Hello, fellow bibliophiles!
In this, my first-ever blogpost, I’d like to introduce myself by telling you what and why I read as well as what and why I write, for to me they are two sides of one coin, interdependent and mutually sustaining.
As noted on my website, Going Widdershins is my first novel but my third book. My professional career began as an art historian, and art history/criticism was the focus of my earlier writings. So, why the switch to fiction? The short answer is that after years of studying, researching, teaching and writing about the creative efforts of others, I wanted to create something that was my own.
Art history had begun to feel derivative and secondhand, like the finger pointing at the moon instead of the moon, or to use another Zen adage, like the map instead of the territory. Having been an English major as an undergraduate, I chose fiction as my medium because I had never stopped reading it and the love of great literature is in my DNA.
Of course, the reasons anyone reads fiction vary widely: to focus on the lives others rather than our own; to luxuriate in the exotic atmosphere of a faraway land or an epoch long past; to experience danger, intrigue and mayhem within the comforts of our home or a heady romance between the pages of a book; to laugh out loud at life’s absurdities or be charmed by characters wittier than the people we know.
However, at day’s end, subject matter doesn’t matter. Whether the genre be western, mystery, literary, thriller or farce, I read to stimulate my mind, gladden my heart, deepen the way I see the world and experience my life. I read in order to be changed. I value most those books that give me something back in return for the energy, emotion and attention I have given them. However, if, after turning the last page, I’ve derived nothing I can hold in my hand and put up to the light to see if it’s real, honest or meaningful in some way, I feel that my life has been precisely shortened by the amount of time wasted.
Like most writers, perhaps all, I read a lot. I’d never think of going to a doctor’s appointment or getting the oil changed in my car without a book in my purse, a habit I developed when I took an “Art of the Novel” class and had to digest Don Quixote, War and Peace, Gulliver’s Travels, The Red and the Black, Emma and Robinson Crusoe within the span of a semester. (Just between you and me, I never have read the second volume of War and Peace.)
Of course, going out of town might require that I bring as many as three or four books along for company. I can’t say that I’m much attracted to best sellers, having read a few and wondered what the fuss was all about, and because I’ve always been an English major in my heart, I’m hungry to keep on reading the best that has been written, which to me often means the classics. There are reasons why they’ve endured and I need to know what those reasons are. But I’m equally interested in the ways that modern life, attitudes and mores are evinced in contemporary novels.
As a reader so a writer. I can be driven when my story is just taking shape, needing to record as quickly as possible that which is burning inside of me, even if I’m in conversation with someone or standing in the checkout line at the grocery store. I’ve gotten used to the strange looks this behavior can elicit, but I know that when my thoughts have heat, they must be put down before they cool. Tepid isn’t interesting.
I don’t work from outlines because I sense they will discourage those instinctual, spontaneous feelings which arise in the act of writing from the dark unconscious. And, for the same reason, I do attend to dreams, which give us access to that mysterious realm.
What I write, whether it’s fiction or nonfiction, will be determined by what I believe, in some vague way, is important for all of us to hear. Perhaps it’s something obscure and ephemeral but resonant with meaning that deserves having a spotlight shined on it or it may be something we all know but haven’t really felt. Bringing such matters to the attention of readers in a book that delights, stimulates and, hopefully, enriches is, I believe, a function of literature, and for sure, it’s a high bar to reach. For those of us who have set it as a goal, we can only try.
Now, having told you a little about myself, my methods and my madness, I’d love to hear from you. Is there a particular type of fiction that you gravitate towards? Are you a one-book-at-a-time reader or do you (like me) have five or six scattered around your home? Do you feel compelled to finish what you start or can you simply let it go? And most important, what are you looking for in the books you do read? Drop me a line….