Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Not Quite Normal

“You are almost obscenely normal, my dear. You really need to let the inner-writer-wacko out more often.” - My critique partner Ico.

Way back ages and ages ago being a writer type meant you were something like this:

A philosophizing old man.

You walked around draped in voluminous robes with one arm raised imperiously in order to appear as sophisticated as possible. These were the guys who shaped the world as we know it, for good or ill, though for the most part we tend to say “good.”

But somewhere along the way, being a writer type came to mean that you were almost guaranteed to be quirky. Maybe this state of wackiness derives from having one's head perpetually in the clouds. Maybe it stems from a need to sail against the wind. Or maybe, after so much critical scrutiny, writers simply come to the point of shrugging off the judgments of other people:

I'm beautiful in my own way, thank you very much.

But what about those of us who aren't really that quirky after all? We don't walk around quoting dead French poets or dress up in flamboyant costumes or stay up all night in our little writing den with a dozen cups of tea and then sleep the morning away.

We can still write... right? We can still be in the club?

You mean you can be artistic without acting adorably weird?

“I think it's part of your mystery that you appear normal on the surface,” Ico continued. “But underneath... you definitely have to be one of those people who only seems mostly normal.”

And maybe she's right. Maybe that's the kind of person I am. Because I am the type who walks into a room and forgets why I'm there because I've been listening to the imaginary people arguing in my head. I'm the type who has a tight little personal bubble, and everything inside it has to be just. so. My quirks aren't always the obvious kind, but if you could come take a vacation in the wilds inside my head, you wouldn't have any doubts that you'd gone some place not-quite-normal.

And that's good enough for me.

How about you other writer types? Just how “not normal” are you?

Friday, March 9, 2012

Book Recommendation: The Near Witch

This past weekend I finally got a chance to read Victoria Schwab's The Near Witch, a book I'd been hearing about for months. I really loved it, but I'm having a hard time putting together my recommendation because my normal approach doesn't quite fit this book. For The Near Witch, the answer to “What is it about?” has so many layers. So instead of going through a brief overview and then highlighting my favorite aspects, I want to talk about the three major layers.

The first is the surface plot. The book is about a girl in an isolated town who has grown up all her life with the wind and the moor and the stories of the Near Witch. For the first time in her life, a stranger comes to town, and right away children begin to disappear from their beds.

This is the plot, and it's “what the book is about,” but for me it's not really what the book is about. The plot is solid and well-crafted and entertaining, but it isn't the most important thing. Some questions never get answered, like how the town came to be so cut off or what the rest of the world is like, but those things aren't vital to the story.

Instead the story is more about a girl who is learning to fight against her society's fear of the unknown. It's about how an isolated group can turn what is “other” into a scapegoat. It's about falling in love with something wild, because love is in some ways about seeing the beauty in something that is outside of us and not in our control. The characters all work very well in the roles they fill in the story. Their relationships are believable.

But even this isn't quite what the book is about for me.

For me The Near Witch is about the wind. It can be so many different things, but this is the first book I've read that really digs deep into what the wind can do to us. The writing is gorgeous. This is one of my favorite passages: “If the moor wind ever sings, you mustn't listen, not with all your ears. Use only the edges. Listen the way you'd look out the corners of your eyes. The wind is lonely, love, and always looking for company.”

This is the sort of writing that evokes strong emotions in me. I know exactly what Victoria Schwab is talking about when she says this. The wind has so many depths of subtlety. So to me the book is really a love story about those depths.

I really appreciated the quality of writing throughout the book, and I even brought out my kindle's highlighter for the first time to mark a few lines. I have a feeling Victoria Schwab is one author I will come to enjoy more and more with each book she writes.