A One Photo Tale

“A good short story is almost always about a moment of profound realisation. Or a hint of that.  A quiet bomb.”

Recently, I’ve been reading The New Yorker’s 20 Under 40.  About a couple months ago I realized I had a problem: I had a hard time sitting down and just reading a novel – any novel.  I tried classics, modern lit of all genres, YA, but nothing seemed to hold my attention.  Nothing captured me and drew me in to a world of gripping vitality.  Simply put, I couldn’t concentrate on anything long enough to get through more than ten-fifteen pages.  For me this is rare – and troubling.  I inhale books.  I read them in one sitting if I can, 300, 400 pages – no problem if I have a spare weekend.  But it wasn’t happening, and it made me feel disconnected.

Finally, I decided to change tactics.  I went to the short-story section of the local B&N and picked out a couple of options, one being The New Yorker’s 20 Under 40.  And, it worked.  Novels are complicated, drawn-out stories.  They can be intense at parts, drawn out at parts, morbid at parts, thrilling at parts, etc.  But they are created of PARTS.  And, while many of the parts may be wonderful and well-written and captivating, there are still several pieces that fit together, and you usually want or need to have all the pieces to truly grasp and end the novel.

Short stories aren’t quite like that.  I could sit down and read 150 pages of short stories because they came at me in short spurts of plots and emotions.  I didn’t have to hang on to and grasp an entire complicated plot and cast of characters.  Everything kept changing every 15-20 pages.  (Perfect for those with ADD, I might add.)  Still, I was experiencing different lives and places and thought processes.

“A short story is a love affair, a novel is a marriage. A short story is a photograph; a novel is a film.” ―Lorrie Moore
“A short story is a love affair, a novel is a marriage. A short story is a photograph; a novel is a film.” ―Lorrie Moore

Short stories usually fall into one of two categories, but with a common core.

1) A story that is one piece that could essentially fit into a larger story.  However, the tone and theme of its writing allows it to stand alone, and by standing alone, the story becomes more intense.  This story may not be neatly wrapped up at the end, having frayed edges that dangle here and there.  Questions are left unanswered, enhancing the tone and feelings of the story.  While there may be some closure, essentially the end is left open to different possibilities, as if awaiting a sequel that will never be written.  This type of short story can essentially be likened to a 1 season show or a season finale.   Who is left dead/married/drugged/moved?  But, while you want these answers, you don’t really need them.  The short story packed enough emotion and tension in it for a resolve, just not a concrete denouement.  This type usually focuses on building tension and emotion through specifically chosen language: repetition, intensely figurative and emotional language, often first person accounts with a dialogue tone that matches the characters frame-of-mind.  The story is gained through bits and pieces, but there is not necessarily a big BANG moment of action.  It is also highly psychological in nature, pulling and driving the story more from thought than intense action.  For an example, think “The Yellow Wallpaper.”

2) The second type is one that is more solidly a complete story.  You don’t question what happens next.  You have a complete ending (more or less).  These stories usually focus on the ending of something that can give you a conclusion (as in The Cask of Amontillado), or it can briefly give a full-length but less detailed tale (as in A Rose for Emily).  In the case of “The Cask…” the plot ends in a murder which the entire story had been building up to.  However, the reader was never fully informed of the reasons behind the murder, just that vengeance was required.  In “A Rose…” the reader is told briefly of the life span of Emily, from her father rearing her to her loneliness and her lovers.  However, at the end there is final “Aha” moment when the body of Emily and later Homer were discovered.  In these stories, while aspects of psychology are involved as they drive the action, the focus is on the action.  In these cases, the actions were murder.  I liken this type of short story to a complete series or a series finale.  There is a definite end.

This picture was found here.
This picture was found here.

However, what unites both of these types of short stories is their singular focus and tone.  In all three of the above examples, the tone remains fairly consistent (with a short bursts of intensity here and there to drive the focus) with a singular focus.  In both cases everything led to the end.  The authors basically started as they finished, bringing the story full round.  “A short story is a love affair, a novel is a marriage. A short story is a photograph; a novel is a film.” ―Lorrie Moore

Now, compare it to a novel like Gone with the Wind or Jane Eyre.  These books possess many parts, each part carrying a different tone.  In Gone with the Wind, each part of her life (pre-marriage, marriage 1, marriage 2, marriage 3,etc ) carried a different focus and tone.  Even though she was always chasing Ashley, the tone wasn’t always jealousy or rage or ambition.  There were happy moments, scared moments, inspirational and educational moments.  The same can be said of Jane EyreLittle WomenAtlas Shrugged.*  Short stories can be complicated or simple in their themes and philosophies and psycholgies, but whether it is mind-driven or action-driven, there is a single “bomb” that makes the story.

