Influences on my early writing

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It has been at least fifteen years since I’d read My Sweet Audrina.

I’ve always considered V.C. Andrews novels a guilty pleasure (like the Shopaholic series by Sophie Kinsella). They are easy reads, and, considering I do most of my reading in bed at night before I go to sleep, it’s what I need.

I was afraid of reading Audrina—afraid that it wouldn’t be as good as I remembered—but even though V.C.’s novels aren’t considered literature, Audrina touches on a variety of important topics: self-hypnosis, post-traumatic stress disorder, brittle bone disease, autism, and how parental favoritism can destroy the favored child.

What is haunting about V.C.’s Southern Gothic horror novels is their timelessness. Reading this book made me nostalgic for that time when I was getting into more “adult” novels.

 

The first time I came across a V.C. Andrews novel was at a “Friends of the Library” sale (https://www.facebook.com/FriendsOfWFPL). It was Dawn—the first book in the Cutler family series—a crisp, hardcover edition sheathed in a dust jacket with a haunting family photo on the cover. I was immediately intrigued, and of course, I had to read everything she wrote after that.

When I was a teenager, I wrote part of a sequel about the Lamar Rensdale character in Audrina, bringing him back from the dead. I wanted Audrina to ditch Arden and marry Lamar instead—a man who helped her—even as Arden had failed her the first time, a second, a third…

I think my juvenile attempt to write a sequel to My Sweet Audrina was my way of living in that crazy Whitefern world just a little longer.

What’s more, I’ve always wanted to give characters happy endings—just like I wanted to give a happy glimpse of Ginger (from Black Beauty) in the afterlife.

 

Audrina is unputdownable, for it drew me into this strange, Whitefern world. Coming from a caring, but odd and somewhat dysfunctional family (a neighbor of ours, I found out, once referred to us as the Addams family), I related, however distantly, to the Whiteferns/Adares, for they live in an old house where things don’t always work and consider themselves outliers in the community. (My parents don’t even watch the local news.)

 

I think, when we read a book, we either like to be taken away or see ourselves in someone else’s work, to feel less alone—Audrina was both. It was also well-edited, unlike some of V.C.’s other books, where last names are spelled two different ways and middle names were changed altogether.

 

I don’t recommend any V.C. books after the Logan series, because the quality tanked and they all started to sound the same. I have no plans on reading Whitefern, the sequel to Audrina that Neiderman wrote, though I will try the televised version of Audrina. (The original flick, Flowers in the Attic, though not a masterpiece, had a haunting quality about it the TV movie lacked.)

 

V.C. Andrews had one hell of an imagination, and it’s too bad she passed away before she got to write more books. She was an influence on me in my early writing (who doesn’t love dark family secrets?), just as the breezy, Shopaholic series lightened what V.C. darkened.

 

Even though I read many novels by different authors, I think series books will always have a place in my heart, because I fall in love with the characters, and don’t want to let them go. I think that’s why I’ve always preferred novels over short stories, and short stories over poetry. It’s always been about the characters for me. Even the poetry I write is often about characters (many of them wacky).

Plots may keep you reading, but characters will keep you rereading.

 

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Book Review: Black Beauty

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I’d read this book almost a decade ago, and it made an impression on me, for it gave a voice to those who could not communicate in a way we could understand. Black Beauty isn’t a novel with a plot, but a series of vignettes—a timeline of one horse’s life.  Rather than The Five People You Meet in Heaven, it’s the multitude of people one horse meets on Earth who pass through his life, and how each person (or animal) illuminated Beauty’s understanding of the world.

The first time I read Black Beauty, I had expectations of something other than what I read—something more along the lines of National Velvet.  However, upon recursive reading, I saw that Beauty was Every Horse—a creature who makes friends with most of those he meets, for he has a servant’s heart, and is almost a Christ-like figure in his willingness to bear upon him the sins of men (and flightiness of women), complete with stripes from a whip, and the white star on his head, as if he was touched by the finger of God.  However, I saw Beauty like an innocent child who is shuttled to a series of foster homes, giving me a feeling of nomadic insecurity.

