I find it difficult to trust people who don’t re-read books.

“I don’t have time” when it comes to reading is just as invalid as when it comes to writing. We all have the same twenty-four hours. How we choose to use them defines us. Writers choose to carve out writing AND READING time. People who want to learn, be entertained, and experience different points of view, read.

“But there are so many books!”

Right. There are over 10,000 books published in any given year, and I’m afraid to hunt down the statistics on eBooks that never got to print, but remain in digital format. No one can read everything. That’s why writers are constantly forced to spend so much time marketing instead of writing the next book — because they’re trying to give readers the information about their book, and connect to readers who might enjoy it. Or at least feel some sort of emotion from it.

No one can read everything that comes out. We pick and choose.

So WHY re-read?

Because a good book always offers something new with each re-read. There are reasons the “classics” stay in the canon and we have to read them in school, century after century, and then, hopefully, re-read them as adults, when we’re not carrying the resentment of being forced to read them years before.

There’s a certain amount of re-reading I do to learn rhythm, structure, pace — to work on my craft. That’s a different type of re-reading. If I’m struggling with a piece, be it a play, a screenplay, a short story, or a novel, I go to the best writers in that particular specialty and re-read them. Why do those pieces work so well? I break them down on both technical and emotional levels, and see what I can apply to my own work in terms of craft. Not the words themselves, but the structure, the rhythms, the craft.

That type of deconstruction is a special, learned skill. For this piece, I’m talking about re-reading for pleasure.

Good books make the personal universal and the universal personal. They make specifics relatable. The relationship between writer and reader is intimate in a way it can’t be when you’re watching something in a cinema or on DVD. A reader BECOMES one or more characters in the book, when the writer does his/her job properly, and experiences all the emotions and the actions in the book

When one re-reads a book, one might experience them again. Or the experience can broaden and one can learn something new.

Shakespeare: I re-read Shakespeare constantly, throughout the year. I also read work ABOUT Shakespeare, his time, and his plays, fiction related to Shakespeare and his plays, and essays by actors and writers who have been influenced by Shakespeare and his plays. I always learn something new about humanity. Viola’s yearning for Orlando while he years for Olivia is just as relevant today as it was in the sixteenth century. Hamlet’s decision to “catch” the King by using the Players makes just as much sense, and is the jumping off point for decades of mystery writers. The Scottish Play’s message of what happens to corrupt politicians is what we wish, now, more than ever, to happen. The history plays teach us (somewhat) history, but even more about the human heart.

For those of you who had a negative introduction to Shakespeare, start with Asimov’s Guide to Shakespeare. Yes, Asimov the sci-fi writer. He wrote one of the best books about where Shakespeare stuck to history and where he veered off and why. Read a chapter. Read the play it discusses. Whole new worlds will open out for you.

Another book I keep re-reading is A.S. Byatt’s POSSESSION. I bought it in hardcover the day it came out, and I keep going back to it. Why? Because I love books about finding lost manuscripts. I love how she wrote in the style of several different authors, and we get to read those lost manuscripts while her characters investigate them. She wrote a book about one of my ongoing fantasies — to find a diary or a lost manuscript — and ran with it in a unique, intelligent, and beautiful way. It reminds me of the path not taken — when I had the choice between becoming a literature scholar, and made the choice, instead, to go into theatre, both as a technician and a writer, although I never stopped writing prose. Even though the chances of my ever finding a lost manuscript are less than one percent — I like the fantasy of it. I like the details of how the scholars do their work. I like the reminder of the smell of old books and archives, the feel of the paper. I love entering the characters’ skins.

For a similar reason, I regularly re-read THE NORTHBURY PAPERS by Joanne Dobson. The journey she takes in finding and researching the manuscript excites me. It is a fantasy of mine that I get to live for the hours I read and re-read the book.

I re-read Mercedes Lackey’s Diana Tregarde series and Rosemary Edghill’s Bast series to remind myself where I was in New York City in the mid-1990s. A time before 9/11 destroyed so much, including belief that the world is a wonderful place and that people are basically good (this last election really proved the latter is not true at all). Those books remind me what I hoped and dreamed for, and the decisions I made in my career, why I made them, and they remind me that, although I chose a difficult path, I made the right decisions for me. Not just at the time, but also in the context. Even though I’m frustrated by certain things in my life now and in the process of changing them, those decisions that brought me here were right for me, and I’m glad I made them. When I get tired, when I get disheartened — these books remind me. Yes, those books are what is now called “Urban fantasy” and what was then called “paranormal mystery”. But they were rooted in a reality of time and community that was part of my daily life. They matter.

