The Soul of Place

by Angie Hilbert
( August 5th, 2015 )

The Soul of PlaceI started The Soul of Place by Linda Lappin while I walked my dogs. With my kindle set to “text-to-speech” and earphones fixed snug in my ears, the dogs and I set out for our morning stroll. In less than a quarter mile, I was running home for my notebook. Poor Paka & Fable are well-accustomed to a relaxing morning stroll around the neighborhood. Instead, I was pulling them home at a trot, praying that I’d make it to a pen in time to jot down the images occurring to me as I listened to the first writing exercise in The Soul of Place. Alas, I lost a few gems but the those I retained included a few lines that just might be the most beautiful passage I have ever written. (You’ll see that passage in October when my launch my serial zombie horror story for Halloween!)

What is the soul of place?

The book’s full title is, The soul of place: A Creative Writing Workbook: Ideas and Exercises for Conjuring the Genius Loci. In her introduction, Linda explains that the ancient classical world believed that a sentient spirt inhabited every place. People had to collaborate with his entity if they wanted success in farming, fishing, or simply inhabiting a place. This spirit was called the genius loci or the soul of place. When we say a writer personifies the landscape or that s/he makes a city a “character” in a work of fiction, that writer is evoking the soul of place in their writing.

Making friends with the genius loci

First The Soul of Place helps you consciously explore what gives a place it’s sense of spirit Then it helps you creatively express it in different ways on the page. It doesn’t matter if you are writing a novel, a travel essay, memoir or just keeping a travel journal. These exercises bring your attention to the elements in your environment you usually only experience on an sub-conscious level. When you begin to interact with your surroundings in a mindful way, you end up writing about them more richly. The Soul of Place helps you do for the places you write about what Brandon Stanton did for the Humans of New York. It helps you make them more human.

So what exactly is in this book?

The Soul of Place is a workbook. Each of the five sections explores a different dimension of what gives a location it’s soul. Each section gives examples of how writers evoked that aspect and suggests several exercises to help you experiment with it using a place that’s meaningful to you. For some exercises you should actually be in the environment you are writing about. For others, it’s enough to think back and remember places you have been.

What wander~writers will love

  • This book gives you a conscious way to explore the power of place and trains you to evoke it in your own writing.

  • Through experimenting with the exercises, a simple stroll through your neighborhood can become a creative meditation.

  • You just might end up like me and write one of the best passages of prose you’ve ever written!

  • Using the exercises from the workbook while traveling will help you get more out of your travel experiences and enrich your memories of them.

Read ~ Write ~ Wander


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Go Set a Watchman

by Angie Hilbert
( July 27th, 2015 )

Go Set a WatchmanI wasn’t sure I wanted to read Go Set a Watchman. Any book that is published after the author is reportedly too ill and senile to participate in the process is highly suspect at best. Given that it was “discovered” (from where Lee had purposely hidden it from us) only after the death of her sister and advocate is downright disturbing. I do feel I have betrayed a writer by reading the publication of work she did not want brought to the public. I make no attempt to ennoble this act. I read Go Set a Watchman for selfish reasons and I have wronged Harper Lee by doing so.

At first, I tried to tell myself I “should” read it because, as a literary blogger that focuses on fiction with a strong sense of place, I “need” to review Go Set a Watchman; that I would be remiss if I didn’t. But Scout would never let me get away with that sort of self-important rationalization so I’ll just be honest with you. I was curious. I was selfish. I wanted more of Harper Lee’s writing voice.

You know what I’m talking about. She has the strength of character to be honest but the sincere love for her community to be kind. Through the fiction of To Kill a Mockingbird she points out the flaws, hypocrisy, and self-interest of racist attitudes but does it with insightful compassion and deep affection for her family and community. Scout is the literary twin sister of Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn. She cuts through the crap people tell themselves to reveal the ugly truth inside them but does so without her own agenda and free of guile or cynicism. I need more of that in my life. I think we all do. I was greedy and wanted to hear Lee speak in the language of fiction some more. I can only hope she might have the same compassion for me reading the abandoned version of her efforts as she has for the racist community of her childhood.

What you read when (if) you read Go Set a Watchman is not a sequel of To Kill a Mockingbird. It is an unsuccessful effort to compassionately convey the complexities of white southern attitudes towards blacks. It got too preachy, too much righteous indignation toward the fine folks of Macolm and not enough insightful realization. When grown-up Jean Louise does come to recognize the nuance of human integrity and social progress it is not through a childlike epiphany, it is through a long and tedious sermon from her uncle. I suspect Lee recognized that this version, while still morally upright, failed to be engaging to a reader. In this effort, she discovered she was really good at writing childhood scenes and came up with the idea to try conveying her upright theme through the eyes of Scout as a tomboy child instead of as an annoying, cynical new-graduate home from college. It was the right decision.

