Lies, Love and Two Threads of Time

“It often happens that the real tragedies of life occur in such an inartistic manner that they hurt us by their crude violence, their absolute incoherence, their absurd want of meaning, their entire lack of style.”  ~Oscar Wilde

Literary novels are usually full of style and grace. I’ve seen novels take a span of ten years of total, utter nothingness, and turn them into sheer wonderment. I’ve seen tragedy turned into rose petals and perfume. Problem is, real tragedy, rarely has that kind of beauty. So, I have trouble reading that sort of stuff when there isn’t a little make-believe involved.

Take Pan’s Labyrinth for example. One of my favorite movies of ALL TIME. I loved it because it was fantasy, yet it had all the makings of a literary masterpiece. Who says you can’t have both?

Why don’t I read literary novels? Well, actually, I do. Just not too often. I just read a fantastic one by Sherri Wood Emmons, titled Prayers and Lies. It takes place in Coal River Valley West Virginia, near an area where my mother grew up. The drama, religion, prayers and lies really struck a chord with me because I’ve grown up hearing tales of life in a coal town. Emmons’ style isn’t your usual literary fluff. It has grit. It has substance. In Prayers and Lies, she didn’t spend paragraph upon paragraph portraying the exact color of the wood that the dining room table was made of in an effort to symbolize the darkness of the underlying theme. She didn’t insert expertly described awkward pauses for effect, or add stifling silence into dialog to make poignant the emotional distance between two characters.

So, what is literary, if it isn’t a style? Has it come to indicate when a work has a deeper meaning than what’s on the surface? Perhaps. I’m not actually looking to the blogosphere for an answer here. I’m merely musing aloud, if you will. Literary means, to me, when a novel blends the here and the now, with the should have been or should never be. What happens when you add fantasy into the mix?

Well, you get the could have been, mixed with the never should have been, added to, the never can be. How’s that for a mouthful?

A Thief of Nightshade, set to hit the shelves next Spring (2012), could be considered either plain ole fantasy, or literary fantasy, depending on your degree of elitism. What makes it literary? Well, I can assure you it isn’t my writing style. I’m as elemental as ever. What’s different, is the obviousness of the underlying themes of the novel, in comparison to my epic work. Before I go any further, let me show you the unedited blurb:

“Avalar isn’t real.

At least, it wasn’t supposed to be. 

Aubrey never expected to fall in love with, and marry, her graduate writing professor Jullian. His life’s work, a grim fantasy titled A ‘Thief of Nightshade,’ encompassed everything Aubrey hated about fairy tales and make-believe.

After Jullian goes missing and is eventually presumed dead, Aubrey discovers just how make-believe the world of ‘Nightshade’ is …

Not only is Jullian alive and well in Avalar, he’s at the mercy of the Dark Fae, condemned to a fate worse than death, with no memory of Aubrey or his time in her world. In order to save him, she’ll have to confront more than just the demons in her past, but the very real ones that await her in a place she never thought could exist.

All of them will do everything in their power to stop her.”

Aubrey grew up with Vanderbilt kind of wealth—old east coast money. Child abuse happens all the time in upper scale, well-to-do families, but is rarely reported because the victims are kept quiet in order to spare the family name and whatever legacy it supports. Aubrey’s past and her future collide at the exact moment where the world we all know and appreciate as real and tangible, collides with the one she always thought her beloved husband had created for his novels. Problem is, he’s not the hero in this new tale. There is no prince on the other end waiting to rescue her. And if she is to have any hope of ever seeing Jullian again, Aubrey is going to have to take up the mantle of heroine herself, and lay to rest fears that have controlled most of her adult life.

Part of the story takes place in the real world (whatever that is), and the other half in Avalar. I couldn’t start the story at the beginning, when Aubrey and Jullian meet, because as a reader, frankly, you wouldn’t care what happens to them. But, by starting at his funeral (you’ll understand when you get there) and working my way backwards (and forwards) through two threads of time, there is immediately something at stake.

While I’m hesitant to tack the word, ‘literary’ onto anything I put out there for criticism … I can’t deny what this novel is. The familial deception, the secrets, the lies, the love and the sacrifices, are all a part of what made this novel such a pleasure to write. I hope, in turn, they will make this novel a pleasure to read as well. Time will tell, but like I always say: woe is the writer who mounts their merit on the masses …

10 responses

  1. Wow. This does sound fantastic. I’ve always had this nagging in the back of my mind to write about an author whose stories aren’t made up, they’re real. And I always enjoy reading two different threads of time at once. Sounds right up my alley!

