Books are a forest and it’s hard to see the trees, except the tall ones or the old ones. But when you enter the forest, it’s the new growth that emits the sunlight....

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Fiction, Sanity, and a review of Jeff Blackmer's Draegnstoen

The House of Windward Leaves is free on Smashwords until January 26 with coupon PB55U

Dealing with the possibility of death at Christmastime, I was drawn into
reading one of the vintage books I was listing on eBay, The Enchanted Hat by Harold MacGrath.  At once, the 1900 book reminded me of P.G. Wodehouse.  A lost book, each of its long short stories centered around a piece of clothing.  While I had to think about old age, I read at bedtime a book that entertained a century ago and because I needed something lighthearted.   

I also read Draegnstoen by Jeff Blackmer.  So satisfying and hitting the spot for another reason.  Its well-drawn characters and historical conflicts put my anxieties into perspective.  Here’s my Amazon review:


Draegnstoen settles at once into the bones. After so much Arthurian tragedy, this book glimmers of a triumphant end, that of the Britain tribes ousting the Romans. I was entranced with the royalty that led to Coel, Old King Cole in British legend, his brother's marriage to his sister and the dragon hunts, depicted so that I wondered if dragons might have become an extinct species in Britain.

The momentum along with the details made me confident of the author's research into the fifth century A.D. And the intermarriage with the Pict tribes from Scotland was charming, in dialogue and in the uncertainty of the alliance. The Pict princess entered battle tattooed and she had a crow at command.

This whole book is elegantly constructed with intrigue and the spying that finally gathers the tribes to Coel. They fight the Romans, one thane revenging a crucifixion, and as the Goths dominate Rome. But it is the focus on individuals that keeps one reading. In the end, I felt a chill in my spine because I believed this book had comprehended early Britain and a war it had won.

And I was reading Alice Munro’s Hateship, Friendship,Courtship, Loveship, Marriage, short stories that present real scenario, character-oriented so that a person can think through dilemmas.  There are middle-aged characters and older in this collection, usually spoked with the younger generation.

On writing sites, I sometimes read forum comments from authors who feel unstable if they don’t write.  Hannah Warren, the author of the upcoming Casablanca, My Heart, recently said that she felt restless if she didn’t write.  I responded to that on Facebook, saying that she might have creative energy the way an athlete has muscular energy and that energy needs channeling. 

I wondered about this some years ago when I found that writing stabilized my days.  Legends about authors are often about their journey to instability.  How many, from the inside, took a journey to mental sanity?  Writing is to make sense of reality, and also of undercurrent emotions and thoughts. 

The year I wrote The House in Windward Leaves was one of the worst in my life, I thought at the time.  With men problems and my hometown blowing up into strike news, I really thought the adult world was nuts.  Reading fantasies on the internet now, I sometimes wonder if the author was “going through things.”

Writing became a habit but I didn’t feel it gave me constant sanity; it often gave me upsets.  Only for about an hour after writing, but I might feel disoriented when I was getting ready for work.  I even felt that I was experiencing method writing like a method actor.  Incidents in the day felt like coincidences, causing me to adjust my story.

Working with used books and listing them for the internet, my librarian work, is a sane task.  Recently, my 92-year-old mother has continued her decline in suffering a stroke.  She had come to love her assisted living community and liked her apartment, decorated with familiar living room pieces and photographs.  Then she had to enter a nursing home.  The sadness with my five siblings drove me to my librarian work.  But during the last weeks, I’ve found sanity in writing again.  I could lose myself in the adult book that I’m revising.

When this happens, I’ve thought that writing is like reading, only enhanced.  You open up the pages and if you get lost in them, forgetting your worries, then you think that you might be onto something.  During difficult times, many people look for a book that can totally involve them.  In Minneapolis many years ago, I interviewed at Odegaard Bookstore with the owner, Dan Odegaard.  He had a very fine bookstore and he told me that he felt like a doctor, helping customers to find the book they needed.

The art of fiction might spring from a need people have when troubled, that of sharing bad stuff.  Friends do that.  Group therapy is based on people sharing experiences and anxieties. Writers with problems have been attracting readers since the novel was first published.  Perhaps that’s because people don’t like to confront problems and that the novelist, confronting events, issues, and their effects, takes the reader in hand.  Maybe it’s brave to confront that way, like an explorer or a hero going into dangerous territory, risking panic or hysteria or injury.