Sunday, August 08, 2004

Like Magic

Yesterday afternoon none of the books I am in the middle of appealed to me, so what did I do? Began a new book of course. And by the time I went to bed that night I had finished it. What book was so compelling that I read the whole thing in one day? Sometimes the Magic Works by Terry Brooks. It's a writing memoir with advice to writers or wanna be writers tossed in here and there. I wouldn't say I was a Brooks fan. I have enjoyed his first three Shannara books starting with The Sword of Shannara, and the first three Magic Kingdom books. My husband liked The Word and the Void series that began with Running with the Demon (I haven't read this series yet but will probably get to it eventually) and the both of us even went to a Brooks reading when he was out promoting Demon. He is a short man, very friendly and interesting to listen to. So I started reading Sometimes the Magic Works expecting that I would enjoy it but not expecting that I would read it in one day. I used to read writing books like this looking for The Secret, the one that would make me a best selling novelist or at the very least, get me published. I gradually realized that there is no secret, just a lot of hard work. These types of books offer good advice, but they are, as Brooks mentions, just one writer's way of going about things, it's up to each individual writer to find her own methods. If you read enough books about writing by writer's, however, you start to find some similarities, some rules, as it were. Brooks is even nice enough to talk about what the rules are. And they are fairly obvious. Show don't tell, don't bore the reader, write what you know, etc. The Rules can sometimes be broken, Brooks says, but only if you have a darn good reason for it. The parts of the book that aren't writing advice are also interesting. Brooks talks about how he got his start as a writer at the brand new Dey Rey publishing. He talks about what it was like working with Lester and Judy-Lynn del Rey, his experience writing the movie tie-in book for Hook and later for Phantom Menace. He talks about the fact the he was a lawyer until he did Magic Kingdom for Sale and was finally able to write full time. Lit blogs frequently bemoan the fact that fiction reviews are given less and less space, that even media that are dedicated to books give more space to nonfiction than fiction. And it's true. Brooks talks about when he heard Edgar Wideman speak about this phenomenon:

He argued that our book culture is systematically devaluing the importance of imagination. He remembered when the New York Times Book Review, the premiere newspaper publication in the country, devoted approximately two-thirds of its space to fiction and one-third to nonfiction. That was now reversed, with increasingly less space being devoted to fiction all the time. It was representative of what was happening everywhere. There was a pervasive feeling among readers and reviewers that fiction was less important than nonfiction. We had arrived at a pint where books bearing the words, Based on a true story somehow had greater value than those that didn't. We were obsessed with "reality entertainment." If it wasn't true in the world at large, how could it have importance to us as readers?
Brooks mulls over the implications of such a pronouncement. It is dire, yes. But, Brooks says, "I know enough about the world to appreciate that the one constant in life is change. But change does not happen without imagination." A good point. Which leads me to believe that as ever, the tastes of the public are like a pendulum and the pendulum has currently swung just about as far as it can to the nonfiction side of things. Eventually the pendulum will be swinging back the other direction. It's only a matter of time. Brook's voice in this book is casual and friendly, like you were sitting with him and having a conversation over coffee. I was enchanted and inspired. Because really, I have reached the point where I read books like this for inspiration rather than The Secret. Brook's book did the job. I am still thinking about it today. I marked pages that I want to go back to and read again. It's a great book for the causal reader who is a Terry Brooks fan, and a writer who might need a little inspiration.