Wednesday, January 9, 2013

A guest post by Jacquelyn Mitchard


Today's guest post is brought to you courtesy of Jacquelyn Mitchard! Her newest book, What We Saw At Night, focuses on the sport/lifestyle of Parkour. Her mission today is to share with you a little bit about her research into the subject, and how it plays into the book! Enjoy!

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When I found out that my son had done Parkour, and above the ground, building to building, I was horrified at first. Then I learned more about it, and the total beauty of the sport (I should call it a discipline, not a sport because it's more like tai chi or some other martial art than a sport) just transfixed me. I watched YouTube videos for hours, studying the moves, and how the best "tracers" were able to move effortlessly from level to level on a building (Parkour is mostly practiced in cities, and mostly away from the eyes of people who could arrest you for doing it). They leaped down full flights of stone stairs and landed safely, or from a second story onto grass and rolled to a standing position. The passage from roof to roof, sometimes on unequal levels, was terrifying at first to watch. And the way they made it look easy was puzzling, because these people were not born this way.

Then I got hold of some video of the French founder, David Belle, the son of the man who first invented the idea of Parkour as a military strategy. The idea was that you could get out of a bad situation just with using the strength and speed and sure footedness of your own body. You would never have to stop at an obstacle because "bouldering" and "lzchay" and other ways of leaping and swinging and vaulting could allow you to overcome almost anything in your path. What surprised me is that Parkour is not all about being a risk taker. It's all about safety and sureness. The best "tracers" train for weeks and months for every hour of actual tracing they do -- running, lifting weights, increasing leg strength, practicing over and over so that the move becomes second nature. 

David Belle was a real stickler for safety, so what looks like a crazy daredevil thing like bungee jumping are really very, very disciplined people who enjoy the thrill, sure, but also the power you get from knowing you're doing something amazing in a way that's minimizing your own risk. And also, in the book, I was able to give the Parkour a real purpose -- because more than once, Allie Kim has to use her Parkour skills to evade someone dangerous who would be bigger and stronger than her in an ordinary matchup, but is no match for her Parkour ability. A "tracer" does something called "deriving" the scene. That means he or she "sees" the whole course ahead, almost and is able to spot the parts that are going to be trouble, so that the person becomes part of the landscape -- like a shadow or a cougar. It's a very powerful thing, almost a spiritual thing.

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Jacquelyn Mitchard’s first novel, The Deep End of the Ocean, was named by USA Today as one of the ten most influential books of the past 25 years – second only to the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling (but second by a long shot, it must be said.)

The Deep End of the Ocean was chosen as the first novel in the book club made famous by the TV host Oprah Winfrey, and transformed into a feature film produced by and starring Michelle Pfeiffer.

All of Mitchard’s novels have been greater or lesser bestsellers – and include The Most Wanted, A Theory of Relativity, Twelve Times Blessed, The Breakdown Lane and Cage of Stars. Critics have praised them for their authentic humanity and skilful command of story. Readers identify because they see reflected, in her characters – however extreme their circumstances – emotions they already understand.
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