Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Lessons from the Vinyl Cafe

Stuart McLean leads a charmed public life. He hosts a radio program on CBC that reminds us of the quirky wonderfulness of being Canadian, and being human.

My husband bought me Secrets From the Vinyl Cafe for Christmas. I read it in large bites, often at the end of the day when I picked it up looking for respite- and finding it within these pages.

What's great about the book isn't the writing (although it's very good), it's the feeling. Tone, voice. McLean nails it on nearly every story.

Oh, yeah, the book is a composite of stories about people who live in the same town. The secrets are often funny, sometimes absurd, but always human. And that's why these stories stand out in today's marketplace. There is a Paul Harvey feel, a Norman Rockwell tone that one never quiet gets tired of. In fact, there were times I found myself looking forward to joining these characters again, to see what's next. There is a calm gentleness to the series that you don't find often anymore. I'm not complaining. I don't think every book should be like this one. I'm just very glad there are books like this around still.

It was a Christmas of secrets. From those found at the Vinyl Cafe, to those found in the pages of PostSecret.com's newest book A Lifetime of Secrets. Not strictly fiction, not strictly non-fiction, the book is a collection of postcards each of which contains a single secret. The artwork is enough to make you want to read the book. More than a foray into voyeurism, this collection (and the other three postsecret.com books, which I also received, all from my wonderful hubby), is a journey into what was, what is, and what could be about being human. I include it here because I think it deserves to be talked about, but also because I think the postcards contain enough fiction to count. Sometimes the secret is that they wish the thing they write about really was their secret (I suspect). Anyway, it's lovely and should be read. You can check out new secrets each Sunday at www.postsecret.com.

Both these books serve as inspiration for my writing. As I contemplate a book series based on my short story The Stuckville Cafe, I draw both inspiration from McLean, and hope that a book about the quirky, but, ultimately quiet lives of human beings can be enjoyable and successful in today's Marketplace (I feared I may have come to the party too late). From the PostSecret books I pull inspiration for characterization. It's a reminder to ensure no character is flat, or one dimensional. Everyone has secrets (I have written about secrets in a previous post you may enjoy, just scroll down from this post), and every secret, in one way or another, plays out in public.

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