Your quote to think about for next week is this: “For the source of the short story is usually lyrical. And all writers speak from, and speak to, emotions eternally the same in all of us: love, pity, terror do not show favorites or leave any of us out.” 
― Eudora Welty

*Essentially, the closest novels to short stories that I have come across are all written by Dostoevsky, but even most of them are filled with “parts.”


Edgar A Poe“A short story must have a single mood and every sentence must build towards it.”  Edgar Allen Poe

Think back over the short stories you have read, and you will realize the truth lying in these words.  When you think about Poe’s quote, it makes sense from a practical point of view.  In a short story, there is no time to waste with complete character histories or their litany of day-to-day affairs, their numerous ups and downs.  No, when writing a short story, being concise is important.

Short stories have a singular focus, a primary conflict that the entire tale centers around.  Because of this, tone is essential from beginning to end.  This primary focus is the essence of the story.  Whether there is an internal battle resulting in the characters riding a roller coaster of emotions, or whether it is an external struggle like a political confrontation, the entire story must build on the tone created in the first paragraph.  The ending result is to be an intensified moment of lucidity (for either the audience or the character or both) built on the very first notes that started the tale.  This means that your first paragraph is just as important, if not more so, than your last paragraph.  Short story writers do not have the luxury of several beginning pages, or a chapter, to drag readers into their stories.  They have a sentence, maybe four, to really hook a reader by the nose and yank them into the middle of conflict (notice I said MIDDLE of conflict, not beginning).  Their may be some confusion or questions on the part of the reader, use this to your advantage.

Since Poe is the author of the commencing quote, let me use one of his pieces as an example.  The proceeding excerpt is the first paragraph in “The Cask of Amontillado.”

“THE thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could, but when he ventured upon insult I vowed revenge. You, who so well know the nature of my soul, will not suppose, however, that gave utterance to a threat. At length I would be avenged; this was a point definitely, settled –but the very definitiveness with which it was resolved precluded the idea of risk. I must not only punish but punish with impunity. A wrong is unredressed when retribution overtakes its redresser. It is equally unredressed when the avenger fails to make himself felt as such to him who has done the wrong.”

Cask of AmontilladoThis tale, not surprisingly, ends in death, but the death, in and of itself, is not the most important aspect of the story.  Rather, the how it happened was the most important part.  The reader could probably foreshadow death, or at least a huge calamity, from the beginning of the story.  They did not read the story for a predictable ending.  Readers of short stories read for the INTENSITY.  Essentially, it all comes down to this.  Stories, like the Arts in general, are popular for having readers experience new things – new places, new emotions.

From this very first paragraph, the reader is to understand that the mood is dark.  Furthermore, the dark mood is created by a tone laced with hints of bitterness, vengeance/vindictiveness, and even traces of slyness.  As you continue reading the story, these points are not only continued, but are used as the foundation for the plot, meaning they become a greater and greater thread in the story as the tale progresses.

If this were a novel, we would probably have been given more of a background on the characters as well as snippets from Fortunato’s point of view – his fear and anguish.  However, instead we get a singular view point focused on ONE agenda, ONE act.  This sole purpose assists in intensifying the dark and frigid mood that Poe was trying to create.  The reader has no idea what injuries Fortunato inflicted upon the speaker, and it really doesn’t matter to the story.  It’s not part of the mood.  Poe was not interested in justification on the part of Fortunato, so he left this character relatively silent and in the dark.  As Mark Twain once wrote, he “would like to have written a shorter letter but didn’t have the time.”  This is one of the problems short story writers often encounter during their drafting processes.  Too much information is included by trying to inform the audience, make this or that point clear, erase plot holes, make the characters relateable or understandable, etc.  Unfortunately, what ends up happening is the mood is killed faster than a call from your mother during a heated make out session.  Unplanned distractions end up being assassins to even the best stories.

To further expound on Poe’s quote, I’ll add to it a quote from Joseph O’Connor, “A good short story is almost always about a moment of profound realisation. Or a hint of that. A quiet bomb.”   Think on this for a week.  Think of how it relates to mood as well as what other implications it may have for short stories.

A Typical Family?

Alright, Cassandra has been sick all week, but she managed to throw together this review of a short story and asked me to post it:

welty_why_i_live_at_poEvery family has problems; sibling rivalry has long been a common practice in houses with multiple children. Eudora Welty creates the perfect situation to portray a common family feud that splits the family over a pair of sisters in “Why I Live at the P.O.”