That’s why I re-read. To learn more, to experience more, to indulge and re-indulge in some of my favorite fantasies, and to remind myself of my journey.

Why do you re-read?

 

It’s a new year, and time for new books. Of course, when ISN’T it time for new books?

But there’s something wonderful about going back to books one has read before. Re-reading a book, especially years after the first read, can be a wonderful experience.

Sometimes, it might be a disappointment. You might have changed your perspective so much that you remember the way you FELT when you read the book, rather than the content of the book itself. But, often, you get more and more out of a book each time you go back.

I have books I consider my “comfort” books. They are books that I go back and re-read regularly. If I don’t get to them once a year, I go back every few years. They are books I enjoy so much that I often have more than one copy of them in the house, and I have most of them on my Kindle as well. This way, I am never without something satisfying to read.

Here are some of the books I keep re-reading:

THE COMPLETE WORKS OF WILLIAM SHAKESPARE — William Shakespeare
I have adored Shakespeare’s writing since I was eight years old and first read the Scottish play. I keep going back to all his works. Many of my best theatrical experiences were on Shakespeare plays, including TWELFTH NIGHT and most of the history plays. When other teens were obsessed with rock stars, I was in Northumbria, visiting the places that Hotspur Percy lived. I never get tired of reading Shakespeare, and learn something new every time I re-read a play. I also love ASIMOV’S GUIDE TO SHAKESPEARE, written by, yes, THAT Isaac Asimov.

JANE AUSTEN — all of them
I regularly go back and re-read all six books. PRIDE AND PREJUDICE and SENSE AND SENSIBILITY remain my favorites, although the others rotate in their place on my list. I always forget how funny she is.

POSSESSION by A.S. Byatt
I read it the day it was first released and it swept me away. I still re-read it once every two or three years, and it still takes my breath away — the breadth of styles included in a single book. The excitement of unraveling the mystery of a newly-found manuscript. I am not a fan of the movie at all, but I continue to adore the book.

HOGFATHER by Terry Pratchett
This is my annual Winter Solstice read. This brilliant satire on belief and non-belief enchants me every time. I’m a big fan of the Discworld books anyway, with MORT, GOING POSTAL, WYRD SISTERS, and MASKERADE as my favorites, but HOGFATHER is the I re-read every year.

LITTLE WOMEN by Louisa May Alcott
I wanted to grow up to be Jo, although I wanted Laurie rather than the German professor. Even with its flaws, I still love this book. It gave me so much pleasure and so much hope when I was little. Louisa is one of my heroines. Of her other books, ROSE IN BLOOM and AN OLD-FASHIONED GIRL are also favorites. I also re-read her journals regularly.

COLLECTED POEMS -by Emily Dickinson
Again, I learn something new every time I read them. I find poetry experiential rather than theoretical. It’s hard for me to talk ABOUT poetry — I’d rather experience it directly.

TRIFLES by Susan Glaspell
I adore this play. Susan Glaspell is a wonderful author; a founding member of the Provincetown Players, and one of Eugene O’Neill’s earliest supporters, she was a fascinating and wonderful novelist in her own right. Again, every time I re-read this book regularly.

AN EXTRAORDINARY YEAR OF ORDINARY DAYS by Susan Wittig Albert
I’m a big fan of her China Bayles series, and I’ve also read most of her Beatrix Potter and Darling Dahlia books. But this, a diary of hers, is a book I go back to at least once a year, for both comfort and inspiration. You see how the details she notices, how the depths of her own feelings she explores, makes her such a wonderful writer.

SECONDHAND SPIRITS by Juliet Blackwell
This is her first Lily Ivory book. While I’m a big fan of the whole series, I keep coming back and re-reading this first book over and over again. It speaks to me, on many levels. I lived in San Francisco in the mid-80s — while modern SF is quite different, there’s still a resonance in the area — and in Lily — that I love.

A BOOK OF THEIR OWN by Thomas Mallon
This is a collection of diaries, throughout history. As a diarist myself, this book resonates on the whys and hows of keeping a journal that is personal and meaningful, and yet becomes bigger than the self. I go back to the extremely (overly) detailed diaries I kept in the 80s and 90s when I write material set in this time. As I age, the excerpts here give me a fresh perspective every time I go back to them.

