E.A. Stewart is an American writer whose Accidental Heretics series explores intrigues in France and Spain in the thirteenth century. She worked for many years as a technical writer and project manager in Pacific Northwest software companies.
Ms. Stewart lives and writes in Seattle. She also writes contemporary fiction as Annie Pearson, who blogs about writing and project management at www.anniepearson.com.
Fun Facts: Notes from World Book Night
Here’s a 3-minute timed compilation of books I stayed up all night to read, in no order other than what memory springs free:
The Witch of Blackbird Pond
Five Little Peppers and How They Grew
The entire Oz series (from the Woodburn OR library over summer between the 3rd & 4th grades)
Have Spacesuit Will Travel, then everything by Robert Heinlein
The Golden Notebook
The Outlander series
The two Lymond and Niccolo Rising series
The Three Musketeers
Moby Dick (wasn’t forced to read it in school)
Sons & Lovers
To Say Nothing of the Dog
Three Men in a Boat
In the Garden of Iden, and then the entire Company Series
Let It Bleed, then all of the Rebus series
Nemesis, then every scrap Jo Nesbo writes
The Way We Live Now, then almost all of Trollope
Persuasion, then all of Jane Austen
Scenes behind the Museum, then all of Kate Atkinson
The Lathe of Heaven, then all of Ursula Le Guin
Sometimes a Great Notion
Angle of Repose, then all of Wallace Stegner
OK … times up. Thank heaven for books. Else, we’d have to huddle around the fire and tell the same stories over and over.
Serial vs Story Arc
Back in the days when people had to type a master’s thesis on a typewriter, my thesis attempted to apply Hero of a Thousand Faces and mythic structure to women’s myths, specifically Demeter and Persephone. (Thanks, Bob Casebeer, for pressing this and a hundred other books on me.) This was the year before I fell in love with a Lexitron word processor, so there’s not a digital copy to link to. You’ll have to travel to the Southern Oregon College library and request this thesis from the stacks.
This was also long before Bill Moyers met Joseph Campbell. Perhaps I started dabbling at the same time as George Lucas, or when Chris Vogler started thinking about mythic structures. (It was certainly before I knew about the anti-Semitism stuff. Sigh.)
As a writer, when I stopped trying to think “write about what you know” and started thinking “write what you like,” I had to analyze why picaresques are bad, bad, bad and should never be considered by a modern, thinking person — because I like Tom Jones and Joseph Andrews. And Huck Finn. And The Tin Drum. I wallowed in Hunter S. Thompson while Nixon was bombing Cambodia. I think The Horse’s Mouth is picaresque, and wonderful. Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser changed my brain structure. Soldier of the Mist explains everything about storytelling that most writers have forgotten. (Sick … sorry!)
So now to ask, if you love to read long stories, what’s the difference between a picaresque and a serial? Between a serial and a series?
The Long Tale
In a foundation writing class, Waverly Fitzgerald started the conversation by asking people to name the writers they wished they could emulate. These writers introduced me to Dorothy Dunnett (whom I began to devour) and Georgette Heyer (who only began to consume my idle reading time a couple of years ago — thank you, Source Books Casablanca, for the reissue and the Kindle versions).
I spent that same decade reading mostly dead writers — Anthony Trollope and the Palliser Chronicles, for example.
Picaresque with a purpose? Characters yeasted and kneaded, and then set out in the sun to rise?
From my warped reader’s viewpoint (loving stories), the standard genre structure and many contemporary literary structures missed something that I love: a long story … one that takes years to tell.
The Story Arc
Back in the 80s, the popular concept of the story arc began to rise in television — starting with Wiseguy, of course. (Copyright crimes against humanity: original music is not in the DVD collection.)
We now thirst for story arcs. With profound thanks to Joss Whedon, David Simon, and David Milch, we can enjoy and share the long-arc story again, in the same way people shared Dickens in serial doses.
If you love the long-arc story, you want to be embedded in the characters’ world. The tease and guessing are excruciating and delicious at the same time. Speculating between episodes and longing for the world to come alive again at each serving of the serial bring immense pleasure.
… As long as you trust that the inventor of the arc knows where the story is going. And why.
If you thirst for a story with a long arc, you know the Hero has to return with the Elixir. But it’s the journey there and back again for which I yearn.
A snippet of “The Veteran,” from Doré’s Illustrations of the Crusades, Dover Pictorial Archive Series