Monday, February 14, 2011

Favorite Fictional Romance?

Assignment: Come up with a Valentine-themed blog post! Result: one author with a headache!

Don't get me wrong. I love romance in real life. But I'm not the biggest fan of romance writing. And usually, when I do like a novel with romance, it’s a dysfunctional romance that may or may not end well. Not appropriate for Valentine’s Day! However, my all-time favorite fictional romantic couple do get together. Most of you have read or at least heard of them: Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane.

I love Lord Peter and Harriet’s relationship. They originally meet with Harriet on trial for her life, accused of murdering her fiancĂ©e. Lord Peter sees her in court, is immediately attracted, and sets about proving her innocence, in the course of which he manages to fall in love with her.

Harriet, on the other hand, not only has sworn off any romantic relationships, but because Peter saves her life, her (very British) pride won’t allow her to care for Peter back. Thus begins a famous literary chase which spans several novels as Peter doggedly pursues Harriet (and the occasional criminal), eventually becoming successful in Gaudy Night.

I love Peter and Harriet’s relationship. Probably the most obvious reason is Sayer’s brilliant characterization. In Peter and Harriet she pairs two extremely intelligent, independent, proud and reserved people who on first glance are clashing opposites. Sayer also succeeds in creating two equally interesting characters. Contrary to most romantic stories, where if one character evaporated the story would flop, Peter and Harriet are equally fascinating.

Then there’s the dialogue and scenarios, which range from hysterically comedic to thoughtfully poignant. In scene after scene Harriet and Peter spar with subtle wit, making every interchange great fun to read.

And finally, there’s the romance. It’s not overt. It’s very British, very subtle. And yet Sayers manages to explore the ins and outs of every romantic relationship. She shows the darkness and the light that enters into any couple’s lives, and she challenges the conventions of typical romance. In short – her brilliance in literary romance is a constant inspiration. I’ll never be that good, but I’ll definitely try!

Who’s your favorite fictional romantic couple? Why do you like them?

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Writing As Therapy?

How many of you have used writing as a form of therapy?

My guess is 99% of you raised a hand and said "I". The use of writing as a means of channeling grief, depression, or other emotions is amazingly widespread. Most contemporary authors admit freely to using writing as therapy. A few bold ones manage to turn therapy into glossy-covered bestsellers, but for the most part, those scribbles stay buried in some obscure drawer or cached in a remote corner of cyberspace.

Authors are not the only ones who use writing for therapy. Ever since the ability to write became common, people who experience traumatic events often find solace by writing. Whether it be a war, natural disaster, or simply the death of a loved one, the result is the same. Ordinary people who have never written before pick up a pencil and begin.

The poems of the first and second World Wars have been a fascination of mine for years. Our written record of these wars is vast - some of the greatest writers of the century detailed every event as it happened. More intriguing to me, though, are the thousands of poems and short stories written by soldiers and their loved ones. Many are anonymous. Most were never intended for public view. Few are written according to good writing standards. Yet they're filled with humor, pathos, resignation, bravery...

All the histories written about the wars record what happened to people. The poems and stories record who those people were.

What is it about writing that helps people deal with grief, anger, and frustration? For myself, it allows me to see things clearly. When I'm upset my emotions tangle into a knotted mess that would traumatize a psychoanalyst. I can't understand myself! Always I end up with a chewed-off pen and a scrap of paper, scribbling down verse, scraps of ideas, fragments of sentences. I allow myself to spill over onto the paper, not holding anything back.

Hours later, relieved somewhat by the "public privacy" of expression on paper, I read through the jottings. And an odd thing happens. What made no sense in my mind gradually takes form before me. I can isolate the problem, figure out the cause, approximate a solution. Perhaps most valuable, I can perceive the melodrama. Being able to laugh at yourself does wonders for your sanity.

I'm sure not everyone feels this way about writing. The best part about it is that words, like people, can become anything. All I know is that if I ever get shipwrecked alone on a desert island, forget the coconut trees. I'll be hunting papyrus and a cuttlefish. :)