By writing about universal family problems, Welty is able to slightly exaggerate her story while still keeping the tale focused and realistic. Every character chosen symbolizes common family skeletons. Not only does she bring in the sibling rivalry aspect of families, but she also includes the family drunk, the deaf, patriarchal grandparent, the gullible mother, and the demanding spoiled child. Taking the drama one step farther, she places them all in the same house. The resulting melodrama ensues from the combined forces of her three secondary characters which promote the battle between the two sisters.

Setting her story on the Fourth of July in the small country town of China Grove, Mississippi while World War II commences, Welty is able to paint a concrete picture of Southern country living. Her allusions to these dates and places add realism and serve to counteract the hyperbolized drama, making them appear to be factual occurrences of any ordinary family.

By placing universal characters in a specific place, Welty created the perfect situation where even exaggerated problems were realistic. Because of this, the story was not only enjoyable, but relatable.

The Pity of Emily Grierson

Last week, I introduced my series on short stories and psychology in writing.  I ended by leaving a link to Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily.”  Here is a summary mixed with a brief character analysis of Emily Grierson from Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily.”  While I will admit to not being a big Faulkner fan, I do love this particular story.  Although the analysis is diluted to fit time and length constraints, it does hit on the basics of motive: Why does Emily kill the person she actually loves?  Why does she sleep near rotting remains?  Is she really crazy?

As you read the story and the analysis think of your own characters.  What drives them?  How does the audience know what provokes them to action or passivity?  Are their motives subtle or obvious?

The Pity of Emily Grierson

            As characterized by Faulkner, Emily Grierson alternately evoked pity and annoyance from her contemporaries, for just as Emily’s circumstances changed, so did society’s opinion of her.

Emily Grierson from "A Rose for Emily"
Emily Grierson from “A Rose for Emily”

Born into superior circumstances, Emily was reared on noblesse oblige in an upper-class household.  Conducting herself accordingly, she had the tendency to sit atop a pedestal and hide her personality, her mistakes, and her enduring attributes; as such, many of her peers considered her almost inhuman.  Perhaps she was shy, or perhaps it was the paternal influence dictating her life; despite the origin, people saw her more as competition, as something to strive to best.  Yet she did not help the position, never volunteering to come down off the pedestal which would have drawn people to her; instead she held them back.  They were jealous; they were annoyed; they were curious about this high and mighty enigma, Emily, but not enough to really know her.

Yet there were two people who never held back.  Emily’s father was an old-fashioned gentleman.  When Mr. and Miss Grierson were together (which was almost always), the townspeople believed they resembled a “tableau”.  With Emily, adorned in white in the background, and Mr. Grierson, clothed in black in the foreground, their class in society was unmistakable.  Unfortunately, in Mr. Grierson’s eyes, they were the only worthy two in the town.  No man was good enough for his daughter, and so Emily, abandoned by the town’s men, kept watch and companionship with her father, staying with him till the end.

It is regrettable that only the death of Emily’s father could cause others to see her in a new light.  Pity emerged as the women watched her break:  from denial to hysterics, they observed her clinging to a dead body; the only person with whom she had a connection had left her alone and penniless.  That was when she began to go crazy; that is when people finally felt she was human.

Sick, Emily hid herself from the world and from life.  Containing herself in her house, she left the entire maintenance in the hands of one mute Negro.  The appearance and smell of the house meant nothing to her.  She accomplished the necessary tasks in order to survive, but she never lived.  Yet that did not stop Emily from clinging to her past:  once reared superior, always superior, and that is how she acted.  Whether it was arsenic or taxes, she was Emily Grierson, and she always got her way.  Her attitude was the only thing she had left to connect her to the past, to her father.  She needed her place atop her pedestal because that was the only object in her life bolted to the ground.  Everything else could and would change, but not that altar.

Then one day Homer Barron rode into town.  Full of laughs and curses, he brought life back to Emily.  Seen riding together about town, the townspeople were overjoyed to see that Emily had entered the land of the living again.  Happy and boisterous, the two were always together, just like she used to be with her father.  Emily once again had a person in her life, and for the first time, it was a man her age that she could love and with whom she could grow old, but as circumstances progressed, others became more and more anxious.

Faulkner, in all his artistic glory.  The brain behind Emily's crazy.  I wonder what that says about him.... I guess we will see in a future post. :)
Faulkner, in all his artistic glory. The brain behind Emily’s crazy. I wonder what that says about him…. I guess we will see in a future post. 🙂

Whispering gossip abounded.  Considering her a fallen lady, the townspeople sent for her distant cousins to help her, rather than investing their own reputations.  She was no longer alone, so she no longer needed condolences.  She was a scarlet woman who would live with her own choices.  Labeled “poor Emily” about town, they no longer thought of her as unfortunate, because even when everyone thought she would kill herself, no one offered to stop her; rather they thought she would be better off dead than alive.

