Tag Archives: psychological fiction

Oliver Sacks (1933-2015)

sacks

Musicophilia.

If Awakenings is the only story you know about Dr. Sacks, you’re missing out on a lot. All of his writing is very accessible to the non-clinician, and can give writers valuable insights about the personalities and motivations of their fictional characters. I’m a retired Registered Nurse, but Musicophilia is the book I went to, when I needed to incorporate music psychology into Irish Firebrands.*

Some clinicians did not like Dr. Sacks, because he wrote in the popular press, but I think that disfavor was largely sour grapes. He did not have all the answers, but he did a lot to demystify a spectrum of disorders that can be frightening to the healthy, and that continue to cause disability.

Oliver Sacks also suffered from a neuro-psych disorder. He has awakened in a world where all of the dark nooks and crannies of the brain, which so fascinated him, are now in the light.

Thank you, Dr. Sacks, for sharing so much of your journey of discovery with us.

* As a healthcare professional writing my first novel, I knew that the causes, context and consequences of character decisions had to be part of the story. Out came all the nursing school psych textbooks; I re-read other works about bereavement, grief therapy, and “flow;” and I did new research reading to update myself on other mental health issues, including mood disorders, personality disorders, and aging.

The knot of nerves between our ears is too important to leave out of writing, if our work is to reflect the human condition. A novelist who omits psychology lacks intellectual and artistic integrity, and the result is cardboard characters whom nobody likes, because they’re not like us.

No matter what your genre, don’t be afraid to research psychology for your novels. Good resources abound, and if you do your psych homework, your writing will become the best possible reading experience.

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Opportunity Knocks….

KleinBottle-Figure8-01These two years of blogging have been a wild ride through the Parallel Universe. I’ve explored the writing process that took me by surprise almost six years ago, and in doing so, I feel as if we’ve all drawn closer together as Artists, especially when the 7 Reasonable Rules series of posts and the Indie Author graphics struck chords of universal feeling.

The ball’s on the other side of the net, now. More than 100 readers downloaded the preview at Smashwords. The PDF Sample Chapter and the Audiobook sample are also available for the perusal of others who might like to try their hand at taking apart Irish Firebrands and finding out what makes it tick. Readers who would like to finish the story and post a review may contact me via the Feedback page Guestbook form.

Questions that I’d like to have answered by readers include:

  • What sensory cues are most effective?
  • Where does the research most successfully take you?
  • How many genres does it cross, and how would you rank them?
  • Why do you think the characters behave the way they do?
  • When did you find it easiest to put the book down?
  • Who is in the book’s audience? 

Thank you for accompanying me on the great adventure that’s been Irish Firebrands!

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You Couldn’t Make It Up.

Non-writers invariably ask novelists, “Is it a true story?” or “Do you see yourself in any of the characters?” or even the baldly forthright “Is it autobiographical?” Sometimes these questions are drama-queen code-speak for, “Are you outing the family skeletons?” or “Am I going to be named and shamed?”

There’s nothing to fear. Reality-shows notwithstanding, and even with what may be a little “help” from a “friend” (I use those terms advisedly, as you’ll soon see), real lives rarely make a successful transition to Storytime, in print or otherwise. For example:

I’ve lived a strange enough life, so that in accordance with the “write what you know” advice, Irish Firebrands contains random fragments that could be considered extremely loosely based on events I’ve witnessed, heard about, or otherwise experienced.

Critter in "possum" mode

A composite cameo appearance was constructed from the lives of my three cats (two of which had already gone to the Happy Hunting Grounds – this one’s just pretending). But no scene or situation reproduces a particular episode from anyone’s actual life.

A few first names (and one surname) from my family history were used, and they’re all common names*, but my research did turn up some information that made it seem like a good idea to change two characters’ names. It’s a risk that’s run by works set in any time period or genre, and usually results in their bearing a disclaimer like, “This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to real people or events is coincidental.”

The majority of Irish Firebrands is the product of four years of cultural immersion-based research. Looking back on the experience of writing it, I’m reminded of those food package health hazard warnings: “This is a natural product. May contain pits. Produced on equipment that processes nuts. May have traces of truth.”

With my current WIP being a historical that takes place from about 1906 to 1936, there’s only one fragment of an interpersonal event in it that can be traced to an old family anecdote. The rest is made from whole cloth woven on the loom of research. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Chronology is king: Getting the fictional and factual timelines to mesh is a challenge.

I’ve posted elsewhere about the importance of factual accuracy. Unless we’re writing fantasy or alternative history, it’s the gold standard, but even works in those genres have to maintain consistency with the history and facts of the world building that went into them.

But where documentation fails, and there may be doubt about what could have happened, any reasonable opinion will do. Readers may not like the sort of spin an author puts on such situations, but circumstantial evidence is why the handiest thing about history is that it’s impossible to slander the dead.

That’s where artistic license enters, and we get Storytime.

* One of my sons is fond of saying, “I get killed off on page 3,” but that’s not true. A character bearing a derivative of his name didn’t even show up until page 6 of the first printing of Irish Firebrands. What ultimately happens to that character is anybody’s guess.

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