It’s a Myth

*This is also posted on the Liars Club blog, as part of an on-going series on writing advice…

When I think about the heart of any great novel, it goes back to the root of storytelling. To folks saying to eager listeners, “Gather around the fire, while I tell you the tale of…” And then drawing in the audience with a story so gripping, so essential, that the audience forgets the storyteller completely and enters the fictional world, becoming the main character, and embarking on an amazing adventure.

That’s why the one book I’d recommend to authors is The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler.  This exceptional text draws on the work of folklorist Joseph Campbell, who spent a lifetime analyzing the world’s mythic tales, their structures, their archetypes, and who distilled all this into an amazing volume called The Hero with a Thousand Faces.  And then there was the riveting series of talks between Campbell and Moyers, resulting in a mind-blowing book called The Power of Myth. Yeah, you’d better get that one too.

But back to writing.  The Writer’s Journey follows mythic structure in storytelling, and can guide you on a psyche-based format for laying out any novel or screenplay.  The format includes a cast of roles that accompany the hero, including the mentor, the threshold guardian, the shapeshifter.  And stages of the hero’s journey, including call to adventure, meeting the mentor, approach to the innermost cave, etc. He mainly uses examples of this structure from movies, but the wisdom is based on archetypes. And as Carl Jung would tell you if he could, archetypes are deeply rooted in all human brains. You can’t get much more universal than that. Apply these archetypes to, say, a modern novel set in an edgy metropolis, and you’ve got something shaking.

I’d like to add that studying folklore and reading fairy tales – the real, gritty ones minus the Disney princesses – should be required in any author’s training as much as the classics are…Tales passed down orally reveal primal fears and desires. Scary and revealing as hell. The stuff of legends.

We writers are all lowly storytellers, really. Beckoning our listeners to come to the fire circle and hear a tale. If we want that tale to actually mean something, to hold our listeners spellbound, then I say listen to the tales of the past and pay attention to what they are telling writers.  The Writer’s Journey can take you there.

Book Review: “Hush, Hush” by Becca Fitzpatrick

***UPDATE: My paranormal YA novel DRAWN is now out in paperback and ebook…If you like TWILIGHT and HUSH HUSH and books by Beth Fantaskey, then you’ll love DRAWN, the paranormal novel filled with forbidden love…and rich with believable characters. For more info about DRAWN click here!***

REVIEW: Okay, who among us hasn’t been simultaneously attracted to/repulsed by a bad boy? Something about danger, wildness, and stepping away from the known is at once exciting, yet scary…which makes it even more exciting.  Hush, Hush by  Becca Fitzpatrick (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers) is indeed about the proverbial bad boy.  So what do you do when that gorgeous, edgy guy you are falling for, turns out to be a fallen angel? Hm. Not exactly meet the parents material.  But excellent material for a YA novel, and this one kept me up most of the night as I eagerly flipped the pages to find out what would happen next to Nora and that dark-eyed mysterious guy, Patch.

What originally attracted me to this novel was the stunning cover, designed by Lucy Ruth Cummins, and featuring a photo by James Porto.  It conveys the dark mood, and an appealing vulnerability. Bravo!  The other thing that pulled me in was the theme of the supernatural lover. I’m trying to keep up with these novels because my own recently completed young adult novel, titled Drawn, is about a teen artist who starts channeling one very attractive and mysterious ghost through her drawings.  Is he the love of her life, or is she losing her mind? Drawn is under consideration at publishers right now.

Some folks might at first glance think Hush, Hush as just another twist on the Twilight theme. But I assure you that Hush, Hush stands on its own, and is a fresh and original read. Now that’s not to say there aren’t some similarities. Even though there are no vampires or werewolves, there are plenty of supernatural creatures infiltrated into a normal high school. The location is a gloomy isolated town (in Maine, the opposite side of the map from Washington state, but similar in some ways). Nora lives in a one parent home, and that parent is mostly clueless or away, which is also similar to Twilight.

But you know what? These qualities weren’t invented by Stephanie Meyer’s either.  Go back to the Gothic novel, and you will find all the tales set in isolated locations and/or gloomy settings. Storms, clouds, dense woods. Par for the course, reflecting the story’s mood.  And what about the lone, clueless parent?  This is a story motif that goes way back to oral tradition. How about the father in Cinderella? And all those evil stepmothers? Weren’t they a dysfunctional bunch? They enabled, and often forced the heroes and heroines in folk tales and fairy tales to strike out on their own and face hardships and adventures. To quest.  This symbolized youth leaving their families, turning their backs on childhood, and facing adulthood.

Well, what about this whole fad surrounding supernatural loves? Not exactly a fad.  Of course there was Dracula, but long before that there were countless folktales told for centuries that involved a supernatural lover or husband.  The lover was often dangerous, mysterious, at times he took the form of an animal or a monster. Sometimes he was cursed, as in Beauty and the Beast or The Frog Prince, and sometimes the lover was a descended demigod. Take the story of Cupid and Psyche from mythology. In one version of this tale, Psyche had a beautiful young man come to her bed every night. He would be hers forever, as long as she never lit the light and looked at him.  Of course she is curious and finally must know more about him. When she lights the candle, she sees Cupid’s wings, and he is forced to leave her.  Varieties of this tale have been told for centuries throughout Europe, in the Near East and India. Even the Zuni of New Mexico told a variety of this story.

Cupid (like Patch and like Edward Cullen) is secretive, mysterious, his sexuality is dangerous, and the heroine is literally “kept in the dark” until she simply must know the truth.  So the new crop of supernatural lover stories are not really a “trend” but a revived archetype – something rooted deep in our lore that speaks to young women as they leave the comfort of their homes and their childhood and dare to explore the dangers of love and independence.

Archetypes aside, there are some further similarities to Twilight. Patch’s unusual dark eyes. His secretive life. Nora and Patch meet as Biology class partners.  I personally would have picked another class for them to meet in, but Biology, specifically the human sexuality unit they are doing, definitely works.  There is a huge showdown in the gym that echoes Meyer’s climactic scene in the ballet studio, and the heroine is lured there because a loved one (this time a friend) is in danger.

But similarities aside, I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. There was plenty of tension and chemistry (as well as biology) between Nora and Patch. Lots of mind games and mysterious happenings heightened the drama and danger. And Nora is a much more appealing heroine than Bella, which makes the reader worry about her more and root harder for her to survive and thrive.  Can a girl with a mysterious birthmark and a pesky iron deficiency fight the evil of the ages? Can a fallen angel, shrouded in darkness and sin rise from his long and horrible past, and truly love? Can you resist staying up all night to find out how it all turns out?

Grab this book and start reading. It’s endlessly entertaining…and you can always catch up on your sleep later.