Feig by Richard Bank – A Review by Ayesha F. Hamid

Whether natural or man-made, disasters and calamities create chaos and confusion.  After experiencing or witnessing such disasters, the human response is to question how such events could take place. Those that once believed in an omnipotent God can come to believe that we live in a universe devoid of God or one in which God does not care about humanity. The Holocaust was just such an event where the mass murder of millions was done with cold calculation, efficiency, and automation.  Richard D. Bank’s novel, Feig, explores the lives of characters who were irrevocably changed by the Holocaust, either by experiencing it first hand or by growing up in homes where survivors: kept secrets, broke down privately, and shielded others from the horrors that they had experienced.

In the beginning of this novel, Philadelphia attorney David Gold meets Jacob Feig, a Holocaust Survivor, and a short time after their first meeting, Feig is accused of his wife’s murder.  David decides to defend Feig, and when he is forced to learn about Feig’s past, he has no choice but to face his own.  For David, learning more about Feig will change his life in profound ways, altering the way he sees the past and the way he lives his future.

Bank seamlessly weaves the stories of David Gold, his family’s past, and the life and trial of Jacob Feig into one novel, so that the reader experiences the interplay of three independent and compelling narratives. Reading Feig, one becomes thoroughly engrossed, so that every recollection, movement, or action becomes consequential, and through this story, the reader comes to remember the true meaning of friendship. The friendships, which form in the story, are not friendships of convenience or exigency.  Rather, they are bonds that show the existence of something more profound, perhaps the existence of the human soul, which stirs even in the middle of madness.

This novel enlightens, reminding the reader that even in the midst of the worst tragedies, humanity can transcend, finding in others the strength that is needed to go on.  It is a story which poignantly explores the bonds of family and friendship.  Feig is revelatory, showing the reader:  that everything is connected, that we belong to a larger family, and that sometimes friends can take monumental roles in our lives, placing them squarely within our family, the human family.

Creating Successful Conflicts, Climaxes, and Resolutions by Ayesha F. Hamid

In order for a story to be successful, its writer must move readers by creating a sense of conflict and resolution. Prose must have conflict, which works up to a climax. The climax is the point after which the protagonist’s challenge resolves itself in one way or the other; characters’ lives will be simpler or more difficult, happy or sad, successful or failed as a result of what happens at this juncture. 

We all have these moments whether they be getting a job, buying a house, getting married or divorced, or having children. These events are the forks in the road. Choosing one way over the other has profound and long-last effects on the way our lives unfold.

Since this ebb and flow mirrors life, the reader will naturally search for it in prose. It can be argued that fiction, or any writing for that matter, will not be convincing if it lacks this rhythmic movement. This essay will show how and why writers should create a variety of conflict and resolution in their work. Sometimes, a simple conflict, climax, and resolution scenario is not the most effective way to tell a story.

A story does not necessarily have to “build up” to a climax; this is to say that there does not need to be a linear progression into a climax. As some of the upcoming examples will demonstrate, the climax can sometimes be found in the beginning of a novel with the exposition taking place later. Instead of one major climax, maybe the protagonist will be confronted by a group of conflicts and resolutions. This may be the case if the character is dealing with an issue, which follows him or her throughout life. Perhaps the protagonist will deal with something that is isolating, or maybe a character will live through something that does not allow that character to recover.

Although all novels have resolutions, it is important to note that not all resolutions are happy or convenient. Some may experience convenient resolutions to their conflicts while others do not. The fact that not all authors create resolutions that are convenient or “happy” makes these works more realistic and oftentimes more compelling.  After all, in real life, not everything leads to a happy ending. Even in movies, it is oftentimes the more complicated story, without a happy ending, which is the most moving.  Good examples of such movies are Million Dollar Baby, Titanic, and My Sister’s Keeper.

Thornton Wilder’s The Bridge of San Luis Rey is an important work to consider because in the beginning of the novel, the climax has already happened; an accident occurred on a well-known bridge, the bridge of San Luis Rey and killed four of the book’s central characters. The writer goes on to consider the accident and what it means. Everything that happens from the beginning to the end of the story revolves around these deaths, the histories of those involved in the accident, and the characters’ lives before they died.  The climax is the starting point of the novel and a skillfully drawn-out exposition and resolution make up the rest of the book. When dealing with profound subjects such as fate and the nature of humanity, as Wilder does, it can make sense to have a nonlinear movement in the story.

Another example of a book with effectively creates conflicts, climaxes, and resolutions is Traci Slatton’s Immortal, which is a story of survival. The main character Luca is different from everyone else around him; many years elapse, but Luca, unlike others, ages very slowly. The overwhelming conflict in Luca’s life is his uniqueness; he hides and attempts to escape scrutiny but is scrutinized nonetheless. He searches for answers, which elude him, and he is isolated in a mortal world.

In Immortal, the reader is also introduced to a major conflict and climax in the beginning of the book.  Luca is living on the street with a trusted companion, Massimo. Massimo betrays him, and this betrayal changes Luca’s life profoundly; after he is accused of theft, Luca is sent to live in a brothel where he is held prisoner and prostituted. The reader is shocked and drawn in immediately Immortal is not a story in which the protagonist is trying to create an ordinary and fulfilling life; this resolution will evade him all his life. The purpose of his existence, to find understanding, will also evade him for most of his life. When dealing with a book that will not resolve conveniently or happily, it can be effective to introduce conflict right in the beginning of the story, as Slatton does in Immortal. This sets the reader up for the character’s bleak future, and sparse moments of happiness.