Everyone thought she would eventually marry Homer – until he disappeared.  Then once again she was eligible for pity.  She had sunk below their level and was once again left alone.  Now it was safe to be kind, to offer help, to ease their curious minds about the whole affair.  But they did not obtain much information, for once again Emily locked herself in her house.  Alone with the precious memories to which she so desperately clung, Emily blocked all else out of her mind.  No one else mattered except her father and Homer.

Clinging was a major aspect of Emily’s life.  Personally she had so little.  The house and money belonged to her father.  Women avoided her as much as she avoided them.  Her father kept her isolated from all possible suitors, robbing her of the option of marriage and family, so she clung to the only things that were left her.  Whether it was a dead body, distant memories, her upbringing, or engraved, silver mirrors, she hung on with all her might because these were the only things that separated her from the reality that she was a poor, desperate, fallen woman with no hope in life.

It was amazing how this fragile lady could outlast generations.  How she continued to survive without the light of the sun, but she made it.  A few remembered Miss Emily was still alive and occasionally tried to help; others simply forgot her, while to still others, she was just a fleeting thought, a person to be ignored.

If anyone had really know Emily Grierson, it would not have shocked them to find the decayed skeleton of Homer Barron in her bed, to see how she had made a museum of his last night on earth.  It would not have surprised them to see that his last gesture was an embrace or to find a long strand of silver-gray hair (hair that perfectly matched Miss Emily’s) on the pillow beside him.  Unfortunately, no one knew Miss Emily.  They knew the gossip, and a bare minimum of facts, but no one knew who she was inside, and that is the only true fact deserving pity in her whole life.

New Beginnings: To Psychology and Addictions

Inside the head are stores of philosophies that drive everything we do and say. Psychology at its most basic.

I had been planning on posting part of a new story I have been writing to celebrate my return back to the blog, but then my reason gave me a knock or two on the head, making me think that my short story may not make a very auspicious beginning to the New Year with its rather morose tone. I have never been a fan of New Year resolutions. But, I do love what the New Year symbolizes – a fresh start, a clean break, a revitalization of the spirit. It is not necessarily the best time for a story about a young girl lost in a world of brokenness and depravity. It seems to me that should come after all of the new resolutions have been broken, not before they’ve had a chance to begin.

So, in the spirit of fresh starts, I’m going to use this post to introduce/reintroduce myself to this blog and its loyal readers and to clue you in on my plans for my future posts in this coming new year. Hopefully, if I tell you my plans now, I will hold to them.

In the past year I have come to understand more fully the meaning behind, “Write what you know.” In light of this adage, I wrote “Asylum.” While I had been writing a page here and a page there on several storylines, nothing really came together quite as easily as “Asylum” came to me. Why?

Because I know pain and chemical imbalances. I know art and music. I am drawn towards darker subject matters, not because of the plots and characters themselves, but because of the psychology moving the characters and causing the plots. Even as a history major, my specialty was identifying causes and effects, tracing chains of events through hundreds of years. For everything, there is a reason. And I love digging into the emotional, and often damaged, depths of those reasons found in the human psyche.

Emily Grierson from "A Rose for Emily"
Emily Grierson from “A Rose for Emily”

I also love short stories, even more so than novels. I still remember reading Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily” and Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper.” They were my gateway to short story addiction. Short stories offer the reader only a glimpse of a life as compared to a novel, which can span years. Still, within that glimpse lies a profound and magnified experience that can engage the mind in realm after realm of thought. Whereas a novel gives you a detailed description of point A to point B, short stories often retain a specific focus and minimalized plot which is often enhanced by the writing style.

So, over the next few weeks, and possibly months, I will be using my own writing to explore different aspects of psychology. I will be posting a mixture of informative blogs on various aspects of psychology in writing, short story analyses and summaries, and a few of my own short stories and short story excerpts.

In order to get the ball rolling, for those of you unfamiliar with “A Rose for Emily,” let me be the first to introduce you.  May it be your gateway to addiction.

Writing to the AUDIENCE

About two months ago I began a position working through the Washington Reading Corps, a branch of AmeriCorps.  The goal of Washington Reading Corps is to work with struggling students on their literacy skills, be it vocabulary, reading comprehension, speaking, active listening, etc.  In my specific position, I work with low-income pre-school children (4-5 year olds).  I have one specific classroom I work in, but I also work with the other 60 head-start sites in my area through special literacy events and projects.  Today I was one of about 30 people sorting through 20,000+ books.  That’s right.  Over 20,000 books.  The agency I’m partnered with teamed up with Bazillion Books for Kids, a Portland-based organization whose goal is to give books to over 100,000 kids.  Within my agency, our goal was to give 10 books to around 1,000 kids in our program.  Additionally, we wanted to create a lending library at each of the pre-school sites where parents had access to reading materials.