Sewell weaves a Christian narrative in a way that shows that what is good for God is also good for horses and humans: “If workingmen don’t stick to their Sunday…they’ll soon have none left.” (Loc 1612). Humans, like animals, are often valued for their productivity, rather than the value God has placed on them, “For ye are bought with a price” (1 Corinthians 16:20).  To have a day of rest actually increases productivity.  Sewell’s “spirit sense” has universal appeal in that even though it comes across as didactic at times, it does so in a way that employs common sense rather than religious dogma (i.e. “The Golden Rule” vs. “The Ten Commandments”): “There is no religion without love, and people talk as much as they like about their religion, but if it does not teach them to be good and kind to man and beast it is all a sham…” (Loc 582).

If one is expecting an exciting horse story, this isn’t the one; War Horse is closer to that.  What I loved more about Black Beauty is that the horses have verbal communication between themselves (something not in War Horse).  We’re not just privy to Beauty’s lots, but those of his friends and handlers; the story of Ginger, who considers Beauty her only friend, is one that would touch any animal lover.

Black Beauty highlights how what happens to humans can affect a horse’s life, for inasmuch as a horse may be considered part of the family, they are still property. Anna Sewell did a wonderful thing when she wrote this, and for that alone, it should get five stars; each little chapter reveals a simple truth, put plainly.  The book doesn’t contain many literary elements such as metaphor or foreshadowing, but it’s a charm bracelet with a clasp connecting Beauty’s life.  The anthropomorphism device and the spare writing style puts the reader in Beauty’s horseshoes in startling verisimilitude.

The brightest moment of the text for me was (next to the ending)—just as in “War Horse”—that wonderful familiarity when someone from our past who was kind to us, crosses our paths through happenstance.

A few of my favorite quotes from the texts are, as follows:

  • Ignorance is the worst thing in the world, next to wickedness (Loc 806). Sewell speaks through her characters when she says that humankind is responsible for their own ignorance.
  • A real gentleman has got “time and thought for the comfort of a poor cabman and a little girl” (Loc 1696). That goes for ladies, too.
  • “…but he is blind as to what the workingmen want; I could not in my conscience send him up to make the laws” (Loc 1829). This resonates today, because of all the elites in Washington who don’t seem to have stake in the laws they pass. Moreover, the working class is also given a voice in this book (horses being a part of that station).

Black Beauty left such a mark on me that the end result of this inspiring story was my research paper—the best work I’ve written for a college course thus far: “Divine Equestrian: The Beauties and Beasts of Burden”.  One of my friends, who is a lover of horses (I, being more of a beach babe, have always admired these glorious animals from a distance), requested a copy and wrote this wonderful Christmas message (as I sent out stories, poems, and recipes in lieu of throwaway cards someone else wrote this holiday) on my timeline:  That was the most inspiring thing I’ve read about horses, ever. Yes, they are majestic, divine creatures who speak directly to your heart. Thank you for sharing your beautifully written paper with me…

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Poem-a-Day Writer’s Digest Challenge #2. Theme: Animal Spirit (or Spirit Animal)

It seems like the prompts this year align perfectly with what I’m already writing in my ENC1102 class.  This book left an impression on me, and had a tremendous and positive impact on the way horses were treated.

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Both Beauty and Beast: His Life, His Work, His Story

“…Well done, good and faithful servant…”  (Matthew 25:23)

He had a servant’s heart,
but was a master at his trade.
He was known by many names—
Jack and Black Auster,
Blackie, and Old Crony—
but Black Beauty was the one
he would be remembered by,
this English gentleman equine.

He was the son of Duchess,
never knowing his brother from the same mother.
He suffered for the drunkenness of men,
the vanity of women,
the ignorance of both.

He was a best friend to Ginger—
a chestnut who came out of her shell;
he was a companion to many others,
a listening ear for a tale to tell.

The heathery lea to which he retired,
was but the path where the marigolds grow,
for he blinks,
and in the glimmer of a star,
he is where all horses go.
Ginger is waiting for him,
infirm no more.

The vignettes that ran the episodes of his life
into one long-running season,
continue still into one everlasting life;
this ebony horse with the white star—
put there by the gentle hand of all creation—
left his beauty mark,
for it was his story that made history.

http://www.writersdigest.com/whats-new/2016-november-pad-chapbook-challenge-day-2