Sunday, January 27, 2008

Parallels--Writing Novels--Magic City

Okay, so explain this. Why does this crop circle (obviously created by aliens)

look exactly like Cobra Woman:

And then there's this to consider. The strange parallels between this owl in flight

And Joyce Carol Oates

And here's two otherworldly fellows who know the sound of one hand clapping.

Robert Frost used to say that poetry is one of the acceptable ways of "saying one thing and meaning something else." I believe this is also one of the fundamental building blocks of good fiction. Metaphors, symbols, those secondary resonances, echoes.

It's tricky business to care about these issues, and to write with such principles in mind. Tricky because, for one thing, most readers don't care about "secondary meanings" or can find such stuff downright snooty.

But such techniques keep me interested in the process of writing.

Take Magic City, for instance, my last novel, which is coming out in paperback in a couple of weeks. The similarities, or parallels, between the events that were unfolding in Miami in the mid-sixties and the events that have been unfolding in the last few years was striking to me. I wanted to write about a government that was willing to go to any lengths to achieve its political agenda. Sound familiar?

After doing some research on that period in Miami's history (which also happened to be the time period when I first arrived in Florida) the parallels between our approach to Cuba in the mid-sixties and our approach to Iraq in the last seven years struck me as strangely similar. There are other times in US political history when our politicians have crossed moral and legal lines to achieve their ends. I can think of several off the top of my head.

This political aspect of Magic City wasn't all I was interested in, but it certainly helped me keep my focus.

Saying one thing and meaning something else. The trick is to say the one thing that's on the surface of the story well enough so that the narrative is absorbing to the reader whether or not they see or feel the secondary significance.

But, personally, it's hard for me to conceive of a book that I'd be interested in writing that operates only on that surface level. I like metaphors. I like parallels. I've always had a thing for analogies.

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