I couldn’t think of a better way to spend a day than to gather materials to increase literacy.  In our country, we keep hearing that grades are dropping.  Test scores are lower.  Society on a whole is getting more stupid. Well, to incredibly simplify the problem, it all comes back to literacy.  LITERACY skills are necessary to do anything in life, and the stronger they are, the better.  A huge part of literacy is the capability to read.  And yet, my generation, and the generations coming up behind me, are reading less and less.  Why? Through various discussions, observations, and researches done, here are the top reasons I’ve found.

1) Trouble reading and they get frustrated with trying

2) Lack of interest in material provided

3) Not shown the importance of reading

We have to walk before we can run. As one famous character is known for saying, “Elementary.”

As writers we should have a goal for everything we write.  Whether it is to entertain, to inform, to purge, to mock, or to uplift, every piece we write MUST have a purpose if it is to be anything of value.  However, more than having a purpose for the writing in general, we must also have goal of how that piece is going to reach readers.  If you are writing a book for a wide general audience, but the writing level and style in the book are at an advanced level, then the interest in the book is going to be low.  People will get frustrated and drop it.

And I recognize that people may disagree with me on this, but think about Twilight and Harry Potter.  Huge selling series.  Popular with both kids, teens, and adults.  Why? The reading levels were not complicated, which made the books accessible to general audiences.  However, in today’s culture, many classics with higher vocabulary levels and complicated syntax, such as Faulkner and Dickens, are not generally read.  If we are to increase literacy in our culture, is it going to come about through no reading at all or through the Twilights and Harry Potters?

Yes, it would be wonderfully nice if everyone in society read and understood Dickens, Dostoevsky, the Brontes, etc.  But we cannot start there.  Everyone has a reading level, and that’s where we must start.  When I was in school, we were regularly tested (about once every 6 weeks) to see how are reading levels were improving.  The advice given based on research at the time was that we should read 80-90% in our reading level and then 10-20% just above our reading level for optimum improvement.

Now, most natural readers do this automatically.  And yet, since most writers are natural readers we tend to have trouble understanding those who struggle with reading or who refuse to read for whatever reason.  But now, more than ever, it is important to write for AUDIENCES.  What stories will actually be read? What writing styles and genres will be reach the greatest number of people? What vocabulary will be understood?

To end, I want to encourage all of you to think and consider what you are writing.  There is a place for Dickens and Brontes, I cannot deny that.  All of my favorites are classics.  But, I also know that I would not have made it to the Alcotts and Brontes and Mitchells without the Nancy Drews, the Mary Higgins Clarks, the Madelaine L’Engles.

**SIDENOTE: All of this said, I do not and cannot excuse sloppy writing.  There is far too much of that due to poor literacy skills already.  Everybody wants to be a writer, a photographer, a whatever.  But they don’t want to put in the work to perfect their craft.  Sloppy writing does not fulfill a purpose.

Peace. Love. LIBERTY.

***Disclaimer: While this post does discus the duty of benefiting society, it in no way applies or connects this to any form of utilitarianism, socialism, or any other political or philosophical -ism. 😀

****This is the last post I will be making for a while.  I have many new projects in the works with the Washington Reading Corps, and unfortunately, as many of you may have noticed, I haven’t always had the time or energy to  get my posts up on time.  Luckily, Tobias has found someone wonderful to fill in during my hiatus. So, I’ll leave you with my signature “Peace, love, and LIBERTY*****

Work in Progress

My sincerest apologies to Tobias for my lapse yesterday.

To my readers, here is a little tidbit I’ve been working on.  It’s a little shaky, but I kind of like its formation, although I think it might work better as spoken voice poetry.  What do you think?  How many allusions are you familiar with?

A Plath Work

I am something out of a Plath work,

One of Wilde’s creations.

This Miss Eyre who travels the roads

Alone and friendless, not a relation to claim her.

And while many a day goes by

That I feel so young and insignificant

In this Peter Pan Syndrome that holds me captive,

I can only wish that I was half as courageous as dear Peter.

As split as two-faced Rodya

This Raskolinov awaits the arrival

of His Sonya, the one who keeps

the Demons outside, at bay.

But despite the waiting, inside-

Inside I know that no salvation awaits;

No Sonya will appear, and I’ll

Be left Anna. Anna Karenina.

Was I a Scarlett who lost her only Melanie?

Who chased the love of Rhett away through

The lustful longing of Ashley?

