Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Swimming With Wings & Author Lee Libro

I’d like to welcome my fourth Virtual Book Tour guest, Lee Libro, to share some thoughts about writing fiction from experience, and to tell you something about her fascinating book, Swimming with Wings.

First up, Lee has a riveting bio, steeped in literary magic and the kind of history that just beckons to be explored. Lee is a visual artist and writer. Elements of fantasy, myth and Jungian symbols are often interwoven themes in her art and fiction. Her influences include Alice Hoffman, Flannery O'Connor, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Anne Tyler, Eudora Welty, Salvador Dali, Alex Grey, religious studies and new age principles, all media relating to metaphysics and the paranormal...and on a different note, the movie "Gone With the Wind." She lives in Florida with her husband, children and two dogs. She grew up in Augusta, Georgia and Portland, Maine and earned her B.A. degree in English specializing in Renaissance literature at the University of Connecticut. She spent nearly ten years in Marketing Communications and then the following decade as a foreign language translations editor. She is currently working on her two next novels. One is based on the true life story of her own great, great aunt, Dr. Alice Lindsay Wynkoop, accused and convicted of murdering her daughter-in-law on the surgery table, a suspected abortion case covered by national media in the 1930s. The other is a modern adaptation of Nathaniel Hawthorne's short story, "Rappaccini's Daughter", involving a modern day neurobiologist who tampers too far with the chemistry of the mind, and in so doing, discovers the threshold of the soul.

I spent a very enlightening time on Lee’s website which includes writer resources and a plethora of interesting angles on the craft of writing. Lee is also a book reviewer so feel free to hop over to her site at Literary Magic and read her submission guidelines.

Now, about Swimming with Wings

Lark Jennison is a free thinker and imagines she has wings! What does she have in common with a light healer who can raise the dead and the suspected gypsy-turned-evangelist who share her hometown? A story of human brotherhood released only through the colliding dogmas surrounding their shared tragedy from long ago. Through this coming of age love story and the solving of a mystery, a cast of soul seekers ultimately tells the story of brotherhood and the forces that shape belief. Lee Libro's writing style is southern lit with a modern twist and has been compared to that of Alice Hoffman. In Swimming with Wings the mystique of Practical Magic meets the human angst of Flannery O'Connor. Readers will enjoy an arresting blend of literary fiction, mystery and romance and ultimately a story about searching for direction, the hidden influences of ancestral roots and the forces that shape belief.
Genre/ Description: Literary Fiction/ Spirituality/Romance
Paperback - 277 pp   ISBN: 9781450580434

I am always curious about how writers get their inspiration: dreams, events, life experiences, other people’s experiences, a story they heard one day… the list is endless. Here’s Lee’s take on inspiration and writing fiction from experience.

Writing Fiction From Experience
Some of my earliest lessons in English composition and creative writing included the idea that in writing fiction one can only write from their experience. As I was very young at the time and had no experience, or at least no time to have reflected yet upon what experience I had thus far accrued, I felt that this placed me at a great disadvantage in the world of writing. Though I felt compelled by a theme or a glimpse of a character, these were often fleeting and untenable like sand, when what I really needed were good solid bricks to build my story. Though I held the desire to write, the creative vision and technical expertise to do so, my first attempts at the craft felt hollow and underdeveloped. And though my youth had indeed been full of experience, translating it into fiction would take reflection, skill and a good dose of relaxation to let it go and become something new, fictional, breathing a life of its own.

What I have since learned is that one needs several building blocks to successfully craft a story, not just experience from which to draw content, for what is content without accurate grammar, themes, voice, dialogue, plot and pace. For me personally, I did not consider myself a true writer until I fully understood the roles of each of these. Likewise, however, building blocks are dry and unstable without some mortar, or magic (as I often refer to in my blog. Voice and the figurative are essential in the art of storytelling. Now, at the ripe age of 50, I also have much experience from which to draw. Together with experience, reflection, an understanding of the building blocks, a handle on voice and a keen sense for the figurative in themes, after years of short-story writing I finally made the leap to writing a novel.

As the mother of five children and a supporter of spiritual diversity, I wrote my first novel, "Swimming With Wings," as an expression of the soul-seeking, gypsy-like route many take to find love and a way to make sense of spirituality in earthly existence, outside of religious structure, especially where grief, prejudice and pain can color one’s experience of it. These were all topics I grappled with up until my 20’s, and also as I took on the responsibility of raising other human beings, my interpretation of humanity became clearer.

Though "Swimming With Wings" was born from my experience, it is purely fictional. The novel evolved from my short story, “The Resurrection of Marcia Mueller” because the idea deserved a much deeper story arc. However, despite knowing this, it was written it in a very organic manner. I had a loose synopsis only, which I believe allowed for greater creativity as I wrote. My only fixed points were character based, except for the beginning and ending events. So in essence, I let these characters loose in a world launched by the effects of the tragic drowning of Lark and Peter’s fathers and set them off on a journey to reach the final scene. With the secondary characters, such as Peter’s grandfather, the mystic light healer, I interwove stories from the past as a backdrop to compare and contrast with what was occurring in the present.

As I wrote, I constantly reassessed the plot logic and consistency of details and because I’m also an artist and am very visually oriented, I laid out key points in the plot on large color-coded sticky notes on a big storyboard that I could easily rearrange. The dual timelines made this especially tricky. Once I found the right pace and the proper interlocking of the present with the past, the story became sort of predestined, taking on a life of its own and it flowed more easily.

People have asked me if the story was based on any of my own experiences, and while I would say that many of the elements are directly drawn from my life, the story is completely separate from my own. I’ve known people in my life who share characteristics with my characters, even the natural mystic, Salvatore Roma, who “could raise the dead: birds, squirrel, mice,” as he’s introduced in the first line of the story.

Reflecting back on my professor’s proposition that one must draw from experience, I now understand that what he meant was not actual experience, but rather what one learns from experience.

Thanks for sharing those enlightening thoughts with us, Lee. You can purchase Swimming With Wings from Powell’s Books, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or on order through any bookstore in the USA.


BK said...

Excellent post. I loved it Lee. Very intriguing and informative.

Cate Masters said...

Wonderful post. Sounds like Swimming with Wings is very much a book of your heart.

Unknown said...

BK, thank you for stopping by and yes, Cate, I wouldn't write any other way.