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MIND-MELD: The Reader-Writer Bond

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.

1 standing oNow 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.

doctor mind meldThe 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.

Any suggestions?

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.

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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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Hightailing it Out of Dystopia

I’m sick of Dystopia. I don’t want to live on an Animal Farm in 1984. I don’t want to run with Logan or snack on Soylent Green. I don’t even want to be Divergent while Catching Fire.divergent

While I understand the the books mentioned above are very well written, their worlds fully realized, I am afraid that, instead of being enabling calls to fight for a just world, they tend to make readers feel helpless, as if the world’s problems are unsolvable, and much bigger than all of us. They impart the fatalistic feeling that we as a world, or a society are  heading for a brick wall at lightning speed–at such lightning speed, that there’s nothing to be done.

In fact, one study done two years ago found that many adult women felt that global warming, or terrorists, or whatever, were so likely to end the world as we know it that they admitted to thinking, “Well, at least I got to…” have children, afford food, breathe clean air,  live in a nice house, participate in democracy…even if their children and grandchildren wouldn’t have the same opportunities.

Seriously.

I’m not saying that things aren’t going to Hell in a handbasket. They absolutely are. I’m also not saying that we shouldn’t read or write books about villainous people doing terrible things. We absolutely should.

hunger gamesWhat I am saying is that it’s time to become less obsessed with societies rooted in despair and start imagining ourselves citizens of KickAssTopia because we’ve got to face our problems head on and feel empowered to get out there and fix things before society devolves to the place that someone comes for our little sisters to make them fight to the death. Seriously.

42__unicorns_and_rainbows_by_royaba-d58uqslThis doesn’t mean riding unicorns to utopia (or eutopia) while pretending everything is sweetness and light. (Although apparently some people have other ideas. )

To my mind, THE FAULT IN OUR STARS is an inspiring book. It looks at hard situations head-on, but promotes the idea that the characters can have some control of their worlds and affect change. The same goes for books such as THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER.perksfault in our stars

A few years ago, sociologist Jon Haidt did a study of the emotion he calls “elevation.” What he found was that people who witness or even hear stories about people doing good deeds and putting themselves out there in altruistic ways are more likely to do such things themselves.

It’s true of real life and–thank goodness!–it’s also true of fiction. If you want to be an effective agent of change in the world, think about what you watch and what you read. (And what you write. I write what I write, often, as a pep talk to myself.)

Do you agree or disagree? Have any books driven you to take positive action? I’d love to hear.

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