Tag Archives: Portrayals of Writers

Nicole Hayes in SORCERERS & SECRETARIES (Portrayals of Writers)

We meet Nicole Hayes, the main character of the two-part manga SORCERERS & SECRETARIES (written and drawn by Amy Kim Ganter, for readers age 13+, ISBN 1598164090 Part I, ISBN 1598164107 Part II), at a crossroads in her life.  She’s majoring in Business at college in order to help run her family’s business once she graduates, but her true love is writing.

But like most writers I know, the stories won’t shut up and begin to spill over into Nicole’s dreams.  Once she gives in to writing a story down, it grips her and won’t let go.  One of the many things I enjoyed most about this manga was that the reader gets to experience the life-cycle of a story from seed to finished version (i.e. we get to read the story Nicole is writing and making revisions on).  Also, the creator Amy Kim Ganter does a great job of showing how real life can interfere with creating a story, and how a creating a story can interfere with real life.

There is also a wonderful romance subplot between Nicole and her neighbor Josh, and the impact they have on each other in their lives and careers.  Josh helps her grow as an artist, and she helps him to stop drifting in a dead-end job.

Here’s a brief excerpt (missing the drawings unfortunately) from Part II, Chapter One:

Nicole: Sometimes…my dreams are so vivid they push out of my hands and onto this book, my dreamlog.  I get so wrapped up in the story, sometimes I even forget who I am or what I’m doing!

In the end, though, they’re just scribbles.  They won’t help me get my degree or help the family business.  Still, when I’m writing it’s the only time I feel truly alive…

These two manga would make a great gift for teenager (especially a girl) who wants to be a writer or manga artist.

Savannah Wingo in THE PRINCE OF TIDES (Portrayals of Writers)

We never experience firsthand the mental illness of poet Savannah Wingo in Pat Conroy’s novel THE PRINCE OF TIDES (ISBN 978-0553381542), but witnessing it through the point-of-view of her twin Tom Wingo is bad enough.

Tom heads to New York City after his sister Savannah again tries to commit suicide, and over the course of the novel he unravels, with the help of Savannah’s new psychiatrist Dr. Susan Lowenstein, how Savannah has come to be so injured in mind and spirit.

Conroy explores with brutal honesty how family secrets can mess a writer up inside so badly that she (or he) can barely function. Here’s a scene from Chapter 2 where Tom and his brother Luke have found Savannah during a psychotic episode:

“Is that what you think Savannah’s in there doing?” Luke said, pointing toward her door.  “When she talks to the angels and dogs?  When she drools into her sandals?  When she checks into the nut house?  Is that how you face the truth?”

“No.  I just think the truth is leaking out all over her.  I don’t think she faced it any better than we did, but I don’t think her powers of suppression are as strong as ours either.”

“She’s crazy because she writes.”

“She crazy because of what she has to write about.  She writes about a young girl growing up in South Carolina, about what she knows best in the world.  What would you have her write about–Zulu teenagers, Eskimo drug addicts?”

“She should write about what won’t hurt her, what won’t draw out the dogs.”

“She has to write about them, Luke.  That’s where the poetry comes from.  Without them, there’s no poetry.”

And here’s a scene from Chapter 7 when Tom remembers his childhood with Savannah:

Yet the garden angels did not intervene when my mother burned my sister’s notebook in the wood stove after Savannah recorded a fight between my mother and father word for word.  In a rage, my mother burned a year’s work one page at a time as Savannah wept and begged her to stop.  The words of a child became smoke above the island.  Sentences took wing and fell in black fragments upon the river.  My mother screamed that Savannah was never to write another word about her family again.

The next week I found Savannah kneeling in an exposed sandbar in the river at the lowest tide.   She was writing furiously in the sand with her index finger.  I watched from the shore for half an hour.  When she had finished, the tide was turning and the water began to cover her words.

She stood and looked back toward the house and saw me watching her.

“My journal,” she cried out happily.

This is a painful novel to read–horrible things have happened to Savannah, Tom, and Luke (all characters I came to care about)–but the book provides a catharsis  that I once found life-saving when I first read it.   There is deep sorrow in this story, but there is also hope.

Bill Denbrough in IT and Paul Sheldon in MISERY (Portrayals of Writers)

Stephen King has had a lifelong fascination with the psychology and craft of being a fiction writer, and as a result he has created numerous characters who are writers. In reading about some of these writer characters, I have found mapped out for me various dangers, joys, and craft challenges of the writing frontier.

Here’s one of my favorite quotes about writing from a Stephen King story. I think it nails exactly how it feels when you’re a writer learning the craft and that inner click-click-click finally happens–you’ve found your voice and have enough skill not to mangle the story while writing it down.  This is from Bill Denbrough’s perspective in Stephen King’s IT in Chapter 3, Section 6 (ISBN 0-451-16951-4):

…his head seems to bulge with the story; it is a little scary, the way it needs to get out.  He feels that if it cannot escape by way of his racing hand that it will pop his eyes out in its urgency to escape and be concrete….after ten years of trying he has suddenly found the starter button on the vast dead bulldozer taking up so much space inside his head.  It has started up.  It is revving, revving.  It is nothing pretty, this big machine.  It was not made for taking pretty girls to proms.  It is not a status symbol.  It means business.  It can knock things down.  If he isn’t careful, it will knock him down….