The passionate pride of a young girl’s fantasy.

Or was there more to it?

Scarlett I could handle, with her passion and her fire.

But, what if I was more?  What if at heart,

I was Lord Henry, pulling the strings on my own cast of Dorians?

I am something out of a Plath work.

Inside my Bell Jar, alone I wait

For what will come of this life.

For the grey seagull to bring me what it will.

The Unviewed Stories

So, despite all of our posts on different ways to defeat writer’s block, sometimes words refuse to connect.  No matter how long you sit and ponder different avenues, you cannot get your thoughts to form manageable meanings.  At least not meanings that another mind could decipher.  So, when this happens, as it is doing now, I go back to fount of comfort.  As I told Tobias today, I love books and written works, but my soul is currently craving music and visual art.  So, as per my usual when I can’t get to an art museum, I visit “The Artchive.” 

Browsing through the sidebar of various artists and genres, I perused my favorites: Toulouse-Lautrec, Cassatt, Kandinsky.  But, for tonight, my soul cried out for another of my all-time favorites.  Van Gogh.

Now, I know Van Gogh may seem like a cliched choice.  Next to da Vinci, Raphael, and the other Ninja Turtles, he’s one of the most popular artists in the popular world.  But, that doesn’t make him any less great.  Everything from his color palettes to his brush strokes demand attention.

So, here’s the uber-famous “The Starry Night” currently in exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in NY. (1889)

In this piece, the direction of the brush strokes speak more about faith than most crucifixion pieces.


Now, here’s “Trees in the Asylum Garden.”  Van Gogh actually spent time at an asylum.  In many ways, art was his therapy.  In many ways, he was a pre-cursor to literature’s Sylvia Plath.  Do you see any bits of the writer we know in the painter’s piece? What do the colors and stroke directions say in this piece? Faith, chaos, healing? (1889)


Thisone is “Road with Cypress and Star.”  Similar to “The Starry Night” it has an elegance to its natural simplicity. There’s balance and symmetry through colors and object focus.  Yet, the symmetry is essentially asymmetrical. The strokes are used to provide unity instead of dissonance.  Notice how they work together in cyclical manners.  (1890)

Rijksmuseum Kroller-Muller, Otterlo


Now, the last one is one of my favorites.  The vibrant colors play against each other.  Drawing eyes here and there.  Adding interest to the focus of the work. (1888)

Rijksmuseum Kroller-Muller, Otterlo


These are my loves.  These are the stories my soul retires to in times of exhaustion.  My mind flees to this streetway filled with couples strolling and diners dining among the star-lit sky.

Coming Home

My new series on love is proving more difficult than I had originally imagined.  Yet, it’s not difficult due to lack of thought or material, rather due to an over-abundance.   There are so many directions to go and sources to choose from that I find myself scanning through titles, poems, and thoughts thinking “Great! Even better! Oh, this one too!” There are novels, short stories, poems, song lyrics, movie lines, and even fine art.

With that said, the poem I posted last week, “In and Out of Time” is quite possibly one of the most perfect poems ever written, and it’s going to be hard to top.  But, I love challenges.  And I do have a few pieces I am definitely going to include – when the time is right. Still, it’s challenging. But, for today’s post, I want to include a more personal introduction on the topic: LOVE.

LOVE. It’s one of the foundations of life: not a luxury, but a necessity.  In fact,  it is included in the third level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and has even been known to come second (before physical safety) in many abuse cases.  When you create your characters, LOVE is going to be a huge part of who they are and why they do what they do.  Were they loved by their parents, siblings, extended family?  Were they abused as a child or as an adult? Are they in love? Have they ever suffered from a broken heart?  Love drives us. It is one of our biggest motivations from money, and as a result, it cannot be ignored in your writing.  So, as I continue with this series, think about your characters and their background.  Think about your own experiences.  And then, WRITE them.

And, I’ll be completely honest.  I’m a romantic.  I so completely believe in love, and the power of love (the idea, not the Celine Dion song) that I have become slightly cynical about it. Growing up, I had such a black and white view of love.  Every person had one perfect soul mate.  One spouse destined for them. That one spouse was the only person they would ever romantically love.  Now, this isn’t to say that they wouldn’t have had strong feelings for a past boyfriend/girlfriend, but I didn’t understand how it could be love, true love.  You love your spouse.  If you had loved anyone else, wouldn’t that cheapen what you have with your one and only?

It’s a naive thought, I know.  Still, I clung to that idea with a fierce tenacity, and so when I realized that’s not how the world works, I was stung.  Nevertheless, I still hold out hope for my Mr. Right.