THE NORTHBURY PAPERS by Joanne Dobson
The entire Karen Pelletier series is terrific, academic, literary mysteries. But this one is, by far, my favorite, where a copy of JANE EYRE leads to an almost-forgotten novelist. I never get tired of this, and I usually wind up re-reading the entire series.

THE DIANA TREGARDE MYSTERIES by Mercedes Lackey
Diana Tregarde was an urban fantasy heroine ahead of her time, back in the day when it was still called “paranormal mystery” (and what it’s about to be thus called again, since agents and publishers claim not to want urban fantasy, even though readers do). Diana Tregarde is one of my favorite protagonists and I love to re-read the series at least once a year. I have three of the re-issued books that came out a few years ago. I thought there were six, but I can only seem to find three. There’s also a wonderful short story in Lackey’s TRIO OF SORCERY, featuring this character. My other favorite Lackey character is Jennifer Talldeer, the Oswego private investigator; most of the stories featuring her are now out of print, too.
The Diana Tregarde books are: CHILDREN OF THE NIGHT, BURNING WATER, JINX HIGH.

THE BAST MYSTERIES by Rosemary Edghill
Again, I re-read the whole series at least once a year. I relate so much to these books. In some ways, it is a snapshot of what my life was like in New York City in the mid=90s, although I wasn’t as brave as Bast, and in theatre rather than a book designer. But a lot of the social interactions/decisions she has to make in the course of the series resonate strongly with me. Some of it reflects my life at the time; some of it reflects what could have happened, had I made some of the same decisions that Bast made. Plus, they’re damn good paranormal mysteries. The books in the series are: SPEAK DAGGERS TO HER, THE BOOK OF MOONS, and BOWL OF NIGHT. As I worked on this article, I discovered that, in 2014, a Kindle edition of Bast short stories and novellas were released as FAILURE OF MOONLIGHT. I have just purchased it, and intend to read it this week. I will let you know!

HEADLONG by Ron MacLean
I first read this as a contest entry, where I was a judge, and fell in love with it, giving it the winning slot. I later booked Ron to speak at the library where I worked, and recommended him to teach at Cape Cod Writers Conference. His short stories are terrific, too — basically everything he writes is wonderful. But I go back to HEADLONG because it is a perfect example of what I call a “social justice mystery”, where the politics are vital, but don’t get in the way of plot, character, and story. He never stands on a soapbox — he involves the reader in the journey, and gives the reader room to make decisions and judgment calls. Beautifully constructed and even more beautifully written, this is a book well work re-reading regularly. This is not a “comfortable” book to read, but it’s a “comfort book” because it’s so damn good I always learn from it when I return to it. it challenges me in the right way.

There are many books I re-read. I’m a big believer in re-reading, and am always suspicious of people who dismiss it (usually using the non-starter “I don’t have time to re-read”). A well-written book has something new to offer each time you visit with it, and comfort books are old friends who remain with you on the journey.

What are some of your favorite books and why? Please feel free to list them in the comments.

MY LIFE IN MIDDLEMARCH by Rebecca Mead.

New York: Crown Publishers. 2014. Hardcover $25.00. ISBN: 978-0-307-98476-0.

This book is on our “new” shelf in the library, purchased by my predecessor (who, I might add, has great taste in books).

George Eliot and her work have fascinated me for years. I’m not as familiar with her work as I am of many other classic authors, although my grandmother gave me a collection of her work published in Boston by Estes and Laurant in 1887. I’m the most familiar with THE MILL ON THE FLOSS, which was part of a large, complex literature paper I wrote in high school called “Lost Girls.”

MIDDLEMARCH was an influential book for Rebecca Mead, something she read and re-read at different stages in her life. Her revisitation of the text and her pursuit of what was behind the text is an absorbing book that gives us insight not just into Marian Evans (aka George Eliot) and her unconventional (at the time) but deeply satisfying relationship with George Lewes, but on why the book continues to resonate today.

Ms. Mead goes beyond some of the rather sniffy biographies of Eliot, questioning the intents and agendas of those who’ve written about Eliot and her family, friends, lovers. That’s part of what makes this book so satisfying — there are elements of both literary detection and psychological exploration on the wider social context, rather than simply accepting what someone else wrote as “truth”. It may have been that individual’s truth, but that’s different than “the” truth about an issue. She draws on biographies, letters, diaries — and her own experience of visiting important places in Eliot’s life and work.

