Monday, August 29, 2011

Hungry for Stories

L.G.C. Smith

It’s tempting to think that the hunger for stories follows hard on the heels of our need for food and shelter. As far as I know, all cultures have rich story traditions. Those of us who write popular fiction feed a need that must surely be as old as humanity.

Readers look to assuage different tastes with different types of books. From the time I was able to choose my own novels, I always loved stories about times and places beyond my reach. The first novel of my very own that I remember reading was Zilpha Keatley Snyder’s “The Velvet Room.” I got it through the Scholastic Books order program at the elementary school in Cincinnati where I attended third grade. Remember filling out those order forms, and the careful deliberation that went into choosing however many books you could get? And then the exquisite anticipation when they arrived. I couldn’t wait to get them home and start reading.

"The Velvet Room" was about a twelve-year-old girl, Robin, whose family struggled to survive as itinerant workers in California in the 1930s Depression. When her father gets a job at the McCurdy ranch, life is better, but it's still hard. An unexpected friendship with an older woman who lives in a hidden cottage opens a new world to Robin. She sneaks into the derelict mansion on the ranch. There she finds the velvet room, full of magic and the promise of hope. I've forgotten the mystery Robin solved, but the velvet room is still clear in my mind and heart.

“The Velvet Room” whisked me into a world I’d heard about from my father, who had traveled from South Dakota, where his parents, both teachers who didn’t get paid through the summer, to work in the apricot and cherry orchards that belonged to their California relatives. At three years old, my dad was put to work cutting ‘cots grown on land my sister now owns. Like Robin, they lived in a tent community of itinerant workers. When I read “The Velvet Room,” I could see the kind of people who had worked in those orchards. I could smell the fields and feel the hard won stability Robin’s bare-bones four-room house represented. “The Velvet Room” whetted my appetite for more. More stories. More novels.

I still hunger for good stories. I like variety, but I can live for a good long time on a steady diet of romance and adventure. A little mystery, a little magic, a lot of history or a setting where I’ve never been—all add spice and savor. Because I like to read stories with these elements so much, that’s what I write.

I’m curious: What stories do you hunger for most?

9 comments:

toni in florida said...

L-o-n-g stories. I love to immerse myself in another world (even one that recognizable) and experience it through the lives and adventures of a story's characters. I love stories that make me unable to slow myself, even as I begin to dread the inevitable ending. Perhaps that's why I am drawn to series fiction so much, because I can revisit these hypothetical worlds and play in them over and over, for as long as their authors keep setting their stories in those worlds.

That said, I hunger more for characters than for any world, no matter how richly imagined and well described. Give me a character I can care about and you have me.

Adrienne Miller said...

I am always hungry for fantasy. I've never been interested in stories that highlight the brutal reality of the real world. I'm up to my eyeballs in reality around here. Give me something that can take me away from that for a little while and I'm in. It can still be brutal as long as there is the promise of a satisfying ending.

L.G.C. Smith said...

Toni, I love long stories, too. My dad and I were just talking about those old James Michener novels like "Hawaii" and "The Source." I read them when I was twelve, and I loved getting lost in the ancient Near East and Hawaii through the centuries. No surprise, I love George R.R. Martin, the Harry Potter books, Dorothy Dunnett. Dive in. Live somewhere else for hours and hours. Glorious.

Nowadays good characters are a must, too, but I remain a sucker for an epic novel.

Adrienne, all I have to say is 'amen.' :)

Juliet Blackwell said...

I love this-- me too, I want more more more! Love story, love character. Love when the two come together.

Mysti said...

Stories that manage to capture the chimeric(sp?) quality of relationships in transition. Although I don't consciously seek them out, I am forever finding myself in the middle of dead parent stories, and weeping like a baby.

But most of all, stories about people like me and my ancestors, neither of which are especially well represented in modern literature. Tall, overly proud, stoic folk. Women with high tolerances for risk and an eye for men with strong if scarred hearts. Poor but smart as whips, struggling against city hall and, if they don't entirely win, they don't entirely lose, either.

Not even sure this makes sense...

L.G.C. Smith said...

Oh, Mysti, that makes excellent sense, and I love it. We don't have enough of those stories, do we?

Rachael Herron said...

THE VELVET ROOM! That's it! That's the name of it! I have goose bumps everywhere, just all over. That book was my very, very, very, very favorite book, and over the years, I'd forgotten the title of it. That, The Secret Garden, and The Little Princess -- stories of finding hidden rooms/spaces -- that is still my favorite thing to read and to fantasize about. (Hello, my first book! A cottage, made to order!) One of my recurring dreams is that I find a hidden room in my own house. Oh, oh, oh, thank you. *trotting off to try to order it....*

L.G.C. Smith said...

Rachael! Too cool! I think The Velvet Room is in print again. I need to get a copy, too, although I think my original may still be at my mother's house. I want my nieces to read it.

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