There are a variety of ways to create successful conflicts, climaxes, and resolutions in a story. Although it is thought that an exposition should lead to a climax, this does not always have to be the case. Writers can create a more convincing story by veering away from the simple conflict, climax -resolution formula. To figure out what works best, the writer should consider their story and create a conflict, climax, and resolution that are unique. Sometimes, an author may choose to have a major conflict or climax resolve in the beginning of the story like in The Bridge of San Luis Rey. This might be a good option for stories which will not necessarily have a convenient or happy resolution. Others may choose to have a conflict run throughout the story, as is the case with Immortal. This may also be a good idea for woks which will not have a happy or convenient ending. The decision on how to work conflicts and resolutions into the story is unique to the story being told, and when done with careful thought, can make the story more profound, compelling, and interesting to the reader.

A.S. Byatt’s Possession – A Review by Ayesha F. Hamid

Possession is intriguing from the first line, and the title is apt because reading it will have you you will be “possessed” by it. It is a must read for writers because the book gives great examples of: complex plot structure, use of descriptive vocabulary and masterful syntax, and a way to keep the reader intrigued until the very last line.

Thus, in terms of the plot, there’s not just one story in this book rather, the novel is a story within a story, which is part of a larger story. Presenting such a plot is not an easy task to accomplish, but the writer makes sure that all parts of the story fit together seamlessly.

Placing the reader into two completely separate worlds, the author immerses us into Victorian as well as contemporary England; Byatt situates us in the contemporary, academic world, a world of dissertations, professors, libraries, and research, as well as a past where Victorian poets thrived in their artistic communities.

The story begins with a discovery. Roland Michell, a research assistant stumbles onto writing that seems to have been tucked inside a library book by none other than well-known Victorian poet, Randolph Henry Ash.  Roland keeps this discovery secret because figuring out how the new information fits into the existing scholarship could revolutionize the way the world sees Randolph Henry Ash. Revealing the secret; however, would mean that Roland would quickly be dismissed from pursuing the work further. Also, he would not be credited with making the discovery in the first place. Nevertheless, he enlists the help of Maud Bailey, an expert on the subject of Victorian poets. Unlike others, both characters simply want to learn the truth and do not care about the fame that may come with it. What they learn does revolutionize the way the world looks at Victorian poetry, as well as Randolph Henry Ash.

Crafting an incomparable work, Byatt ends Possession by showing us that we can miss right what is in front of us. Readers of Possession will miss what is right in front of them, and what is missed is what will stay with the reader.

Not only does the writer place us precisely in a setting where students yearn for knowledge and academic achievement, but she also makes us into one of the students. Every chapter starts with an insightful poem, an observation, or quotation that the reader (student) can consider.

So, the reader is pulled into a world of clues, literary hypotheses, and secrets, and while considering the book, the reader needs to make meaning of complex and well-crafted language. Throughout the book, Byatt’s language is detailed, descriptive, and dense, and this language helps the reader to be immersed into the Victorian, as well as academic world. The reader is brought into the puzzle as line upon expertly written line takes him or her deeper into the story. The author isn’t using gimmicks here – Rather, we are dealing with an extremely well-thought-out piece of literature.

After reading this book, I understood exactly why Possession was the recipient of the Booker Literary Prize in 1991. The book offers the reader at least four, well-crafted, major subplots within the larger plot. Also, Possession cannot be read passively because the author makes the reader an active participant in the book; the author involves the reader. This book makes a promise that not all books can:  The reader will be challenged and changed by this book. For this reason, among others, Possession is an extremely valuable read for writers, as well as those who love literature. The intellect of the dedicated writer, and even the occasional reader, will benefit from exploring this book.

Catt Colborn – An Interview by Ayesha F. Hamid

I recently spoke to Cathy (Cat) Colborn, author, creator of the an online journal, and Philadelphia representative for WragsInk Publishing. Colborn has been writing and drawing since she had her first easy reader as a child.  Today, she’s become a jack-of-all trades in the creative-writing and publishing worlds.

Colborn is the founder of a well-known, online journal called Philly Flash  Inferno. The inception of the journal started approximately five years ago; Cathy and a friend remarked that “flash fiction was taking over the writing scene.” Colborn and her cofounders loved this genre and decided to create a journal in which people could submit their flash. Although flash fiction was the reason that the magazine was formed, it now accepts other genres of writing, including poetry and fiction. “Philly Flash Inferno has become something of a cult classic in the Philly tri-state area, almost like a little “Weird NJ” on the literary market,” says Colborn.

When asked what she would recommend to up-and-coming writers, Colborn says that in the publishing world, self-promotion is key. “I know I’m not going anywhere, even if the big publishing houses come knocking, if I don’t promote myself.” Cathy not only promotes herself, but also looks for ways that she can help colleagues to get their work out there.  Knowing her for several years, I’ve noticed that she’s great at networking, always offering others advice and resources. She’s not only linked to a number of writers, but also friends with a variety of visual and graphic artists. Cathy is the first person I turn to when someone asks me if I know of an artist for a project. Also linked to the world of photography, Cathy is married to award-winning photographer, Shawn Colborn.

Aside from working in publishing, Cathy also plans to teach as a creative-writing professor. She would like to take the lessons she’s learned from her mentors at Rosemont’s MFA program and pass on the knowledge to other students. Colborn is excited “about the process of being on the other side of the desk and seeing this thing come full circle.” Cathy’s novel, Madame Lola’s Marvelously Amazing Medicine Show, is now available at Amazon.