Tag: stories

An Interview with Laura E. Goodin

An Interview with Laura E. Goodin

Author, humorist and bellringer, Laura E. Goodin

Today on my blog I have an interview with writer, academic and bellringer Laura E. Goodin. Laura’s exciting adventure fantasies, Mud and Glass and After the Bloodwood Staff, are published by Odyssey Books. Laura’s madcap take on academia, Mud and Glass, has been compared to the writing of Jasper Fforde, and with good reason. As an escapee from the Academy myself, I laughed out loud many times at the hilarity and madcap craziness. But as you will see from Laura’s answers below, her unique, humorous take on the world is only one of her many talents – her answers are deeply moving and insightful.

Which writer or writers opened your eyes to the magic of storytelling and why?

I learned to read unusually early, so I don’t really remember a particular revelatory moment in that regard.  My first reading obsession, though, was the Chronicles of Narnia.  From 50 years away I can see their flaws (racism, sexism, classism, theological approaches that create more problems than they solve), but at the time they were my gateway into a world where children were capable and strong, and magic and wonder were everywhere, and where I could imagine myself with the kind of daring and skills that I in no way had in real life.  I didn’t use the books for escape; quite the contrary:  I used them as a model for becoming someone better, more capable, more reliable, more courageous in the real world.  Granted, I wasn’t the happiest little misfit in the world, and stories of all kinds did provide a refuge for me.  But they also showed this little misfit the possibilities of the human spirit.  I saw ways my idiosyncrasies could be strengths, and I became determined to make the most of the person I was and am, rather than trying to be someone who always knows the right thing to wear to a party.  (I never really know the right thing to wear to a party.  Or anywhere else, for that matter.  It’s just my best guess.  So if I show up at your house dressed in completely the wrong manner for the occasion, you’ll know it’s because instead of studiously acquiring the rules for attire, I’ve spent my time learning karate and bellringing and fencing, riding horses, cooking elaborate meals, and teaching cool stuff to my students.)

Why do you think people need stories in their lives?

There are as many reasons for that as there are people.  Me, I need stories for inspiration and refuge, entertainment and education.  I need them because they urge me to fling myself at the world in a great big exuberant embrace, to grapple with it and comfort it and challenge it and heal it.  Stories show me truths and help me see what to strive for.  They strengthen my soul and increase my capacity for joy and compassion.  They help me see the miracles and wonders that await around every corner.  They make me more, they make me better, they make me my truest self.

What is your greatest magical power as a writer?

Hm.  Do you mean, “What am I best at as a writer?”  That might be dialogue.  Mine seems to be very easy for the reader to hear as natural speech and get immersed in.  I pay a lot of attention to the sounds and rhythms of the words themselves, and I’m a maniac for cutting extraneous words and syllables out; that could have something to do with it.  Do you mean, “How do I most effectively capture the attention – indeed, the awareness – of my readers?”  I like to think it’s a combination of quirky yet plausible characters, situations of mayhem with always the possibility of a belly laugh somewhere along the way, and SCRUPULOUS – I repeat, SCRUPULOUS – attention to spelling, grammar, and punctuation.  This last may be the most important, because well-punctuated, well-spelled words arranged in brilliantly clear ways let the reader relax:  they say, “You’re in the hands of an expert, precious reader.  You won’t have to stop to cringe at a rookie grammar error or scowl as you try to figure out how to resolve an ambiguity.  So breathe, begin, and instantly forget you’re reading.”  When readers can lose themselves into a story like that, that’s magic.  The magic of grammar, my friends.  It gives you power over your readers’ very minds.  But you must use your powers for good, never for evil.  Promise me!

Which mythic archetype or magical character most resonates with you and why?

I’m finding this incredibly hard to answer.  I think the character I most identify with is Cat Chant from Diana Wynne Jones’s Charmed Life.  Like Cat, I tend to be hesitant about inconveniencing others, and I spent the early part of my life profoundly unaware, for the most part, of my own powers.  Like Cat, I got the shock of my life when I started to realise just how powerful I am.  That’s one thing middle age is absolutely great for:  you begin to get a sense that you can handle what gets thrown at you, because at some point you’ve already handled some pretty horrible stuff.  You become aware of your powers.  There’s a reason older women have historically been objects of fear and persecution:  we are becoming aware of our powers, and, even more terrifying, we’re using them on purpose!  It doesn’t seem to matter that most of us use them to help and heal and drive positive change.  We’re masterless and wild, and we might inflict some serious damage.  Maybe that’s the archetype I now identify with:  wild, raving woman of wisdom and vision and might.  (But whenever I reread Charmed Life, I’m back to being Cat.)

What themes or ideas do you find keep arising in your writing?

I keep seeing two main ideas in my writing (and that includes not only my novels, but my plays, poetry, libretti, and short fiction).  First, the world is vastly more than we can see in our daily lives:  there are hidden meanings and miraculous coincidences and flashes of mystery and power that we sense but cannot often see.  Second, in such a world, how can we be anything other than heroic?  How can we turn our backs on our own beautiful, mighty selves to be just ordinary, when the world cries out to us?  My characters tend to find that whole new layers of meaning and challenge lie behind what they thought was reality, and that this means they’re going to have to be something more than they thought they could ever become.  The world is full of wardrobes.  (A friend in America had a wardrobe; they’re rare there, because most American houses have closets.  “Wow,” I said when I saw it.  “Does that lead to Narnia?”  She said, “I wish it did.  I could use the room.”)