Am I sorry I read Go Set a Watchman?

Maybe… a little…  I’m not sorry I read it but I am sorry I lacked the moral conviction not to. It didn’t ruin the magic of To Kill a Mockingbird for me. I appreciated (so very much!) the insight into Harper Lee’s writing process. I feel like I got a glimpse of how her beautiful writing voice developed, how revision strengthens a work of fiction, how point of view can make such a difference in narrative. I am grateful for those insights. But what I selfishly loved most of all, was hearing Lee speak again. Go Set a Watchman has glimpses of that beautiful nostalgia, compassion, and sense of justice that makes To Kill a Mockingbird such a favorite of all who read it. I am grateful for my (cruelly stolen) opportunity to possess just a few more of those literary gems. Yes, even the ones she didn’t want me to have.

As an abandoned draft, there are inconsistencies between To Kill a Mockingbird and Go Set a Watchman. Not just the painful experience of growing up and seeing the adults you idolized as a child are actually flawed human beings like yourself, but actual differences in the facts of the plot. For example, In Go Set a Watchman, Scout remembers Atticus winning the acquittal of Tom Robinson. Kind of the whole point of To Kill a Mockingbird was that even though the proof was overwhelming that Tom was innocent, the white jury convicted him anyway. So if you succumb to the temptation of reading Go Set a Watchman like I diddo so with a full understanding of what it is: not a sequel of To Kill a Mockingbird, but an early, failed, and abandoned literary attempt to convey the theme of To Kill a Mockingbird.

Go Set a Watchman was just a stepping stone to the great American classic you have come to love. Reading it is like seeing clues to how the magician does the trick. If you are interested in learning how to make that kind of magic, Watchman will give you marvelous insights. If you just wish to bask in the glory of the unspoiled illusion of effortless perfection, you might want to give it a pass.

What about you? Have you read Go Set a Watchman? Will you? What do you think?

Read ~ Write ~ Wander


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The Etruscan by Linda Lappin

by Angie Hilbert
( July 13th, 2015 )

 The Etruscan by Linda LapineWhat do you think of when you think of Italy?

Warm sunshine, olive oil, wine, and noisy dinners with friends laughing around a table perhaps? Or maybe the thought of Italy brings to mind the white marble of ancient rome, the colosseum and Palatine hill.

The idea of a dark gothic tale set in sunny Italy during the roaring twenties seemed contradictory but as I started reading The Etruscan by Linda Lappin I discovered this was a different Italy than the one I was expecting.

“In the murky puddle of rainwater collected at the entrance of the tomb, I spied my own reflection, a dark, hatted figure against a pewter sky.”

Linda introduces us to a very different Italy. In The Etruscan the road is muddy, the wind sharp and the night damp—everything you need for a creepy tale. Instead of the expected gregarious feasters, there is a taciturn man. Instead of the scent of garlic and Italian herbs, the kitchen  odors are dust, mildew and damp. Instead of marble temples, there are stone tombs. This wet, cold Italy is unnerving. I felt off-balance and insecure (the perfect mood for a gothic!)

Early in the book, I didn’t like how distant the protagonist and her best friend seemed after being reunited after a long absence. It felt uncomfortably distant. I chalked it up to awkward writing but read on. By this time I was invested in the story even if the relationship was awkwardly depicted. Once the protagonist was alone again, and I began questioning her perceptions, I realized it wasn’t awkward writing at all in the previous chapter. It was purposefully vague. The protagonist was becoming distant, aloof, maybe even obsessed.

The Etruscan kept me deliciously off-balance for the entire ride. Just when I thought I figured something out, I discovered it was something else entirely… then I discovered it wasn’t even that. I can see why Linda Lappin won the Daphne Du Maurier Prize last year. She is wickedly good at making you feel like something just isn’t quite right, but you can’t quite put your finger on it, until it bites your finger off!

What wander-readers will love:

  • An unexpected wet, gothic Italy that comes to life as they read.

  • Subtle gems of Etruscan custom and culture scattered throughout.

  • A literary tour of an Etruscan tomb.

My favorite things:

  • Mrs. Parsons! (Seriously, I need a Mrs. Parsons in my life.)

  • An surprising, unusual romantic interest, nothing is cliche about the count.

  • The utter lack of explanation past the point you think you should have figured things out. Seriously, Linda Lappin outsmarted me and I LOVED it.

  • You can get an Amazon free download of The Etruscan this week!



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