Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Guest Post with Gwen Perkins the author of The Universal Mirror

Hey everyone... I want you all to give a huge welcome to Gwen Perkins,  the author of The Universal Mirror.  She is with us today to talk about what she think makes a Great book!!  I want to thank Gwen for being with us here on Ali's Bookshelf as well!!! 

What makes a good book?

I read.  I read a lot.  It doesn't matter what I read most of the time, to be honest.  Reading's just as much a compulsion for me as it is any other kind of addict.  Once as a child, I stayed with people who owned no books.  I spent the time reading the backs of cereal boxes to learn about the content.

Clearly, I have a problem.

When I sat down to think about what makes a good book and how to communicate that in words, I realized that it wasn't as simple as I'd initially thought.  What am I enjoying right now?  A lot of books by small press authors—Kody Boye, Leigh M. Lane, Pete Giglio, Linda Wulf,  to name a few—but also a lot of books on medieval Byzantium.  Would I have enjoyed these books five years ago?  Fifteen?  Probably not.

There are certain things that I think all readers can agree make a good story—a believable plot, strong characterization, witty dialogue (and all these things are just as true of nonfiction as fiction, whether or not we think of that at the time).  That's thinking of it from a logical standpoint, however, when much of what we truly enjoy comes from the heart. 

A good book is the one that tells you something that you need to hear at that moment in time. 

My favorite heroine in literature when I was younger (and this hasn't really changed) was Jo in Little Women.  Jo was a tomboy who cut her hair short, whistled, and ran up to her attic to write constantly—she was someone that I could look up to and that I could see myself in.  Jo's story also ended happily but realistically.  She ended up writing books and running a school—whenever I wanted to think about what I was going to be when I grew up, that was where I retreated.

As I grew older, entering high school and feeling confused about my place in the world—and particularly my looks (I was as shallow as any girl ever was, even if I was too shy to own this)—I fell into science fiction and fantasy.  Why was that?  A little story called "The Burning of the Brain" by Cordwainer Smith was the first tale I read.  One of the characters in it was a woman who refused to change what she looked like and undergo youth treatments in spite of the society around her increasingly altering their own appearances.  She did this in order to be sure that her husband loved her for who she truly was, even though she was unable to believe it because of her own intellectual ability to do so.  In the end (though it is tragic), she comes to see the truth of his love.  In fact, that very theme runs through my own novel, The Universal Mirror, in which a husband is in love with a wife who cannot believe that he loves her because of her appearance. 

Reading stories like "Burning" teaches me about the world I live in.  Whether the lesson is that I need to understand that others perceive me in a different light than I perceive myself or that it is important to live out my dreams, the stories that connect are those that allow me to understand something.  Often, what I understand from them is personal.

In other cases, stories teach me about other people, not only the characters in the novel but the author as well.  I often find books more interesting if I read a bit about the person writing them.  Knowing that Edgar Allen Poe was writing poetry like "The Raven" as his wife, Virginia, was dying of consumption changes the flavor and the meaning of the poem for me.  There are times in my own life where I may reach out for a work written by an author during a difficult time, simply because I want to find comfort in knowing that I am not alone.  Likewise, there are times when all I want is a quick, breezy escape from the humdrum tasks of everyday life.

Like the world that I live in, I change a little every day and so do my tastes as a reader.  The books that I love most are those that remain with me because they contain some universal truth but also because they speak to not only the person that I am but the one that I'd like to be.  Is that true for you as well?  It all depends on what you're reaching out for when you take a book off your shelf.

Gwen Perkins is the author of The Universal Mirror, a fantasy novel published in 2012 by Hydra Publications. Read more about this book and her upcoming projects at

You can buy Gwen's book The Universal Mirror, by clicking the link below: 


Kim Justice said...

Awesome Guest Post... Loved that she loved Jo in Little Women.. And agree that as long as the story flows, has a good plot helps me to finish a book.

Anonymous said...

I found this post a terrific alternative to what could have been a mundane answer about character development or plot. I like the idea that what makes a book good or bad is not solely about the craft, but about the reader, what they need at the time, what touches them from the page, and what or who they connect with in the story. A great twist of perspective. Thanks Gwen.

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