Her personal experience of reading and re-reading the book and wanting more speaks to those of us who connect to books and are fascinated at the way life infuses work and work infuses life. Every writer has a different formula, and sometimes that formula is different from book to book. But when a book resonates, a reader wants to find those connections, and intimately experience what the author felt when writing the book. Some of that will always remain conjecture — even actors cannot fully “be” another individual, although they can inhabit that persona and communicate it.

At the beginning of spring, I decided that I was going to read my way through my grandmother’s editions of George Eliot, to get a new perspective on the works as an adult, and to gain a deeper understanding. I read several biographies of the woman, and got interested in some of her correspondence with one of my personal heroines and inspirations, Harriet Beecher Stowe. This book came along at the right time for me, because it reaffirms my desire to read and/or re-read all of Eliot’s work, and to continue playing with the idea that began germinating about a piece (most likely a play) having to do with Eliot, Stowe, and Charlotte Bronte.

Mead’s journey with MIDDLEMARCH not only illuminated the book (and Eliot) for me, but furthers my inspiration to continue working on a piece connected to Eliot. Which further demonstrates how Eliot’s work continues to resonate, and why she remains of value as both woman and writer.

You can find this book at Marstons Mills Public Library, in Marstons Mills, MA, or order it through the CLAMS network or Interlibrary Loan System. Or, of course, you can buy a copy. I initially checked it out as part of getting to know the library’s collection, but I’m definitely investing in my own copy.

med_TrackingMedusa

I have a new release, and I’m very excited about this book. It’s a paranormal mystery with touches of romance in it, called TRACKING MEDUSA.

Archaeologist Dr. Gwen Finnegan is on the hunt for her lover’s killer. Historical researcher Justin Yates bumps into her, literally, on the steps of the New York Public Library, and comes to her aid when she’s attacked, sparking an attraction between them in spite of their age difference. After avoiding a cadre of pursuers at the Met Museum, Gwen impulsively invites Justin to hop a plane with her to the UK. The shy historian, frustrated with his failing relationship, jumps at the chance to join her on a real adventure. That adventure takes them through Europe, pursued by factions including Gwen’s ex-lover and nemesis, Karl, as they try to unspool fact from fiction in a multi-generational obsession with a statue of the goddess Medusa.

You can read an excerpt when you visit the site for the Gwen Finnegan Mysteries here.

Below, there’s an interview with me about the book:

Q & A With Devon Ellington

Question: How did you come up with TRACKING MEDUSA?

Devon Ellington: The Medusa myth always fascinated me. I got mad in CLASH OF THE TITANS when she was killed. I felt she was marginalized and destroyed because she was powerful. I’ve always loved archaeology — when I was little, even though I always knew I’d be a writer, but before I made the commitment to theatre, I wanted to be an archaeologist. My life took a different path, but it always interested me. I also don’t think science and spirituality need to negate each other. I wanted to work with a character who was smart and based a lot in science and evidence, but was a practicing witch and able to use all those facets towards her goals. The opening scene, in the club at Gramercy Park, came early on.

When I lived in New York, I spent a lot of time wandering around the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the New York Public Library. The Justin character evolved out of that, especially when a group of us who were affiliated with PEN got a behind-the-scenes tour at the Library.

Justin was inspired by the same real individual who inspired Billy Root in my urban fantasy series The Jain Lazarus Adventures, but the two characters evolved very differently, and have grown into very much their own men. Justin’s journey through this series gets quite dark at times. Billy takes a very different route in finding his true purpose.

I also wanted to play with the age difference between Gwen and Justin. Gwen is a dozen years older than Justin — how does that affect their relationship? Especially since Justin’s emotional age is much younger than his chronological age.

It all started to come together one day when I was at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, wandering around the Greek and Roman galleries, which had just reopened, and the Egyptian gallery.

Q: Tell us about the background of the chase scene at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

DE: That was a lot of fun. I’d written my way a few chapters into the book, and I wanted to get it right. I took a day and went back to the Met, with my camera and my notebook, to choreograph the scenes. A couple of security guards asked me what I was doing, and I told them I was choreographing a chase scene through the Met for a book. They were enthusiastic, and offered ideas and feedback (while still keeping an eye on things– no one neglected their jobs)! They asked not to be specifically named in the acknowledgements, in case Management was unhappy about it, but at this point, I’m sure most of them have moved on to other jobs.