Then we have the writer character of Paul Sheldon in Stephen King’s MISERY (ISBN 0-451-16952-2), a novel which has an entire writing class hidden within it.  What writing class subjects are hidden in MISERY?  Here’s a list I quickly compiled:

1) An exploration of the dynamics between a writer and fans.

2) The idea of  ‘commercial’ versus ‘literary’ fiction, and how that influences the mindset of writers.

3) The writing process, from idea to finished draft.  We even get to read examples of Paul’s works-in-progress.

4) An exploration of what drives some writers to write.

5) Good plotting versus bad plotting.

6) How writing impacts and changes the mind of the writer.

7) Signs that one is on the right path as a writer.

Here’s an example of 3) from MISERY, Part II Chapter 5:

Paul looked out the window, his chin on his palm.  He was fully awake now, thinking fast and hard, but not really aware of the process.  The top two or three layers of his conscious mind, which dealt with such things as when he had last shampooed, or whether or not Annie would be on time with his next dope allotment, seemed to have departed the scene entirely….

Another part of him was furiously trying out ideas, rejecting them, trying to combine them, rejecting the combinations.  He sensed this going on but had no direct contact with it and wanted none.   It was dirty down there in the sweatshops.

He understood what he was doing now was as TRYING TO HAVE AN IDEA.  TRYING TO HAVE AN IDEA wasn’t the same thing as GETTING AN IDEA.  GETTING AN IDEA was a more humble way of saying I am inspired, or Eureka!  My muse has spoken!

MISERY is a novel I find myself skimming or re-reading once a year for fresh insights into the writing craft.  Let me leave you with an example of 7) from MISERY in Part III, Chapter 7:

The gotta.

It was something he had been irritated to find he could generate in the Misery books almost at will but in his mainstream fiction erratically or not at all.  You didn’t know exactly where to find the gotta, but you always knew when you did….Christ, days went by and the hole in the paper was small, the light was dim, the overheard conversations witless.  You pushed on because that was all you could do….And then one day the hole widened to VistaVision width and the light shone through like a sunray in a Cecil B. De Mille epic and you knew you had the gotta, alive and kicking.

The gotta, as in:  “I think I’ll stay up for another fifteen-twenty minutes, honey, I gotta see how this chapter comes out.”…

Shizuku Tsukishima in WHISPER OF THE HEART (Portrayals of Writers)

The animated film WHISPER OF THE HEART (Mimi wo Sumaseba, Studio Ghibli, 1995, Rated G) follows the struggles of fourteen-year-old Shizuku Tsukishima to discover herself as a writer.  The screenplay is by Hayao Miyazaki, based on a manga of the same name written by Aio Hiiragi.  For those who don’t know, Miyazaki is the co-founder of Studio Ghibli in Japan, and one of the premier directors/producers/screenwriters of animated feature films in the world.

And this film has a lot to say about the creative process and the struggle to become an artist.

I don’t want to spoil the movie, so I’m not going to provide a plot summary.   But I will mention that my favorite scene is between Shizuku and a wise old artist, Shirou Nishi.  Nishi-san has just read the first draft of her first attempt at writing a novel, and comforts her in her despair that the novel is no good and so therefore she is no good.  He points out that a rough draft is like quarried stone–through polishing the gem inside the story can be found and brought to the surface.   He’s right.

I also love how in this film Shizuku’s deep involvement with her work-in-progress results in her having waking daydreams about her story.  I’ve actually had that happen, so it was fun to see it happen to a writer character.

There is also a wonderful romance subplot, but I’ll leave that to you to discover if you see the film.

Five novelists in Oliva Goldsmith’s THE BESTSELLER (Portrayals of Writers)

I’ve read reviewers complain about the characters in Olivia Goldsmith’s THE BESTSELLER (published 1996, ISBN 0-06-109608-3) being two-dimensional, but I don’t care that they are.  That’s because I love how in this novel she writes passionately about the publishing world she lives in.  And she knows it intimately, being a New York Times bestselling author.  And being fiction, she can discuss some of the seedier pitfalls, abuses, scandals, and scams of publishing that writing guides don’t cover.  For example, we get to see how an author who is also head of a publishing house can rig the royalty accounting statements in order to steal money from other authors.

Readers get to follow the progress of five novels in different genres at the fictional publishing house of David & Dash.   Only one of the authors will hit the top ten NYT bestseller list in the story, and we get to follow what happens to all of them.  There are also peeks at the lives of editors, publishers, and agents.

Goldsmith explores some of the psychological hazards of the fiction writing profession, such as depression and suicide and disillusionment.  For example, Chapter 1:

Books, her mainstay and her escape, had turned on her.  Every published book taunted her.  Words, which had been her comfort, her tool with which to weave a story, were now a chain that was dragging her down.

And she also shows us the joys of being a fiction writer.  For example, Chapter 110:

And then she’d write about it, because for some reason capturing life on a page was her talent, the thing that gave shape and meaning to her existence, the gift that had brought all the other rich gifts into her life.

Anyways, this novel is a fun way to learn about the business of fiction writing.