Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Bookstore Memories and writing A Trick of the Light by Lois Metzger

A Trick of the Light
By Lois Metzger
Published by Balzer + Bray
Hardcover: 208 pages
Available: June 18, 2013

Mike Welles had everything under control.
He was a good student, an outfielder on the baseball team, a good son, a loyal friend. But that was before. Now things are rough at home, and they're getting confusing at school. He's losing his sense of direction, and he feels like a mess.
Then there's a voice in his head. A friend, trying to help him regain control. More than that: The voice can guide him to become better and stronger than he was before, to rid his life of everything holding him back. To figure out who he is again. If only Mike will listen.
Writing with devastating power and precision, acclaimed author Lois Metzger gives us the story of one young man's battle with his own shadows -- a spare, stark, and vital tale of the way in which the things we build to protect ourselves can threaten to destroy us.

 A Trick of the Light is out today and I am honored to host author Lois Metzger on my blog. When I asked her to share her favorite bookstore memory from the perspective as a reader or a writer, she shared that they don't necessarily have to be separate. 

Welcome Lois Metzger!!

It was the year after college. I was living on Telegraph Avenue in Oakland, California, working as a "temp," which meant I got sent out on a new office job every few days. Mostly I was a typist, but I also filed, ran errands, answered phones, took messages.

On my block on Telegraph Avenue, there was a Laundromat I went to regularly and, right next to it, a tiny science-fiction bookstore I would linger in while the clothes were spinning. It was basically a narrow horseshoe-shaped hall with books floor to ceiling; you just made your way down one aisle and came back up the other way. There were ancient issues of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Astounding, Galaxy, and anthologies such as Harlan Ellison's Dangerous Visions, and musty old paperbacks, some of them Ace Doubles, which meant you could read an entire novel, flip the book over, and then read another novel. I don't even remember that store's name but it had a profound effect on me.

Now, I'm a science-fiction fan from way back. My junior year at the State University of New York at Buffalo, my writing teacher was the legendary SF (please, never sci-fi) writer Samuel R. Delany. He asked me if I'd ever heard of the Clarion Writers' Workshop, which was just for science-fiction writers. I said no. He told me to go there. So I did, for six weeks during the summer of 1975, at the campus of Michigan State University, in East Lansing. A new teacher came every week (my year, there were Samuel R. Delany, Joe Haldeman, Gene Wolfe, Roger Zelazny, and the final two weeks were co-taught by married writers Kate Wilhelm and Damon Knight). My classmates included Robert Crais, Kim Stanley Robinson, and Gregory Frost, who've gone on to great things (and I'm very proud and happy to say we are still friends after all these years). I also wound up living with Kate and Damon briefly; they had a bunch of kids from previous marriages and I always felt like one of them.

So for years I read a lot of science fiction, and wrote a lot of science fiction, but there was one writer who always scared me: Philip K. Dick. I thought he would be too "out there" for me, that his alternate worlds and shifting realities would make my head hurt.

One day, while doing laundry, I headed into that tiny SF bookstore. This time, at the end of the narrow hall, I picked up an almost-crumbling issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction. There was a short story called "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale." Wonderful title. And it was by Philip K. Dick. I bit the bullet, stood there and read it.

Okay, I was hooked. It was so imaginative, and funny, and had so twists and turns -- a bit dizzying, but it didn't make my head hurt. It has to do with implanted memories, and suppressed memories, and people who are not who they say they are. That story, later the basis for the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie Total Recall and the Colin Farrell 2012 remake of the same title, has inspired me to this day.

My new book, A Trick of the Light, is about a 15-year-old boy, Mike Welles, who develops an eating disorder. He has a voice in his head. This voice urges him on to destructive behavior. It tells him not to eat when he is famished. It tells him to exercise when he is exhausted. It tells him to reject the people who love him, because they are not trustworthy. This voice is the narrator of the book.

When I started writing A Trick of the Light, it was a more conventional narrative. Mike, from the beginning, had a voice in his head, which interrupted his thoughts and actions, but Mike told his own story. As the novel deepened and got more complicated, the voice became more of a presence and took up more "air time." Finally, in one of many rewrites, it became the narrator.

It occurred to me that this was kind of strange, to have the voice in someone's head be the narrator of a book. But I had read a lot of Philip K. Dick by then, including what's now my favorite of his, Time Out of Joint, about a man living in a totally fake environment (though it appears to be an ordinary, dull-as-dishwater suburb), surrounded by people who are all "in on it." So I figured, strange is okay. Strange is good. Strange is what makes the alternate world go round. I had found the way to tell Mike's story.

© 2013 Lois Metzger, author of A Trick of the Light

Author Bio
Lois Metzger,
 author of A Trick of the Light, was born in Queens and has always written for young adults. She is the author of three previous novels and two nonfiction books about the Holocaust, and she has edited five anthologies. Her short stories have appeared in collections all over the world. Her writing has also appeared in The New Yorker, The Nation, and Harper's Bazaar. She lives in Greenwich Village with her husband and son.

For more information please visit http://www.loismetzger.com, and follow the author on Facebook

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