    I think “literary fantasy,” or really we should just call it good fantasy, is the wave of the future. What that term means to me is that the work doesn’t lean on the fantasy to make it good or interesting. Yes, there are fantastical things going on, but that is just part of the setting. What keeps you reading and caring are the characters, their relationships, the secondary and tertiary conflicts (like family dramas, etc.). I love seeing more of this available now. Not enough just really good writers in fantasy right now.

    Looking forward to picking this one up!


  2. ‘Nightshade’ sounds like something I’d be interested in reading…and I’m no literary lover myself. I read it because it expands the breadth of my reading library and opens me up to new ideas and ways of writing. For now, I won’t say what I think of your novel–how it is classified. I have to read it first 🙂

  3. Literary fiction is just another genre, though “literary” writers don’t like to hear it. The hallmark of a western is the loner hero and a horse. The hallmark of literary fiction is affected prose and overly-layered characters. Here is B. R. Myers in his deservedly famous A Reader’s Manifesto:

    “Nothing gives me the feeling of having been born several decades too late quite like the modern “literary” best seller. Give me a time-tested masterpiece or what critics patronizingly call a fun read, Sister Carrie or just plain Carrie. Give me anything, in fact, as long as it isn’t the latest must-read novel, complete with a prize jury’s seal of approval on the front and a clutch of precious raves on the back. In the bookstores I’ll sometimes sample what all the fuss is about, but one glance at the affected prose–”furious dabs of tulips stuttering [Annie Prouilx, The Shipping News], say, or, “in the dark before the day yet was [Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian]–and I’m hightailing it back to the friendly black spines of the Penguin Classics. . . .

    “Today, any accessible story written in unaffected prose is deemed to be genre fiction; at best an excellent “read” or “page turner,” but never literature with a capital L. Everything written in self-conscious, writerly prose, on the other hand, is literary fiction–not necessarily good literary fiction, mind you, but always worthier of respect and full-page reviews than even the best thriller or romance.

    “Our ‘literary’ writers aren’t expected to evince much in the way of brain power. Musing about consumerism, bandying about words like “ontological,” changing Red River hokum as if it were a lost book of the Old Testament: this is what passes for intellectual content today. Nor do writers need a poet’s sensibility or sharp eye. It is the departure from natural speech that counts, not what, if anything, is being arrived at. A sufficiently obtrusive idiom can even induce critics to overlook the sin of a strong plot.”

    • “… furious dabs of tulips stuttering,” would have my editor shaking her head and asking me why I used the word ,’furious’ and exactly how are tulips supposed to ‘stutter.’ LOL It never ceases to amaze me what kind of stuff ‘Literary’ novels can get away with, merely because they’re literary with a capital L.

      Carson McCullers grew up down the road from me (long before my time), and back when I was in High School, we took a field trip to her house. It has been memorialized. We studied her work. My teacher, and all her cohorts, basically worship the ground she walked on. What’s SO funny about all of this, is that Carson HATED this town, and all those literary elitists who still to this day turn their noses up at many an author who fails to conform to their rules. Once Carson was renowned enough, suddenly the tables turned and they all wanted her attention. The paper wanted to interview her, the schools wanted her to ‘speak’ to their students. She certainly had her moment of, “I told you so.”

      It gives me hope.

      Thank you for sharing that bit James, it also gives me hope because nothing I write will ever fall into that ‘literary with a capital L’ genre. Ever. I’ll always be on the outskirts. But, so is Stephen King. C.S. Lewis and Tolkien were outside of the circle once too, but not anymore. Now, their work is studied and picked apart for meaning and depth–meaning and depth that was there all along.

    • Sherri! Hi! Yeah, I devoured your novel in one sitting, lol. And I’m telling everyone I know about it because it was SUCH an amazing read. I cried at the end, you know which scene I’m talking about (I don’t want to ruin it for anyone else).

      I really would love to interview you. I don’t know which email address it was showing you on the contact form, but you can reach me via Just shoot me a note there if you’d be willing to do an interview!

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