Flow as a Doorway to Magic

Flow as a Doorway to Magic

Harlequin’s Riddle is not your typical fantasy. There’s actually not a droplet of magic in it. Mina, the central character, doesn’t learn magic. There is no speaking of spells, hand waving or use of wands anywhere in any of the books.  There are some fantastic books out there that use this sort of overt magic. But I went in a different direction. What interests me is thinking about what magic already exists in the world. We forget how incredible life is, taking for granted all the wondrous things that happen every day. This is especially true for people. Their minds are complex, their lives are fascinating and their achievements can be staggering.

I’m particularly interested in creativity, and how that shapes people. Or, as becomes evident in my book, how people use their creative abilities to shape the world. Art, in whatever form, can change the way we think about things. It can take us out of the moment, transporting us so completely that we forget who we are. It can help us to empathise and connect with others, or heal long-held hurts.

About Flow

In my explorations in creativity over the years I’ve noticed a recurring theme, which is that when people do their creative practice, whatever that might be, they go into a different state, or mindset. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a psychology professor, calls this state ‘flow’. In this state creators become completely absorbed in whatever they are doing. The requirements of the real world (food, ego etc.) fall away in place of a sense of fulfilment. This state can be very productive. Csiszentmihalyi also says the “whole being is involved”.

Flow and Writing

Many writers have had the experience of working on a piece, and having some sort of inexplicable or unusual experience, such as a character ‘coming to life’ and taking control of the story. Or writing about a place they’ve never been to, only to discover when they get there or see photos of it that they’ve described things with an uncanny accuracy. This is what fascinates me about flow – what if it is an opportunity to tap into a different mental state that links you in some way to something bigger than yourself? This was an idea I wanted to play with in my book.

Flow in Tarya

In Harlequin’s Riddle I take this idea of flow as a starting point to the fantastical elements of the story. Rather than a doorway to a different mental state, creativity becomes a literal doorway – to a place called Tarya. It is a place that sits beside the real world. There are spiritual aspects to Tarya, but it is not just a separate realm, like heaven. Events that happen in Tarya can have an effect on the real world. Mina, the central character of the book, discovers she is able to reach Tarya when she tells stories. But more importantly, she is able to bring aspects of her stories into being for her audience.

Writers are endlessly fascinated by the writing process. Sometimes it can definitely feel like it is magic. Having a heroine who can do interesting things with her stories is so much fun as a writer. I’d like to think there’s a little bit of me in Mina – or a little bit of Mina in me. But she may have other ideas…

If you’d like to learn more about Mina’s abilities, sign up to my email list (see the bottom of the page) and I’ll send you a free short story that tells you Mina’s back story.

 

 

Stories can be the key to recovery from writer’s block

Stories can be the key to recovery from writer’s block

I wrote a while back about having writer’s block and not realising I did. It’s often hard to see what’s going on when you’re in the middle of it. Things are definitely better now. My first book is coming out in four weeks. A children’s story is going to be in an anthology by Christmas Press. I have appearances lined up at Continuum, the Historical Novel Society of Australasia Conference and the Bendigo Writers Festival. Best of all, I have many ideas for stories.

A year ago I wasn’t feeling so optimistic. I used the word ‘burnout’ a lot. Someone else looking at it might have called it writer’s block. I didn’t feel like writing. The ideas weren’t there. Partly this was probably an inevitable result of completing a PhD – 4 years of stress and pressure leave you feeling pretty drained.  Most of my fellow students had some kind of emotional, physical or mental crash at the end of the process.

The other issue, though, was that I felt my stories didn’t matter. In my thesis I had argued for the importance of stories in changing how we see and respond to the world, and particularly climate change. One of my examiners completely ridiculed my ideas. I had also written a young adult novel as part of the PhD. This examiner’s entire response to the novel was ‘this novel is of PhD standard’. That was it. Seventy thousand words, years of my life, went into that manuscript, and all he wrote was one sentence, whilst simultaneously spending page after page ripping apart the arguments in the academic component. I was shattered.

It took me a long time to hit upon the solution. I nearly gave up writing altogether. But in the Princess Bride, when things look darkest, the Spaniard, Inigo Montoya, goes back to the beginning. So I did too. I asked myself why I started writing in the first place. The answer lay in the wonderful books that I’d read in primary school, and the incredible authors who had transported me to other worlds. No matter what some jaded academic said, I knew stories matter. They made a difference to me as a child. So I used the healing power of stories to restore my wonder and to reawaken my creative imagination. I visited old friends, like Susan Cooper‘s Dark is Rising series and everything by Diana Wynne Jones. I made new friends, like Derek Landy’s brilliant Skulduggery Pleasant series.

When you spend a lot of time studying writing and talking with writers, stories can lose their magic. And they shouldn’t. Stories can transform. By approaching stories with the openness and wonder of a new reader, I found a way to heal and restore myself. And stories re-entered my life.