Also, at that time, Hatshepsut had her own room. It’s been dismantled now, much to my disgust, and the Hatshepsut sphinx was in the same room as the Temple of Dendur, last time I visited New York. She’s not too happy about it.

I find it insulting that she no longer has her own room — it was an important exhibit focused just on her and her achievements.

I’m putting photos from the Met and the Library and some of the places in Edinburgh and Ayrshire up on the website: http://gwenfinneganmysteries.devonellingtonwork.com.

Q: Did you ever get to study archaeology?

DE: Not traditionally. In 2013, I was able to take, through Coursera, an online class with Sue Alcock of Brown University called “Archaeology’s Dirty Little Secrets”, about some of the basics. I loved it, and I was lucky enough to head from the Cape to Brown to meet her. In fact, she got me back in touch with one of my favorite playwrights from my early days in New York theatre, who’s now teaching at Brown. In the edits, I fixed a few glaring errors in the manuscript, but I still have made, shall we say, “adjustments” in proper process to serve the needs of the story. I hope Sue will forgive me — and I plan to study more with her if the opportunity arises.

Q: The relationship seems more of a triangle that a couple, thanks to Karl. Can you talk about that a bit?

DE: Karl was originally going to be the primary antagonist — former lover gone bad. However, Karl had other ideas. The relationship between Gwen and Karl has gone through various permutations for over twenty years. Their bond is so strong that even the genuine love between Gwen and Justin can’t break it. Nor should it. This idea that fictional characters can only have a single relationship and everything else must come second is something I believe is harmful to teach readers to look for as human beings. We are capable of having more than one relationship without those relationships being a threat to each other, and I wanted to explore that.

Q: Then, of course, there’s Edward.

DE: Yes, there is. Again, Edward was supposed to be a very small supporting character whose purpose was to provide information and the next lead for Gwen and Justin to follow. But Edward had other ideas. I believe in following my instincts when characters want to take a different direction than the original plan. It’s the subconscious mind at work, which always knows more than the conscious mind. The subconscious embodies itself in the characters, so when you let that go, at least in early drafts, you can get to a better place than you would otherwise. When you write something that needs a structure, such as a mystery, then you take it and adjust the piece to the structure. Fortunately, the genre lines are blurring somewhat, and I take full advantage of that!

Q: Did you get any push-back because your vampire is named Edward?

DE: Because of Twilight? More power to Stephanie Meyer for creating a trilogy that connected to so many people. But I hadn’t read her books when I wrote this, and the only thing Edward Ramsey has in common with the other Edward is the fact they’re both vampires. One trusted reader who’s a big Twilight fan suggested I change his name, but Edward’s Edward, and there’s more than one Edward on the planet. My editor and publisher had no problem with it. I also wanted the vampire aspect to be peripheral to this novel. It comes more to the center in the third book, especially where Justin is concerned.

Q: So where do your characters go from here?

DE: You’ll have to read the books to find out! How’s that for avoidance AND self-promotion! 😉 Seriously, the second book, THE BALTHAZAAR TREASURE, is about salvaging a pirate ship, and there’s a murder, AND Gwen and Justin face new obstacles in their relationship. There are definitely some surprises in that one, for readers who think they have a handle on Gwen and Justin!

TRACKING MEDUSA is available as a digital download from Amber Quill Press here:
It will shortly be available on Amazon, and the print version releases in Mid-June.

LOOKING FOR ANNE OF GREEN GABLES: The Story of L.M. Montgomery and Her Literary Classic by Irene Gammel. New York: St. Martin’s Press. 2008.

I loved ANNE OF GREEN GABLES as a kid, and was delighted to receive it in hardcover, along with its sequels, over a period of years. I found copies of the EMILY books, PAT OF SILVER BUSH, etc. in thrift shops, and gobbled them up, too. Yes, as I grew older, I recognized the idealistic/unrealistic environment of the books. I alternated between getting irritated by it and feeling comforted by it.