That being said, I want to to introduce “the list.”  Let’s face it.  Most girls (and guys) have some sort of list that they have created about their perfect mate.  That being said, I have long hated the word “list” when it comes to people.  It traps your perspective in a box of sorts, making you close-minded.  And yet, there is some validity to it.  Whether we realize it or not, we have a list because we have STANDARDS.  Now, some have long lists detailing everything from hair color to occupation, but I’ll admit that my list is fairly short: 4 items + 1 fun optional item.

Still, at the end of the day, the idea behind all of the lists we create is the same.  We want someone we can be comfortable with.  Someone who we can love and who can love us back.  Someone who makes us feel like, at long last, we have come home.

So, that’s this weeks literary piece.  A song.  “Come Home” by One Republic.  Simply put, this song is about patience, faith, hope, and home.  Waiting for someone, calling them forth from their ashes.  Believing that they are beautiful just as they are.  It’s about realizing that home is about complementing and working with each other.  It’s about fighting for each other, not with each other.  Home isn’t always easy or pleasant, but, it’s HOME. Home is about calling someone forth, raising them up. Sometimes, it’s about being called, realizing that you are loved.

So, without further ado: Come Home

“Come Home”

Hello world
Hope you’re listening
Forgive me if I’m young
For speaking out of turn
There’s someone I’ve been missing
I think that they could be
The better half of me
They’re in the wrong place trying to make it right
But I’m tired of justifying
So I say to you..[Chorus]
Come home
Come home
Cause I’ve been waiting for you
For so long
For so long
Right now there’s a war between the vanities
But all I see is you and me
The fight for you is all I’ve ever known
So come home
Oh[Verse 2]
I get lost in the beauty
Of everything I see
The world ain’t half as bad
As they paint it to be
If all the sons,
All the daughters
Stopped to take it in
Well hopefully the hate subsides and the love can begin
It might start now, yeah
Well maybe I’m just dreaming out loud
Until then…[Chorus]
Come home
Come home
Cause I’ve been waiting for you
For so long
For so long
Right now there’s a war between the vanities
But all I see is you and me
The fight for you is all I’ve ever known
Ever known
So come home

Everything I can’t be
Is everything you should be
And that’s why I need you here
Everything I can’t be
Is everything you should be
And that’s why I need you here
So hear this now…

Come home
Come home
Cause I’ve been waiting for you
For so long
For so long
Right now there’s a war between the vanities
But all I see is you and me
The fight for you is all I’ve ever known
Ever known
So come home
Come home

Young Adult Fiction

This image is property of NPR. We hold no rights to it.

Last week I introduced a hot topic in the literary world through some questions about the up-and-coming genre Young Adult Fiction, often called YA fiction.  NPR recently posted their top 100 list, and needless to say, it caused a few debates about issues found in the following questions.  I asked readers to answer the questions or post their own thoughts on the topic as comments.  Additionally, I took these questions to some of my facebook friends, an assortment of English teachers and other literary scholars.

The questions were as follows:

1. What is the place and role of MODERN YA books?  Note: the word modern as used here means books written within the past 15 years or so.  This does not include books like To Kill a Mockingbird, A Separate Peace, LOTR, etc.  It does include books like Harry Potter, Twilight, 13 Reasons Why, etc…

2. There has been some discussion on the fact that many of the top 100 books have a female author.  Does this make a difference?  Is there a reason behind it?  Should/how can this change?

3.  What are some pros and cons for YA books, especially modern YA books, in and out of the classroom?  (Ex. PRO: Encourages reading.  CON: Simplistic in style.)


In going over the responses there were some general concessions about YA literature.  Mainly, that it generally contains a watered-down style of very little literary value.   While there are some exceptions to this rule, such as the Harry Potter series (which is genius when you look at some of the stylistic techniques used by Rowling, but that’s another post), most books in the YA category serve as little more than cheap escapist entertainment.

However, I did have one response stating that YA fiction shouldn’t exist at all, as its very presence essentially gives permission for authors to write poorly conceptualized and written novels.  Still, there were a couple of responses that basically listed YA literature as “gateway” literature which inspires interest in reading and is therefore a good thing.

So, let’s take a more in-depth look at YA literature and break it down a little.

Garfield is a classic.

First, as to its existence, I say “why not?’  In our modern world of globalization, societies are filled with people trying to find a place where they fit.  In the literary world, this is where genres come into play.  There is a genre for everyone, even the creepers.  No one questions the need for and existence of children’s books and of more adult-focused books.  Why?  Because parents recognize that children need books specifically targeted at their attention range, reading level, and social existence.  Therefore, no one criticizes the Berenstain Bears books for being simple or the Mercer Meyer books for focusing on specific issues related to kids, liking making friends.

