On Life as a Modern Wizard

I’m just going to go ahead and get the point across right at the start here: Books are magic. They just are. You can argue all you want, but you won’t convince me otherwise.

Books are magic, and in the hands of a skilled wizard, they change the face of the world–for better or worse, but mostly for the better, I think.

Books show us things we rarely see, or want to see. They open our minds to possibilities we never considered. Science has shown that reading fiction books enhances brain function and increases empathy in readers. Fiction allows us to escape to another place, another life, to live grand adventures and weather terrible tragedies, and experience fated love, all contained within the safety of a book. And whenever it gets overwhelming, we can set it aside for a while, catch our breath, and restore our equilibrium before moving on.

I am an immersive reader. When I read, I forget the outside world exists. I forget to get off the bus at my stop. I don’t feel hunger or thirst. I tune out the cloying noise of the real world, ignore what’s going on around me, and just sink into the story I’m reading. I become an unwritten character in the book, following the heroes’ journey from the shadows, but everything they see, I see. Everything they hear, I hear. The tone of the book sets the tone of my moods, and the characters’ personalities and attitudes affect my own. When I read about a brave hero, I find myself walking a little taller, speaking up a little louder. When I follow a character with a particular speech pattern or accent, it sometimes leaks into what I say and how I say it.

When I read Charles Bukowski’s Post OfficeI kid you not, I had to stop a third of the way through because I sank into an existential crisis that made me resent just having to wake up at a set time in the morning to go to work. I was annoyed by everything and everyone that week. I hated my job and imagined quitting on a daily basis. I just didn’t see the point of it, and I hated the fact that I had to report to the office for those set times because they paid me to do it, and the usual bills just won’t go away on their own.

I applaud Mr. Bukowski for the brilliance of what he’s accomplished, but I will never read another of his books again. Not because he isn’t good, but because he’s too good. I read to escape the doldrums of everyday life, and he gleefully drags me back into them and sinks me even deeper, where I can’t see a way out.

But that’s the thing about fiction: When it’s good, it’s transformative. That’s why I prefer stories with happy endings, ones that are uplifting and awe-inspiring, because reading them changes my entire outlook on life and my place in it. It makes me feel like I can accomplish anything, and everything will work out in the end. Don’t scoff. I may put a brave face on it, but when my writing stalls, or when life throws obstacles and disappointments in my way I need a little encouragement.

The worst thing about books is that they end, and when they do, I’m forced to deal with reality again, where animals don’t talk, and Othercreatures don’t hide in the shadows, and  people can’t change shape. It annoys me at the best of times, but when I’m interrupted in the middle of an intense scene, it actually jars me quite a bit and it takes me a second to reorient myself to the present.

I’m telling you. Magic. Guided astral projection that turns ordinary people into Seers.

The same phenomenon applies to my writing, too. I don’t make up the story, so much as watch it happen and describe what I see. When I type it out, it’s as if I’m revealing words that already exist on the page, and I become the book’s first reader.

Some writers do their best work when they outline a book and follow its path to the end. That doesn’t work for me. Whenever I write out an outline or summary, it feels as if I’ve already written the story. But it’s an abbreviated version, so I feel cheated out of the richness of the entire novel, but at the same time the impetus to write it out diminishes to almost nothing, because it’s “already done.”

It’s kind of like forcing myself into lucid dreaming. I never understood the appeal of that. The best thing about dreams is that they open doors I never would have thought to open. Why would I ever want to limit that to my conscious mind’s comfort zone? When my drift descends toward the water’s surface, why would I steer the dream into flight? The most amazing wonders could await me at the bottom of an ocean, for all I know.

Why would I ever want to give up the amazement of experiencing magic by reminding myself it’s not real?

My stories are daydreams I translate into words so others can enjoy them, too. I give them structure to make them coherent, but I never pull back or steer them in a particular direction. Even when–especially when–they lead somewhere new and potentially uncomfortable. That would be cheating myself and my readers out of its true potential.

I may or may not have been called a cynic and a pessimist in the past (although I prefer the word realist). When it comes to everyday life, I’ve had decades to learn that disappointment is a part of the human existence, and I temper my expectations accordingly. I’m also a control freak who, due to the aforementioned disappointments, has adopted the philosophy that “if you want it done right, do it yourself.”

Books and stories are where I let go of all that. Within the worlds of my imagination, I know that my characters know best. When a new one shows up with an outstretched hand and a twinkle in his eyes, I’m more than happy to follow wherever he decides to lead. No arguments, no complaints.

Some people drink or smoke to “loosen up”, others dance or exercise. I dream.

