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A quick word from Bobbi Dumas, your host.
Hi everyone! Welcome to Read-A-Romance Month. You can find out more about this fun, month long event here. And check out all the great authors taking part this year on the calendar, here.
The theme this year is The Romance Of Reading, The Magic Of Books and we have an awesome assortment of writers – both romance and mainstream fiction authors – sharing about books, reading, romance & magic. I hope you’ll visit everyday.
(Also, be sure to check in to The Romance Of Reading FB page, where one of the RARM authors will be hosting the page each day in August. Today Karen Hawkins will also be on the page.)
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Alex Bledsoe – The Magic of Genre
I grew up being a reader in a time when my genres of choice—science fiction and fantasy—were looked upon with contempt by the so-called “literary” elite. At my college in the 80s, the English department ruled out any SF/F stories in their annual fiction contest because they “weren’t literature.” Even today, you have authors who very clearly write genre but bend over backwards to avoid the stigma: Julia Armfield insists that her new collection Salt Slow is “not, not horror writing” despite including tales of gory body mutilation and a girl transforming into a praying mantis, and Michael Chabon insists that Cormac McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic novel The Road is not science fiction. Nicholas Sparks claims he’s too good to be called a “romance novelist.”
In spite of (or perhaps even because of) this elitism, I stubbornly stuck to my genres of choice. This also led me to other genres treated with similar disrespect: romance, mystery, even graphic novels. In fact, as I began my own (genre-based, of course) writing career, I realized that genre stories had something that literary fiction only wishes it had: readers.
That’s because the magic of genre is egalitarian: anyone can follow Frodo to Mount Doom, for example, while only a certain type of reader can tag along with Leopold Bloom’s day in Dublin. Deliberately obscure literary texts like Finnegan’s Wake and Infinite Jest work by placing obstacles between the story and the reader; genres such as mystery and romance, for example, are about getting out of the reader’s way so they can fully experience the story.
Romance has two meanings: the experience of love, and the feeling of remoteness from everyday life. There’s a maxim that says, “All stories are mysteries,” and in that same sense, all stories are romances: they all take us out of reality, into a heightened world. After all, what could be more heightened than the discovery of love between two characters? It’s as magical as the discovery of new planets in SF, new kingdoms in fantasy, or whodunnit in a mystery.
An example of how these things overlap is the novel Blue Belle by one of my favorite authors, Andrew Vachss. On the surface, it’s a mystery: the hero Burke is hired to find out who’s behind the mysterious Ghost Van, which has left behind a string of dead prostitutes. The atmosphere is grim and streetwise, a level of reality that most readers will never experience; and against this setting Burke meets Belle. Burke and Belle are both the result of damaged childhoods, and they fall for each other despite their own deep wariness and suspicion. Because this touching romance happens against this gritty background, it’s all the more affecting. It’s not an HEA story—to be told honestly, it can’t be—but it embodies the magic of romance in both senses of the word.
Another example is Memory and Dream, by Charles de Lint. A struggling young painter apprentices to a master, who recognizes in her the ability to paint things that subsequently become real. At one level, it’s standard good against evil fantasy, but the heart comes from the relationship between the painter and her best female friend, who’s secretly in love with her, and the plight of her painted creations, who are in love with the mortal existence around them. Romance, in fact, is the driving force of the story: every character is in love with a person or idea just out of reach, and how they respond marks them as hero or villain.
There’s nothing wrong with picking up a mystery novel and knowing the crime will be solved before you start reading, just as there’s nothing amiss with knowing the couple will end up happily at the end of a romance novel. Those are the magic tropes of their genres. Each genre has its own tropes, which can also become its own cliches, and for which they can (rightly) be criticized. But when these elements are used honestly and sincerely, by a writer who understands the way to bring them to renewed life, they embody the magic of genre writing.
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Ekaterina Sedia – @Amazon
Ekaterina Sedia writes magical realism and full-on fantasy, all infused with the folklore and atmosphere of her native Russia. I’d recommend The Alchemy of Stone, which includes a heart-rending romance as part of its fantasy of a mechanical woman who falls in love with her dissipated, unreliable creator.
