Usually, a story begins for me when character rises up in my mind, demanding to be heard. My job is to listen and transcribe. Any thought of “the market” at that point would be counterproductive. Only later, usually when filling out the author questionnaire for my publisher, do I begin to ask: Who will want to read this story? Who will love these characters enough to make them real for him or herself? And beyond that: whose heart and soul will be expanded, if only just a little, for having walked through these pages?
I know, I know. That last bit sounds like a lot to ask from a humble writer, still in her pajamas, drunk on coffee and voices from the ether as she takes dictation at the keyboard. But if a novel doesn’t change you, if it doesn’t shake up your view of both the wide world and the person in the mirror on some level, then what’s the point?
Especially now when crisis has starkly divided the world into the essential and the not-so-much. To many of us, this particular moment feels unprecedented–another word that has become common in the lexicon. But somewhere, I suspect the ancestors, who variously endured famine, pandemics, genocide, perilous and often penniless migrations, the devastation of war, economic depression and more, are shaking their heads.
Golden times, my grandfather, who had lived through many of the above, called the era into which I was born. He counseled me to use and enjoy the opportunities those who came before me never had, but also to build the inner fortitude I’d need when challenges inevitably came. Stories that don’t lecture us, but show us, through vicarious experience, how to endure have always been a major part of that for me.
We can’t all write War and Peace, which my husband and I read aloud (yes, all 1,200 magnificent pages) during the time of quarantine. But every story, no matter its genre or marketing labels, is an opportunity to take the reader on a voyage from the isolation of self to empathy, from darkness to understanding, from suffering to hope and even transformation.