Jennifer Astle

July 24, 2009

Book Review: The Angel’s Game By Carlos Ruiz Zafon

51nBUKGP-YL._SL500_AA240_I picked up The Angel’s Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon last week after a colleague recommended it, and settled in, somewhat skeptically, to give a new writer (by new, I mean one I had not read previously) a fair shot.  It had been described to me as a dark mystery by a writer who Stephen King recently raved about.  And as one of King’s Constant Readers, I trust his word more than I’d trust that of any clergyman.

I was not disappointed.

Zafon brought me down the familiar road of writers writing about writing, and into early 1900’s Barcelona and the life of David Martin.  Martin is a young boy working at a local paper, The Voice of Industry.  His early writing career is bestowed upon him by a young, charismatic benefactor who has a soft spot for the budding storyteller.

Later in his career, Martin enjoys enormous success writing trashy horror stories for an even trashier publication, run by sleazy publishers.  Writing under a pseudonym, Martin begins to dream about writing under his own name, and thus enjoying his success in his own right, a dream that his already successful (although a horrible writer) benefactor shares.  Thus begins Martin’s descent into darkness as a mysterious French publisher makes him an offer worth his soul.

On the surface, this is a typical story based on the competing notions of good and evil, light and dark, God and The Devil.  Zafon constructs the story in such a way that, beyond the title, there is little mention of God, and yet, one feels that there is an omnipotent force pulling the strings in the lives of David and those who are acquainted with him.  Yet, it is much more than that.  It steps further, leaving the reader questioning who is “good” and who is “evil”, and if in fact, they aren’t one and the same.

Underneath, if you look closely through the eyes of a young, struggling writer, you see a play on the insecurities of a writer who can gain thousands of readers under a ghost name (more than one, in fact), and yet cannot sell a single copy under his own.  It plays directly into the notion of literary publication being tantamount to immortality, shows exactly how desperate a writer can get, and delves into both the magic and consequence of a writer’s craft.  Much the same way that King attributes a power of their own to his characters, Zafon brings Martin, and what he writes to life.

When I closed the cover and replaced the sleeve I was left with two resounding thoughts; 1) Would I sell my soul to be published? and 2) I must visit Barcelona, and remember to bring a pen.

March 20, 2009

Confessions of a Writer: The Art of Patience

patienceIt is August, and I hand my mother a list.  She looks at it, and then looks back at me; it’s my Christmas wish list (including a section for Birthday, which falls 13 days before Christmas).  She puts it on the fridge, and there it sits until December, when normal people start thinking about Christmas.  But, in my head, I have been unwrapping gifts since before Labour Day.

I’m in university.  I complete a paper on some complicated Sociological issue.  I, of course, expect the professor to hand them back during the next class.  Of course, she doesn’t because she’s a professor.  It takes weeks.  For weeks, I fret about my grade, desperately wanting to hold the paper in my hands with those tell tale red marks scrawled all over it.  I lose interest (somewhat) in the grade, and become more focused on just knowing.

I meet my future husband.  We fall in love.  We move in together after less than a month and in less than three we move to Toronto. I know you want to correct me now, and tell me that means I am impulsive and not impatient.  I would argue that implusive people act without knowing what they want, while impatient people know exactly what they want and simply can’t wait.  I am the latter, trust me.

Now I decide to write a book.  I use my fantastic research skills (I did pay nearly $70,000 for them after all) to learn about how people get published and follow that path.  Write your book first (“But that could take a year!”), research agents, query them, and wait for a response (without hitting the refresh key on my email seven hundred times a day), likely having to do the same thing over and over until someone bites, if anyone bites.

So, I devise a plan to satisfy my urge to be published NOW; short stories.  They take less time to write, and I can begin querying (and being rejected by) literary magazines almost immediately.  But, instead of finding the immediate gratification that my personality wants like a junkie wants crack, I learn an important lesson; patience.

I don’t want to screw up my chances, so I hit send, shift uncomfortably in my seat, and stare at the computer screen.  Nothing.  Then I watch some news, listen to the Rachel Maddow show, and write a little.  Refresh.  Nothing.

(hold on, I need to check my email)

Still nothing.

Slowly, I am learning that the literary world requires something more of me than great writing; extensive patience.  I don’t imagine there would be any faster way to get rejected by both agents and literary magazines, than by harassing the editors for a decision.  So I remain silent (another challenge for me, I might add).

So, my Grand Master Plan has backfired on me.  I set out for immediate gratification, and instead I am getting an important lesson in the fine art of patience.  Instead of getting what I want, I am getting what I need.  I am learning to wait, without holding my breath too long.  I have submitted one short to three magazines.  I’ve only recieved one response since I began this journey to get published in February.  It was a rejection.  Nevertheless, when I opened my email that morning and saw a response from an editor, my heart jumped.  Someone, somewhere, had read my story.  Even learning that the story “was not right for the publication at this time” I was still elated.

Now I wait again.  One down, two to go.  It’s hard to say if I will still be elated and grateful for being read after three, four, or five rejections.  I am not that much of an optimist, but damn it, I am going to try.

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