Likewise, adults also wouldn’t want their younger, or even teen children, reading some of the books written for adults (ah hem, 50 Shades of Grey). Sexually explicit books, as well as novels with a high volume of profanity, should have no place in a teen’s mind.  Now, not all adult literature is like that, it is true.  But then again, adult literature, is by it’s very nature, geared towards adults – adult life, adult emotions, adult situations.  While a young adult, especially on the older range, may get some value from adult books, they are still generally left out in the cold.

For, if there were no YA genre, then young adults would be stuck with the stories of their childhood and pre-teen years.  And let’s face it.  Teens should not be stuck with the stories of their childhood for several reasons. Talk about simplicity.  Reading those stories will not help improve their reading level.  Two, the sheer boredom will remove all vestiges of interest in reading they have.  As they grow older and their situations change, so do their interests.

YA books cover a whole host of topics that relate directly to its targeted audience.  It provides a balance between the transition from childhood to adulthood.  Stories are fairly straightforward, sometimes exceedingly simple, yet.  However, the issues covered handle everything from divorce, bullying at a more mature level, identity issues, drug problems, sex, college stress, and more.  But, these issues are covered in a more age-appropriate manner.  As a result, it gets YA readers who usually read nothing more than menu at a coffee shop, a gateway into the possibility of books.

Now, to cover content.  The stories themselves as far as plot and content go, I can usually condone through the above reasoning of relateability .   However, as for the actual literary content (writing style, characterizations, etc) I have no excuse.  Yes, many of the YA books circling the public realms today makes me cringe.  And I am a huge advocate of YA books in general.  When I read a YA characterized book, I am not expecting Thomas Hardy or Dostoevsky.  I don’t expect that when I’m reading adult literature like John Grisham, Dan Brown, or Stieg Larsson.  I expect something more befitting the reading level of 8th-12th graders, preferably closer to 12th graders.  With this in mind, then there are quite a few good YA authors such as Sarah Dessen and Gayle Forman.  That being said there are seemingly more authors who use as genre as an excuse to publish quantity over quality, especially in the YA paranormal department.  Still, this problem IS NOT unique to the YA genre.

Which brings me to my next point.  When comparing the YA books of today with those of the past, there are going to be a lot of grumbles at the sad state of YA literature.  After all, who can compare Twilight with To Kill a Mockingbird, A Prayer for Owen Meany or 1984 with The Hunger Games?  In fact many readers wouldn’t classify To Kill a Mockingbird, A Prayer…, or 1984 as YA books.  Their intrinsic value is so far above teen fiction today and their themes transcend typical teen angst and teen society that they belong to adult literature.   Yet, they are classified as YA literature.  And, in comparison, everything produced today seems juvenile.  At least that’s what the critics say.  However, once again, this is not unique to YA books, so it should not be held against the genre.  Adult books have the same problem.  Larsson and Brown are good, but they do not hold up to Dostoevsky.  And what leg does Jodi Picoult have to stand upon when compared to Louisa May Alcott and Charlotte Bronte?   Literature, in most genres, is sliding from the standard classic sets.  If you punish one, you really should punish all.  We could get rid of genres all together and let all books blend and mesh into one indistinguishable mess.

Ideally, all YA authors would have a proficient grasp of literary techniques and styling.  They would write novels that efficiently transition to and more closely resemble adult literature than children’s literature.  Kudos to those that do.  But, just because that is not sweepingly the case does not call for the elimination of the genre.  It does not lessen the value of the books that justly and efficiently serve their purpose and place in YA literature.

To summarize, I’m including a response from one of my literary scholars that gives a fairly objective voice to the three questions (meaning she lists the good and the bad).

‎1.) To further rot our adolescents brains and to think that things like abusive relationships are okay. On the other hand, it does foster an active imagination and a desire to read, which getting adolescents to do nowadays can be challengi

ng.2.) I think there is a huge difference between a male writing a YA novel and a female. For example, Christopher Pike wrote some amazing vampire tales. They were gothic and intriguing and appealed to both guys and girls. And then you have Stephanie Myers who wrote Twilight. I can count on one hand the number of guys who read Twilight. Some women can accomplish the feat of writing to appease both genders, however most seem to prefer the woman’s point of view and write primarily to a larger female audience. A greater majority of male authors, on the other hand, can write to appeal to both genders.

3.) A pro of the YA novels in the classroom is that it does encourage reading. However, a big con is the absolute lack of morals and creativity that a lot of popular YA novels have. Most encourage and have things such as smoking, drinking, sex, and drug use throughout the novels.

ONCE AGAIN, feel free to comment and discuss.