A few years ago, I added copies of L.M. Montgomery’s journals to my personal library of journals and letters. Five volumes of “Selected Journals”, edited by Mary Rubio and Elizabeth Waterston, ordered out of Canada, and AFTER GREEN GABLES: L.M. Montgomery’s Letters to Ephraim Weber, 1916-1941 (which Strand Books tracked down to me). One of the things that surprised and saddened me was how unhappy Montgomery was in her diaries. What gets frustrating is her refusal to change what makes her unhappy. In 2008, the family’s revelation, via CBC that Montgomery committed suicide (link to article here) was another sad revelation. Gammel discusses this revelation in her review of Rubio’s biography of Montgomery that released in 2008 (link to review here).

On the one hand, it makes sense to whine in a diary. The diary is a place to deposit what stifles one’s soul, so that one can move on and make better choices. But in volume after volume, there isn’t an indication of making better choices — there’s a continued cycle of unhappiness and nasty comments about those around her. Since these are “Selected” journals, one has to wonder why these particular passages were selected — were they the most upbeat of the content? If not, why not choose a wider range of emotions? Choices?

Gammel’s book is much more upbeat. She doesn’t deny Montgomery’s sharp tongue or unhappiness, but she also reveals, through letters and journal entries marked as “unpublished” a much livelier, funnier, intelligent woman. Montgomery was determined to create her an identity for herself — ANNE allowed her to do it, although later in life than she would have liked. When Montgomery finally managed to travel to places like Boston, she was able to partake in intellectual and cultural events she dreamed of up in Prince Edward Island. The reader gets to see Maud taking and receiving pleasure from the reception of her work.

The chapter detailing the evolution and social context of “orphan fiction” is especially interesting. It traces inspirations for Anne and how other orphan girls named “Ann” set the stage for the beloved Anne Shirley, and places Anne in context with other popular characters of the time such as Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, the Pollyanna franchise, and Little Orphan Annie.

I consider setting as an additional character in well-written stories — if I read another Ye Olde Generic Scotland in a novel by someone who’s never visited Scotland or bothered to research properly, I am going to HURL — so Gammel’s exploration of the power of place and nature, and which settings inspired important locations in the book resonated strongly. Places such as Lover’s Lane, The White Way of Delight, the Lake of Shining Waters — all bring back fond memories both of the book itself AND memories connected with the experience of reading the books. That, I think, is one reason the books keep resonating, and people smile when they remember reading them.

The book is lively, well-written, thoughtful, and a good counterpoint to the sadder published journals. If you’re in the area, come by Marstons Mills Library yourself to check it out (and find other jewels in our collection), or order it via CLAMS network. I intend to track down and purchase a copy for my personal library, in addition to recommending it to library patrons whenever appropriate.

–Devon

med_LakeJustice

“Lake Justice”, my ghost story, released on April 27, 2014, courtesy of Amber Quill Press. It’s only a buck, and you can buy it here.

I thought readers might enjoy some background on the piece:

Can a witch chaperoning her godson’s camping trip lay to rest the ghosts of murdered women? Or will Lake Justice take its own revenge?

When Bronwyn Rowan, a practicing witch, gets talked into chaperoning her godson’s trip to Lake Justice, she doesn’t expect to find some of his classmates have untapped paranormal talent, or that they’ll need to use it to thwart a serial killer and lay to rest the ghosts of the killer’s previous victims.

A Q&A With Devon Ellington

Question: What was the inspiration for this piece?
Devon Ellington:
Photographs I took up in Maine, visiting family. They’re just north of Portland. It’s really spooky woods. Some days you can watch the fog roll down the street. One can see why so many horror writers originate in Maine! The forests have genuine personalities. There’s a sense if you intrude, there are consequences. I love old-fashioned ghost stories, and I wanted to combine that sense of the eerie lake in the woods with a ghost story. The characters of Bronwyn and her godson started talking, and I decided to follow them, at least in the first draft, to see what happened.

Question: Did the piece go through many drafts?
DE:
Oh, yes. All my pieces do. “Editing” and “revising” mean more than running it through spell-check. I tore it apart and put it back together many times. I tried a few different antagonists, but the character who wound up as the primary antagonist in the piece was the most insistent, and, ultimately, the strongest choice.

Question: You make it sound like the characters are separate from you. Aren’t you, as the writer, playing God?
DE:
I am and I’m not. Yes, ultimately, it all comes out of me, but from different parts. Our subconscious knows far more than our conscious minds about what works, what has integrity in a piece, and what doesn’t. The characters are created out of the subconscious and evolve, feeling like independent entities, but always tied to that core integrity. In early drafts, especially, I follow the characters and see where they lead me. As I revise, I layer in structure and deeper sensory detail, so that the craft supports the story and characters. But I usually start from character, try a few “what ifs?” and go from there.

