Have you read Caraval by Stephanie Garber? No?
It’s an imaginative tale that takes place in an alternate universe where there is a legendary, invitation-only, magical carnival-game. Two sisters, Scarlett and Tella, abused by their father, escape to the game to experience adventure and attempt to win the prize, a single wish. But Caraval isn’t the only place where magic lives. Through her ability to see emotions in vivid colors—”the urgent red of burning coals,” “the eager green of new grass buds”—you sense that Scarlett has a magic of her own.
What if I told you Garber wanted the book to feel like “a Baz Lurhman movie and a Florence and the Machine song”? That alone would have made me want to read it. But I hadn’t read her interview with Books Inc. when I added Caraval to my reading list; the impetus for me was much more more self-serving.
When I took the leap into the writer life last year, I told myself that I was not writing for fun or for my own amusement; no, I wrote because I wanted to be published, to share my work with others and entertain them in the same way that so many books had entertained and moved me over the years.
That meant that in addition to considering writing as a craft, I needed to think of it as a business. So while I set daily word quotas for myself to make sure I made progress towards finishing my book, I also thought about reaching my readers, creating a following. Since my book is set at my alma mater in Northern California, one day I googled “writers from Sonoma State University.”
Guess who popped up? Yes, Stephanie Garber. How fun!, I thought. When my book is published, maybe Stephanie and I can do some kind of book reading/signing event at SSU. Brilliant! <these are the kinds of fantasies I have to keep myself writing…>
Then, of course, I read Stephanie’s book, and yes, it’s delightful. I can see why it has been optioned for a movie: captivating setting, diabolical—maybe?—characters, coming-of-age romance. But that’s not why I want you to read it.
If you are an aspiring writer, I don’t doubt you will enjoy Caraval, but you will LOVE Stephanie Garber’s “Acknowledgements” at the end of the book:
When I started writing I had no idea how long and difficult my journey to publication would be. Caraval was not the first book I’d written, or the second, or the third, or the fourth, or the fifth. Before I finished this book, I’d been confronted with every reason to give up on writing. Thankfully, and in huge part because of everyone I’m about to mention, that did not happen.
Caraval is Stephanie’s love song to writing. If it hadn’t been picked up, it might have been her swan song as a writer. She had moved back in with her parents to write it; attended book launches where everyone but her, all her friends, had agents; wracked in close to 200 rejections to her query letters. Her future as a writer felt bleak.
And then: Caraval.
It was as if the magic within the legendary game of Caraval seeped into Stephanie’s own life, fulfilling her writerly dreams. But we know it wasn’t magic, or at least not only magic. She got there from hard work, perseverance, faith—attributes we all can cultivate, thank goodness.
If you haven’t read Caraval, you can be part of the magic. And then when it’s our turn for perseverance to transform our lives into a waking dream, our readers will enjoy the magic too.
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