Thursday, January 21, 2010
I mentioned two different e-mails that sparked the grinding of my mental wheels. One from a novelist friend who shared the tale of two checks. Let me share a bit before telling you about the second e-mail.
In the past few years I've read hundreds of books. All kinds and all across the spectrum of literary merit. Some I couldn't review because I feel a review needs to be able to offer something good to say, or at least one type of people group to steer that direction. (If you hate selfish, whiny main characters make sure you pick up this book!) But some.
Some books are transcendent. They move me, transport me and delight me. Oh, it is a rare and delicious experience to find a book that connects with my senses and my soul. Sigh.
Then there is the middle ground. Some really nice people tell some really adequate and entertaining and even thought-provoking stories. Some folks have buckled down, studied the market and decided that they WOULD be published. And whatever road that ended up being on, they'd go for it. So with a twist to their writing they coalesce their research, their training and their talent into a book that will sell. Right now, in the Christian fiction market, Amish is big. And there are a load of Amish themed books to choose from. I don't have a single issue with any of these hardworking folks (remember my post...the likelihood that a novelist makes pathetically less than minimum wage.) Actually, I admire them. They are the true worker bees, the reliable, the hard-working, the ones who are making their dreams happen.
But. I can't find that drive within. I don't want to write just to say I have. I don't want to be published just to hold a book in my hand and see my name on the glossy cover. I don't want to spin word webs unless I have something to say, and I want to be able to say it transcendentally. If I create, I want word tapestries that make readers laugh, think, sigh or weep.
And I just don't have that story within me. I can't find that character who screams to be fleshed out. I can't feel that situation that compels me to grasp at solutions and forces me to lose sleep.
Enter the second e-mail.
Within my critique group was a woman who masterfully spun words. I walked with her characters. And she kept refining and rewriting, always working on bettering her craft. And she was the one who's praise and critiques I coveted. A "well-done" from her was rare and a cause for celebration. And I collected those comments and stuck them away for encouragement on dark days. She didn't toss out "good" lightly and she critiqued word by word, thought by thought and ruthlessly. We've both stepped away from actively critiquing. But occasionally keep in touch.
She e-mailed me out of the blue. The Subject line said. "Good book." She tossed out the title and author and simply wrote.
"You must read it. She writes fiction in a style not unlike your own."
What she was saying, was that this author's voice was similar to mine. Voice is basically who you are leeching out into your life, into all that you do, all that you touch. It's your personality, your experiences, your passions, your dreams, your very soul combined and flavoring what you do and say. We all have a voice. The thing that causes people to say. "This is so you!" or "I knew you'd love it!" It is the perfume of me that I leave behind when I step out of a room.
Hmmm. How could I pass up this suggestion? She was telling me that she knew me and that she saw a like-minded person out there who processed like me and sent out a similar scent. After wondering if I could get it at the library or if I should just go ahead and order it, I put the thoughts aside and started organizing the book stacks in my bedroom and realized I actually had the book in my possession. (Sometimes I get books I've not agreed to read and review and sometimes they are far outside of my interest area and I'll not ever get to it. Usually these are pre-release copies with errors and not even something I can give to someone and pretend I purchased it. : ) ) This book was one of those and it sat at the bottom of the stack. The stinking thing was Sci-Fi/Fantasy. My heart sunk. Sci-Fi/Fantasy only ranks slightly above romance in my preferences. But her suggestion, and her likening the author's voice to my style/voice was too much to ignore.
Six chapters into this book I'm floored. The story has grabbed me and the voice has wrapped around me like a cozy, old-friend sweater. I know it's going to continue to pull at me and may very well end up breaking my heart. And I see a little of myself in the Pauline sentences, the cadence, the thoughts of the hero and heroine. There is quirk and there is an underlying theme of sadness.
Now. What does this mean for me? I don't know. I guess I'll continue to process and absorb, attempt to stretch and grow, and wait for my story, the one that can only be written by me, the one that clutches me by the throat and won't let me go. I am not inspired to mediocrity or just producing for the audience. And I'm definitely not inspired by money. : ).