Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A Remarkable Concurrence of Events

A coincidence is defined as "a remarkable concurrence of events without apparent causal connection." When I lead writing workshops, I warn writers to avoid coincidences that work to the main character's advantage. A malign coincidence that makes things worse for the main character can sometimes be okay, as readers are prone to believe coincidences for the worst much more than coincidences for the better.

But recently I've been thinking about books that rely on coincidence and still work. I reread one of my favorites books, I Am David by Anne Holm (much, much better than the movie!) and it occurred to me in this rereading just how many coincidences there were in it. David's final scene could never have happened without several critical coincidences working to help him. His meeting the artist in order to acquire a vital piece of information always struck me, from my very first reading, as way too convenient. Yet the book works for me.

Right after that (a coincidence?) I read The Line by Teri Hall, and was again struck by the remarkable coincidence that, of all the "Others" Rachel might conceivably meet, she meets a boy who knows someone she has always wanted to learn more about. What are the odds? Yet, again, the book works for me.

Then it occurred to me that some critics have called the end of my own book, Counterfeit Son, a coincidence, and yet it won the Edgar Award, which means it certainly worked for the judges, and it has worked for many readers. And I remembered how I met my husband, Art - a coincidence if there ever was one, that required my coming back to work at my college bookstore years after I had graduated, his masters professor going on sabbatical during Art's last semester so that Art ended up teaching a 300 level history seminar that usually attracted 5-10 students, and Art's having made so many friends among the athletes that 100 signed up for the seminar and he came to the bookstore to order more books at just the right moment for me to see him and fall in love.

Even though fact is always stranger than fiction, and all writers know we shouldn't write anything that really happened in our lives exactly the way it happened as part of our fiction, maybe coincidences aren't all that unbelievable after all. But they certainly are remarkable.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

If Music Be the Food of Prose...

Many writers I know like to listen to music while they write, to get in the mood. Back in college, I used to listen to music while I wrote, but it wasn't so much to get me into the mood of the book as it was to take me out of the mood of the dorm. I'd sit at my typewriter in my own little corner of the room and play Broadway musicals and even sing along while I wrote. I must have been a lot better at multitasking then, because I wrote Simon Says while listening to a lot of Sondheim, and the two have little in common beyond the S alliteration.

These days I work better in absolute silence, which is actually much harder to come by than good music. Somehow, with someone else's perfect lyrics echoing in my head I have more trouble finding my way through to the words I need for the book I'm writing. But music hasn't entirely disappeared from my literary world I love to listen to music when I read, and often when I pre-write. And sometimes my reading points me in the direction of good music.

Last night I finished reading David Levithan Love is the Higher Law, a novel about three teens living through and reacting to 9/11. Two of them see reflections of their complex feelings about the event in the music they listen to and the concerts they attend. After I read the last page I went straight to iTunes to check out the songs mentioned in the book, and promptly downloaded two albums.

As I write this, I'm listening to songs from the Singles album by Travis, songs I'd never heard before because I'd never heard of Travis. Thanks for the introduction, David Levithan.

I guess I can still write to music, after all!