paranormal in Pop Culture

You don’t have to look far to witness society’s fascination with the paranormal. From Harry Potter and the Twilight series to the many ghost-hunting reality programs on TV to shows like Supernatural, our love of the paranormal is practically ubiquitous.

One third of Americans say they believe in the existence of ghosts, according to a 2007 poll by the Associated Press and Ipsos. According to a 2005 Gallup survey, 41 per cent believe in extrasensory perception, 26 per cent believe in clairvoyance and 31 per cent believe in telepathy or psychic communication.

A few years ago I produced a documentary for television about people who work in the ghost business (ghost hunters, ghost tour operators, psychics/mediums). But my interest in the paranormal started long before that. As a kid, I remember my grandmother on my mother’s side shuffling Tarot cards and reading my palm, giving me messages “from the other side.”

I grew up with the paranormal. The paranormal was even kind of normal for me. So, it’s probably no surprise that, as an author, elements of the paranormal seem to seep into everything I write. The new novel that I’m finishing up has psychics, Tarot cards, palm reading, a haunted house and a ghost.

People have always been curious about the unexplained. It’s mysterious and it takes you away from the mundane every day.

The paranormal is this whole other realm where anything is possible.



Hunger Games as Social Commentary

In my last blog, I discussed the things I don’t like about the Hunger Games. What I do like about the Hunger Games is the sort-of social commentary on society’s obsession with media, fame and image.

In the Hunger Games, children ages 12 to 18 are forced to compete to the death in a huge outdoor arena. The whole event is televised, and the lead-up to the event is highly publicized, with contestants getting into costume, being interviewed and parading around for audiences. In addition to its political aims (to keep the 12 districts outside the Capital in their place), the entire Hunger Games event is one big reality-TV extravaganza.

Apparently, Suzanne Collins was inspired to write the books after channel surfing and seeing reality TV on one channel and war coverage (the Iraq invasion) on another, and “the two began to blur in this very unsettling way.”

The result of her ruminations is equally disturbing, but she does leave a reader with some interesting insight, if you’re looking for the reality behind the art. The books shine a light on our obsession with entertainment, particularly reality television.

The books also point out the phoniness of celebrity and fame. In the Hunger Games, the contestants are adored by audiences during the lead-up to the event, but then the audiences are just as happy to see the contestants killed in the arena. In a less violent way, we do this to celebrities all the time – build them up and tear them down.


Hunger Games too Violent

I’ll admit – I read the entire Hunger Games series in a matter of a few weeks, and I thoroughly enjoyed the books from a pure entertainment standpoint. They’re well-written and fast-paced with great characters.

At the end of the last book in the series, however, I was left with a sickening feeling – someone deliberately put this out into the world for kids? The violence, gore and horrifying scenarios in the book disturbed me – and I’m a full-grown adult. I can’t imagine what they do for teens, pre-teens and – heaven forbid – even younger children. A violent, gory video game in book form (and now in movie form) – that’s what the Hunger Games series is.

As an author myself, I feel some responsibility (well, actually, I feel a lot of responsibility) for what I “birth” and put out into the world. Do other authors not feel the same way? Especially when they’re targeting young people?

If you’re not convinced of the gratuitous horror and violence and deeply disturbing scenes in this series, just read the last book and note what happens to the main character’s sister and other children. Yikes. I’m still bothered by what I read.


Remember when you were a kid…

I went for a walk along the reservoir in Calgary the other day, and I passed a young girl and her father. Dad was sitting on a bench, and his daughter (probably age three) was crouched in the dirt next to him, playing in the mud. About 30 minutes later, I passed them again. The girl was still playing in the mud, and was noticeably dirtier. Her Dad was still on the bench, watching her with a look that said, “When will you get tired of this and we can go home?”

I remember playing in the mud as a young kid. I used to spend hours in the backyard, collecting worms and snails. Funny, I can’t stand getting dirt under my nails now. I don’t even particularly like gardening….

It is amazing the things we find fascinating as children. Seeing my own young son and how enthralled he is with the simplest things – a nail clipper, a scrap piece of paper, a Tupperware container – makes me look at things with fresh eyes. Sometimes. For a fleeting moment.

Some Semblance of Former Life (life before kids)

I was recently visiting a friend’s house for a play-date. I was impressed by the fact that about one-third of the main floor of her spacious home had been converted to Romper Room. The adult furniture had been replaced with kids’ plastic furniture, the slick hardwood floor was covered in brightly-coloured, interlocking play-mats, and the mats were strewn with toys – permanently.

I was impressed that my friend had made the leap – no apologies – to a life and a household with kids. It got me – a new mom of one – thinking that I may be attempting to salvage some semblance of my former life. For one, the adult furniture remains intact. For two, the hardwood floors remain unscratched, and there is hope that they will stay this way. For three, I try to keep the house tidy, which is proving harder to do by the day.

Then I started thinking – are there other remnants of my former life that I’m still clinging to, as well? There’s the fact that my husband and I still go out to restaurants for dinner, nine-month-old baby in tow. We have refused to give up this indulgence, despite the fussing, ruining of tables with spoons, and most recently, bouts of shrieking just for fun.

But things are changing. For one, we no longer get invited to certain childless friends’ posh homes. For two, we scarf down our meals. (You never know when baby will need attention.) For three, after managing to avoid all addictive vices my entire adult life, coffee is my new BFF.

My house has not yet turned into one giant playroom, but I suspect it’s not far off. And while I miss certain aspects of my former life – impromptu dates with my husband, putting my feet up in the evening, sleeping through the night – having my son in my life is completely worth it – without a doubt.