Several years ago, after a relaxing few days out of town, we dropped a friend off at his place of employment. “Back to the old grind,” he sighed. Which I thought was only slightly weird, as he was currently performing in a Broadway play that had gotten rave reviews.
Now I realize that anything becomes “same old, same old” when you do it day in and day out. But still, as we pulled away from the curb, I couldn’t help but wistfully wonder what it would be like for the rest of us, if, after putting in a good day’s work, everyone who would eventually benefit from our labor was right there in front of us, leaping to their feet, applauding and cheering. Wouldn’t that be great?
I’ve been remembering that drop-off lately, as B.K. and I are in final boarding stages for the release of PLAGUES OF EDEN.
It used to be that storytellers plied their craft in person, able to discern the involvement of the tell-ees in the flickering firelight. Now, with the advent of the printed word (and the spoken word, captured digitally), the storyteller and the reader have an enforced degree of separation. I write alone at my desk, and you read–where? In your room, on a train, in a Starbucks, in the bath? I don’t know! You’re on your own.
The inimitable Lee Child, who is a captivating speaker as well as author, asserts that when readers pick up a novel, they enter into an intense “mind-meld” with the author.
As a reader myself, I believe that to be true. A novel worth its salt creates an entire world to which the reader is given a personal invitation. You’re then invited into the mind-space of a group of characters, and you vicariously accompany them upon whatever journey awaits you all.
And that’s something wonderful, personal, and meaningful.
Do you remember a time you had an adventure? Went on a trip to a faraway land, or even your cousin’s house–or possibly a restaurant you’d never tried before? And something magical happened–whatever it is that’s necessary for a fun occasion to become an indelible memory. To this day, you remember who else was there with you, some of the best lines that were said, the laughter (or the danger or the horror). Your own intense feelings. From then on, whether the experience was harrowing or wonderful, it was unforgettable. And you now have a bond with those folks that were there. Until the end of time, one of you can say a certain word or phrase, and the rest of you will ricochet back in time.
That is what happens when you read a really good book. You and those characters go on a heightened journey together.
So, here’s the weird thing for me, as an author. The characters in my books–I KNOW them. While a reader might spend a dozen hours with them, I’ve spent months. They’re my intimate friends. And, whether I want it to or not, what happens to them impacts me. B.K. still hasn’t gotten over what happens at the end of BEYOND EDEN. Whereas, when I finished one day of writing in the mind of a character in PLAGUES named Leal, I went to a weekly pub meeting and had to tell my friends, “I’m sorry, I just wrote some scenes that were highly intense for me, and I’m still a bit shaken.”
And so, when a reader enters into this mind-meld, for a while, we do share that same reality. There is a bond between us: we have friends in common.
But, here’s the thing. I really wish we could be in the mind-meld together. If not at the same time, that at least, as the writer, I could know it was happening. I don’t know how to bridge that gap, and I wish that I did.
So sometimes, sitting alone at my desk, having adventures with these fictional close friends, I do wish that I knew the flesh-and-blood “fellowship of the book” who would eventually be joining with me.
Truthfully, I don’t need that standing ovation. I don’t even NEED us to be in the same room at the same time with my fellow journeyers, or obviously, I’d have stopped writing by now.
But it is awfully nice to know that the readers are out there, and to hear from some with whom I now have friends in common, and who have joined me on the journey.
So, thanks! And, when you finish your day’s work, take a minute and picturing me applauding. Well done.
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