Hi, my name is Alianne, and I am a shameless dreamaholic. 🙂

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The (Non-)Reading Habits of the Terminally Distracted

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When I was a kid in Europe, I remember bookstores were almost luxury destinations. I would walk into one and feel overwhelmed and awed, and I’d touch the volumes with utmost reverence. Books were expensive. All of them, except for a handful of children’s books and pocket atlases, were hardbound with gorgeous covers that were as much works of art as the words held within. They were also a universe unto themselves. Getting an autograph, or even running into an author of any kind was almost unheard of. Seeing one made into a movie was a Very Big Deal.

My great uncle would collect books just to show them off on his shelves. His brother, my grandfather, on the other hand, would borrow them from him to read, because he loved the written word, but couldn’t afford to buy the books he wanted. My mom had entire shelves filled with series by her favorites, all black spines with white text, and a clear number on the bottom indicating its order in the series. She never touched them after they were read, except to wipe dust off the tops.

Continue reading “The (Non-)Reading Habits of the Terminally Distracted”

I Read, Therefore I Am

In the last two weeks or so, I seem to have gone into one of my philosophical moods. I was reading a book in a genre I used to devour back when I read two or three books a week. I don’t do it anymore, but back then, I would dive into a specific genre and read every book an author has ever released in it. Then I’d go to related books, and repeat the process with another author in that same genre. It was total immersion in a particular subject matter, and for the longest time I lived and breathed it.

That changed when my me-time shrank considerably and I refocused my energies into writing instead. I’d still read here and there, but nowhere near as much as before, and definitely not one single genre. When my reading pattern changed, I noticed a distinct change in my general mindset as well.

Has that ever happened to you? You read a brilliant fantasy adventure and suddenly you swagger down the street like you have an elven sword strapped to your side and everyone is a potential enemy. Your back is just a little straighter, your thoughts just a little braver. For a while, as you bask in the book afterglow, you’re a total magickal badass.

I’ve realized recently that this happens to me a lot.

Continue reading “I Read, Therefore I Am”

Writer’s Gonna Read: Recently Read…

This will be my attempt to keep myself accountable for what I (don’t) read. It’s become an unsettling pattern for me lately to think, “I really miss reading! I never have time anymore!” but not pick up a book when I do have time. So I will try to post here about the books I read. Not reviews, just a mention, and possibly a recommendation, if I feel very strongly about a particular title.

I will start this new series of posts off by recounting 2015 in books read so far, not counting my own books, which I read to edit. Sadly, it is a very short list…

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  1. The Wolf’s Hour by Romert R. McCammon
  2. Legend by David Gemmel
  3. Nightfall by Ellen Connor (cheating a little, this was a re-read)
  4. Midnight by Ellen Connor (re-read)
  5. The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski
  6. Sword of Destiny by Andrzej Sapkowski
  7. Blood of Elves by Andrzej Sapkowski
  8. The Time of Contempt by Andrzej Sapkowski
  9. Baptism of Fire by Andrzej Sapkowski
  10. The Tower of Swallows by Andrzej Sapkowski
  11. The Lady of the Lake by Andrzej Sapkowski
  12. Junior Inquisitor by Lincoln Farish (Awesome Indie book! Dark urban fantasy)
  13. Quiet by Susan Cain

Of these, the last 6 I have read in the last four months. Meaning, I only read two new books in the beginning half of 2015. I am not happy about this, to say the least. To make matters worse, my current TBR pile is so huge, I don’t even know where to start. I am definitely not lacking for choices, only the desire to read. As a writer, reading is how a recharge my mental batteries, so you’d think I’d be reading day and night, right? Maybe I need to start…

What are you reading these days?

Share in the comments below.

 

Follow-up on Facebook Advertising: The Circling Sharks

You have seen me post on this blog about the ups and downs of being a published author. I’ve shared some excellent free and low cost resources, talked about my journey to get published, even described my foray into advertising. This is a follow-up post about the last.

The thing about any passionate endeavor, be it art, travel, culinary wonders, or business endeavors, is that in order to stay on top of your game, you have to keep improving. Keep learning, trying new things, seeking out new information, tips, tricks, inspiration, whathaveyou. I’m one of those people whose curiosity tends to rule their lives. Sometimes it’s useful, other times it distracts me from more important things I should be doing (where I would argue that this is one of the most important things I could do).

When my Facebook ad campaign failed, I wanted to know why. What follows is a long post, breaking down the psychology of (someone else’s) advertising.

Continue reading “Follow-up on Facebook Advertising: The Circling Sharks”