Question: You don’t believe in breaking structural rules?
DE:
I believe in breaking them if the writer has strong enough craft to break the rules while still remaining true to the characters and the genre. Outstanding authors are also outstanding craftspeople. They understand the craft of writing. When they break the rules, it is a choice, not an ego moment or out of carelessness. It works because it is a choice made out of deeply knowing and being rooted in craft. As a reader, it’s painfully obvious when a writer “breaks the rules” out of either ego or being too lazy to learn craft. Those aren’t writers I continue reading!

I don’t mean to sound perfect, because I’m not. I rely on my editors when I go off the rails. I like and need to try new things. Not everything works. But I try to learn from every piece, from every note an editor gives me, and apply it moving forward.

If you look at each note as only pertaining to the words on which it was noted, you cheat yourself, and, ultimately, you’re wasting your editor’s time. Learn, understand, apply.

<strong?Question: What happens next between Bronwyn and Kyle? Will we see more? Will Bronwyn train the kids in their talents?
DE: The story was written as a stand-alone, but if readers want to see more with these characters, I’m open to it. Definitely give me a shout, and I’ll see what they do next!

Excerpt from “Lake Justice”:

“You’re kidding, right?” I stared at my godson, careful to make sure my bottom jaw didn’t dangle down to the floor. “Do you have any idea how inappropriate I am as a chaperone for a bunch of kids? In addition to the whole Wiccan thing, which will probably cause some of the parents to picket your school.”

“Okay, first of all, you’re way cooler than most of the parents, even when you kick kid ass for breaking rules,” my twelve-year-old godson Jamie tossed a lock of dark brown hair that tended to obscure his view of the world as he listed his arguments on his fingers. “You treat us like people, not like action figures or small morons. Second, my school’s full of parents with alternative lifestyles, everything from Santeria to same sex parents to Quakers to that family that thinks they’re descended from aliens. That’s why Mom moved us up here and not somewhere like — well, whatever area I list is going to be insulting. No one’s gonna care you dance naked around a bonfire once a month.”

“Hey! That’s only a couple of times a year.” I couldn’t help smiling at him. “And how did you know that?”

“I heard Mom grilling you about it one day. Yeah, I eavesdropped. Deal.” He tossed his hair back and continued. “Third, It’s a small group of the really smart kids in the school, and you’re the one who convinced Mom to let me be part of it, even though most of them are older. Fourth, we’re going camping on a lake–”

“I don’t camp.”

“But you’re really into nature!”

“Yeah, when I can hike during the day and enjoy it from the porch of the inn, with a dry vodka martini in my hand. I don’t think that’ll go over so well.”

“It’s for one weekend. You can be in a tent for one weekend. It’s up on Lake Justice, it’s really pretty up there–”

“It’s autumn. It’ll be really cold up there.”

Available from Amber Quill Press here.

BEG, BORROW, STEAL: A Writer’s Life by Michael Greenberg. New York: Other Press. 2009.

As I’m getting to know the stacks of the Marstons Mills Library here on Cape Cod, I’m picking up random titles that catch my eye and writing about them. This one is a memoir by writer Michael Greenberg, a New York writer. Since our time in New York overlapped somewhat, I felt guilty about not knowing him or his writing while I lived there.

The book is a series of chapters as memories — some are of his childhood, some are of incidents in contemporary time that spark trains of thoughts or send him on adventures, such as riding a subway on Christmas with a friend who got a job as a motorman or investigating Hart’s Island (aka Potter’s Field). There are very few chapters actually about writing — although one, about adventures as a for-hire writer, is hilarious and very telling to any of us who job out. Many of the chapters seem to be about NOT writing, doing other things.

But, really, isn’t that the “life” part of a writer’s life? Something catches your attention, your interest, you decide to follow it, and you find someone to pay you to write about it. A writer gets to live many lives, sometimes more than an actor. Actors often have to wait to be cast — a writer gets to write his own reality.

The writing is thoughtful, funny, and makes one think about all those places and people one passes every day, living in New York, without giving them a second thought.

If you’re in the Barnstable area, you can stop by Marstons Mills Library and check it out — who knows what else you’ll find in the stacks? The library’s jewel is its theatre collection. If you’re in CLAMS network — order it. If you’re far from the Cape — contact your local independent bookstore and order it!