An Apprenticeship in Magic or The Art of Storytelling
I can still remember the smell of the library my mother used to bring me to when I was a child.
It was a combination of dust and aging flowers. Something pleasantly soothing that went hand in hand with the solitude of the building itself. The smell would rush out to meet you as soon as the glass door opened that sometimes reflected a blinding sunshine day or a sky clotted with storm clouds drizzling rain. It didn’t matter what the weather was outside because as soon as I smelled that soft, dusty scent of books the world went away. By the time my mom started bringing me to the library my two older siblings were already graduated and out of the house, my sister having bequeathed me several Stephen King and Dean Koontz novels by failing to pack them when she left for college. Needless to say, I bypassed the lower children’s level of the library and accompanied my mother to the adult sections on the upper floor. At the time I don’t think she knew if I was actually reading the books we checked out or if I simply wanted to be like her.
I devoured everything I could get my hands on by King and Koontz before discovering Robert R. McCammon, Richard Matheson, Clive Barker, Dan Simmons, and Peter Straub. Later it was Flannery O’Connor, Harper Lee, Ray Bradbury, Hemingway, and Steinbeck. But the seed had been planted early with the thrilling fear and tension I felt while reading horror and mysteries. To me, it was a type of magic to have that effect on someone who had simply read your words, a form of sorcery, and I wanted to do the same thing.
I realize now that I wasn’t simply reading the books that were in essence not age appropriate at the time, I was absorbing the way the stories were presented, how they were told. There was such eloquence to the words and how the novels unfolded, it was apparent this was where the magic came into play. When I began to try my hand at creating the same thing it fell far, far short. I recall letting my parents read my earliest work, sometime around the age of nine or ten, and having them encourage me, but I could see they weren’t experiencing the same thing I did when reading one of the many novels lining the shelves in my room. I needed to try harder. I needed to apprentice more.
So I read.
And read some more.
Over the years of continuing to read the authors I grew up on, I noticed something in my own work reflected in their fiction. It was changing. While King, Koontz, and all the others had always been masters of storytelling, their skills were becoming more and more honed. My writing had improved greatly with time and patience, but the knowledge that the people I’d been reading from a young age were still improving, still learning the craft gave me so much comfort. The idea that no matter how long I wrote I’d always be an apprentice to the magic of storytelling was humbling and exhilarating. I would imagine it’s the same feeling an astronomer gets peering through a telescope and glimpsing a distant galaxy but knowing there is so much beyond what their eyes can see.
So I owe where I am today to those who showed me the path with their words. They taught me that the magic has no end point, no pinnacle; it’s all about learning new spells along the way.
Joe Hart's THE LAST GIRL (Thomas & Mercer, March 1, 2016), is the first in his highly anticipated Dominion Trilogy.
With THE LAST GIRL, a mysterious worldwide epidemic reduces the birthrate of female infants from 50 percent to less than 1 percent. Medical science and governments around the world scramble in an effort to solve the problem, but twenty-five years later there is no cure, and an entire generation grows up with a population of fewer than a thousand women. Protagonist Zoey and some of the surviving young women are housed in a scientific research compound dedicated to determining the cause. For two decades, she’s been isolated from her family, treated as a test subject, and locked away—told only that the virus has wiped out the rest of the world’s population.
Captivity is the only life Zoey has ever known, and escaping her heavily armed captors is no easy task, but she’s determined to leave before she is subjected to the next round of tests—a program that no other woman has ever returned from. Even if she’s successful, Zoey has no idea what she’ll encounter in the strange new world beyond the facility’s walls. Winning her freedom will take brutality she never imagined she possessed, as well as all her strength and cunning—but Zoey is ready for war.
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