In the Realm of Implausibility

Why write fiction? Why read it?

People enjoy stories because they are both like and not like real life. Fiction holds up a mirror to real life, but it’s a magic mirror: ideally it is shapely in a way that life generally isn’t, with a clear arc: of rising action, a sense of change, of forward motion. It leaves out the boring and irrelevant bits.

The successful distillation of life situations to their essence requires — what? Increasingly I think the whole goal of fiction is to make the implausible seem, by a series of subtle, almost imperceptible steps, vividly possible.

I’ve been thinking about this in the context of what did and did not work in Pam Mingle’s “Kissing Shakespeare” and Shannon Hale’s “Austenland” and two novels that would seem to have little in common, other than that I’ve recently read them, and that they involve the effort to assume the manners and customs of another time. Continue reading


Twitter Shakespeare

Today, being on Twitter finally paid for itself.

This might seem absurd, as being on Twitter has never cost me anything, at least in monetary terms. I could say it’s cost me something in agony, time and effort, but that wouldn’t be true; since I became a part of the Twitter landscape back in 2009, I have been among the lamest Twitterers going. The problem was I never quite understood what I was supposed to be doing on it; in theory I understood, but practice eluded me. Why would strangers be interested in my 140-character effusions on subject like “Clarissa”? And they weren’t. I wasn’t, even. Twitter was like a movie I’d walked into the middle of, a series of disconnected conversations at a party where I did not know anyone; nothing ever seemed to have any resolution.

If Twitter had a cost, it was measured out in bafflement.

Twitter would be completely dead to me if I did not get those e-mails suggesting people I might want to follow (but why?) or those containing the news that people were following me (even more so why?).

When I learn I have a new follower (I can’t count my followers on the fingers of one hand, but if I had a few more fingers I could), I have to wonder what strange creatures they might be. I read their tweets, their little self-descriptions and I check their Web sites. That was how I learned this morning that Pam Mingle, fond of what-ifs and gelato and books, author of a novel called “Kissing Shakespeare”, had become my follower. “Kissing Shakespeare,” I was intrigued to learn, involves time travel, Shakespeare and love.

Pam Mingle’s blog was exactly the sort of writer’s blog I like best: serious without being self-important, full of practical advice and intriguing links. But I could not focus on the blog yet. I had to know more about the book.

Here is someone who had wrestled with exactly the problems I have been facing. Like, how do you send a person into the past in a way that is not annoyingly improbable and doesn’t become all about the science fiction? What would the time traveler notice when they got there? What would they be disgusted by? What would they like? What sort of person would they need to be? How do you solve the existential problems time travel creates without making too little of them or, again, making it too much about the science fiction? What about her decision to make this a YA book? Was that a good idea? What did she gain and what did she give up with that?

I had to know more about this book. It was the work of but a moment to log onto my public library Web site, download “Kissing Shakespeare” onto to my Kindle and start reading. I’ve only read a few chapters, but I am fascinated. She’s nailed it, I think. More on this later.

This is exactly what I needed to have happen this morning. And I owe it all to Twitter.