Kelly writes YA and MG fantasy. I’d start with Iron-Hearted Violet, about a princess who’s not beautiful but is smart, clever, and loyal, trying to save her kingdom from a magical danger.
Emma Bull – @Amazon
Emma Bull, who created urban fantasy with her novel War for the Oaks. It combines folklore, music (80s-style!), suspense and yes, romance in a way no one had quite done before.
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2019 RARM Questions:
Tell us about a time in your life that felt magical to you.
In 1999, Bruce Springsteen reunited the E Street Band for a tour. They had no new album to promote, so it was an evening of greatest hits and rarities. I saw them in Nashville in April of 2000. It wasn’t my first Springsteen show, but it remains my favorite, in large part because of a new song that night, “Land of Hope and Dreams.”
It was, I found out later, a response to the gospel classic, “This Train,” which specifies the people (gamblers, liars, etc.) who are not allowed on board the train to glory; only “the righteous and the holy” can ride.
But Springsteen’s train has room for everyone:
“This train carries saints and sinners,
This train carries whores and gamblers,
This train carries losers and winners,
This train carries lost souls,
I said, this train carries broken-hearted,
This train thieves and sweet souls departed,
This train carries fools and kings,
This train, all aboard…”
That night, I really felt the sense of community that art, especially music, always strives to create. We were all on that train, thousands of us, and there was room for everyone.
Tell us about a book that was magical for you.
The Manuscript Found in Saragossa, a.k.a The Saragossa Manuscript, by Count Jan Potocki, was my first encounter with the idea of the “nesting” novel: the story begins, and someone in that story tells a story, and someone in that story tells a story, so it creates layer after layer of narrative. The tale behind the novel is a mystery all its own, but its magic inspired me to try the same technique in my own novel, The Fairies of Sadieville.
Tell us about a “magical moment” in your writing or your career?
My novel Long Black Curl was, for whatever reason, the hardest book I’ve ever written; very close to deadline, the entire third act had to be thrown out and completely redone, resulting in galley copies riddled with inconsistencies, such as two characters meeting for the first time twice.
As if to make up for this, my next novel, Chapel of Ease, was without a doubt the easiest book I’ve ever done. It flew out, requiring very little editorial revision. Was it magic? After the prior book, it sure felt like it.
For writers who use magical aspects in their books, what attracts you to those elements? For those of you who don’t, are there specific themes or elements you’re attracted to and find yourself going back to? Why do these resonate with you?
I define magic a little differently than some writers. For me, if you have a book of detailed spells that are always performed the same way and generate the same result, that’s not magic: that’s science. Just because the forces at work aren’t fully understood doesn’t make them supernatural. For me, magic comes with a massive dollop of risk and uncertainty: sure, you can try a spell, but since each circumstance is unique, there may be outcomes you aren’t prepared for. That attracts me because using this kind of magic requires not just knowledge, but courage to face these uncertainties.
Creativity is a kind of magical experience. What inspires you, keeps you going, helps you when you lose focus, etc.?
I’m lucky, in the sense that I’ve never had a problem getting myself to write. Like any other job, I show up, settle in, and get to work. Some days are easier than others, of course, but if you write every day, like the cliche says, then you’ll get better, and that moment of connection to your inspiration will come easier and more quickly. Writer’s block is something for dilettantes; working writers get down to it.
That said, if my head’s not in the right space, I do have a little invocation borrowed from the opening lines of Henry V:
“O for a muse of fire/That would ascend the brightest heaven of invention.”
DRAWING – Alex is hosting The Romance of Reading page, and his giveaways will take place there.
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I grew up in west Tennessee, an hour north of Memphis (home of Elvis) and twenty minutes from Nutbush (birthplace of Tina Turner). I’ve been a reporter, photographer, editor, and door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman.
My first novel, The Sword-Edged Blonde, came out in 2007.
Discover all of Alex’s books:
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