Monday, February 21, 2011

What Are You Reading Between the Covers? - #8

I've been busy reading the past week and not doing as much writing, but I have been inspired and learned a new writing technique as well.

The first book I read this week was like eating a chocolate cake. The author's words always make me cry. I don't cry very often when I read, but Katherine Vaz has some beautiful imagery in her writing. She has been described as a magic realist author, but I think you could also classify her as mainstream, since she writes about her heritage, which is Portuguese-American. I first discovered her work in Our Lady of the Artichokes and Other Portuguese-American Stories, which is another short story collectionI recommend. Fado & Other Stories is the collection I read this week, and it did not disappoint. Ms. Vaz explains fados on pg. 96:
The fados wailing from our record players remind us that without love we will die, that the oceans are salty because the Portuguese have shed so many tears on their beaches for those they will never hold again. This was a central theme to the collection of magic realism stories.
For those of you who do not know what magic realism is, this is a genre of writing where magical elements are introduced into normal settings to give us a deeper understanding. The magical elements become normal to the reader in the story. For example, my favorite story from Fado was The Journey of the Eyeball. In it a young man is having an affair with a married woman. He pines for Ana so much he decides to win all the contests at an annual festival. He hopes she is watching, but he sees her leaving with her husband, instead. The young man ends up dunked as punishment for not winning all the contests and the prize. During this event, his eyeball separates from his body and goes on this wild journey to find Ana's house and see her. The story is told from the eyeball's point of view. How fun is that!?

The next book I read is not magic realism. It's classified as an urban fantasy and Charles de Lint is the master of this genre. Urban fantasy, for everyone who doesn't know this term, is a fantasy set in a city. A lot of urban fantasies take place in modern cities, but it doesn't have to be modern. It jutst has to be a city. Charles de Lint sets his novel, The Painted Boy, in Santo del Vado Viejo, an Arizonan desert town. The plot centers on James Li, a teenager from Chicago born as a member of The Yellow Dragon Clan. He's on a personal quest to deal with his heritage and its responsibilities and there is a fight going on in Santo del Vado Viejo between the good people of the town and the bandas, the gangs who are trying to take over the streets. But there's a twist -- not everyone you meet in the book is human, and that is all I will say because I am not a book spoiler. Charles de Lint manages to inject the myths of the Southwest into his story with a colorful whimsy. This book will not disappoint. It actually made me a little homesick for Albuquerque, New Mexico where I lived for a year and a half. The landscape of the desert is similar and Mr. de Lint does a beautiful job taking you there.

I also had an opportunity to learn a new writing technique from him, one that will alleviate the hassle of needing a translator for foreign languages. I asked Mr. de Lint on Facebook this week why he used this technique. He replied that he had taken a lot of criticism from his fans for his Spanish in Forest of the Heart. (I personally loved that book as well, but I do not speak Spanish). This technique he uses eliminates foreign translation problems. He commented that he got it from reading another author, but could not find a source online. This is an small example for those of you who are writers. The foreign language, Mandarin, is indicated by these signs: < >.
Paupau frowned... the tone of her daughter's voice and being addressed in their adopted language rather than Mandarin...
"<I was only making conversation, daughter,>" she said.
Susan nodded...
"I thought my children would be free of the curse."
Enough technical talk about writing! I am sure all of you want to know the name of the last book I am sharing with you this week. This one I literally spent half of last night reading and then finished this morning when I woke up. It's Kathleen Grissom's The Kitchen House, a unique southern slave plantation story. This one focuses on a young Irish indentured servant who works alongside the slaves on the Tall Oaks tobacco plantation. Lavinia, the Irish servant, and the young female slave, Belle, her caretaker, tell the story. It is a heartbreaking tale about the definition of family and love. I highly recommend it for anyone who enjoys historical novels. This one is well written and well-worth your time.

As always, happy writing and happy reading to all!

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