Thursday, March 5, 2015

Writing as Art: Eric James-Olson discusses Eluding Reality

Eric James-Olson decided to take a stab at dissecting a short excerpt from Mad Days of Me: Eluding Reality. You can see his take on my writing here: in the Writing as Art series.

From Eric's website:
"Writing as Art digs deeply into the literary, structural, and poetic devices that make writing an art form. The excerpts and short fiction presented are chosen from a list of submissions sent by authors around the world. The purpose is educational and based off of the idea that we can all learn from each other."

This series is something I'm personally interested in, as it showcases many different styles and techniques. I'll be watching for future installments, and I'd like to encourage you to do the same.  

Playing with readers' emotions

Playing with readers' emotions

When a reader opens a book, he/she does that with a minimal knowledge of what lies ahead of them. The reader might have read a few reviews, spoken with friends about the book, or seen a recommendation somewhere. These sources aside, upon opening a book, the reader embarks on an emotional journey guided solely by the words of the writer and the actions of the characters themselves. Since reading is a unique and personal experience, it is often said that no two readers will read the same book the same exact way.

The book cover, however, plays a vital role in altering the reader's perception of the book itself. A cover can convey the settings, characters, genre . . . even a tone in which the book might be written. The cover's visual element adds to the reading experience (or detracts from it) and, in essence, prepares the reader for the journey which lies ahead.

Thus, when it comes to novels, the cover artist has the important job of not only attracting the reader's attention, but also conveying the essence of the work contained inside the book. Covers act as icebreakers between the reader and the author's words, a gateway to the fictional world the author created. The importance of the visual element cannot be overestimated.

In my own work, I always felt limited by what covers can convey. My novels tend to be complicated tales of humanity, with multiple plots and themes concurrently running alongside the story of the protagonist. This is especially true for longer fiction.

When I started working on the KSHM Project with Australian photographer Karl Strand, I quickly realized that our photostories offer a unique opportunity to engage the reader not only with my words, but with Karl's images as well. Since most of our work consists of vignettes and short stories, by the time the reader finishes the work, he/she still remembers the image at the center of the story, thus adding a visual element to the mix. This brings me to the point of playing with the readers' emotions.

One of our recent short stories, Waiting, features a double exposure photographs of a lone man in a dark alley, with a young girl heading towards him. The girl is translucent, seemingly out of place. The man, however, stands slightly slouched over, hands in his pocket. He does not appear threatening, but he does not look like someone you would approach late at night. The image itself is somewhat eerie.

As with all of Karl's images featured in this project, I knew nothing about the photograph when it arrived in my inbox. Yet, as soon as I opened it, I saw an opportunity to engage the reader on an emotional level using the power of perception and the image itself. When the right story came to me, it all flowed.

The story opens with a flashback, feeding into the reader's perception that the narrator is not a good individual. As the story unfolds, the reader must assume that the narrator does not have good intentions, but before he/she can condemn him entirely, the narrative switches, opening a way for a whole new set of emotions. Yet, I decided to mislead the reader again, and switch the focus of the narrative elsewhere, bringing up an unexpected ending.

With the image still fresh in mind, the reader then musts reevaluate his/her initial perception. This follows in line with the majority of my other writing, which aims to show the reader that not everything is as it seems, and that we can learn from the often overlooked aspects of our society, such as homelessness, grieving, statelessness, et cetera.

Please check out our story, Waiting, in your favorite online book retailer. It is completely free to download. If you would like to comment, I'll do my best to respond promptly.