The Initial Love Affair
My relationship with reading is lifelong and fraught with drama.
I was madly in love in my youth and early adulthood, mostly SF but also philosophical tracts. Just as I was beginning to want more from books—more romance, more emotional content, more sweeping dramas where humanity was tested at its worst and brought to its best—SF started delivering less. This was a time when technology was flowering, the internet was being born, the pace of life was picking up to lightspeed, and the authors of SF (or perhaps the publishers) decided that SF should be HARD, dwelling on the technology of the next five minutes.
So I turned to reading non-fiction—the news, more philosophical tracts, personal transformation books (oft derided as “self help”)—and told myself I didn’t “have time” to read fiction. There was also the uncomfortable truth that I was obsessive when it came to fiction reading, often reading into the wee hours when captured by a tale, and as a hard-working PhD student and then a mother of three boys under five, adulting required that I give up the swooning love affairs of fiction and be responsible. And also get sleep on occasion.
I got by on the realpolitik of the world, but I missed the love affair.
Then my children became old enough to be read something other than Moo-Ba-La-La-La (which is brilliant, btw)… and my passion was reborn in the form of middle grade and then young adult novels. And there was freshness! And originality! And sweeping, heart-felt drama. These books which were meant for “children” were so much better than the tired and tiresome adult novels I remembered—I was hopelessly swept up again.
This re-sparking of joy lead directly to me taking up the pen.
This is why Suzanne Collins and J.K. Rowling will forever be my heroes. They rescued a long-dead love and re-birthed it in the form of a new life-long passion—not just for consuming stories but for creating them.
Then a strange thing happened… writing time soaked up my reading time. The energy and passion I had for stories went into creating them. Yes, I read some fiction (notably I had discovered that romance was far more interesting than I ever suspected, bringing in that human component I was craving)… and yes, I had the sense that I should spend more time reading fiction… but somehow that time never materialized. I was too busy writing, and then publishing, and then I was on social media or blogs or the ridiculous news of the day, and the time simply was never there. I invented strategies to recapture that time, like having a committed reading time with my children each night, now that they were deep into their own stories (this is a fabulous strategy btw and is still part of our nightly family routine), but somehow that time got soaked up, once again, by reading non-fiction.
Now I see this was part of the journey. I was still rediscovering myself. Still unearthing the creativity that had been buried so long, and for that, I needed techniques and skills and an understanding of habit. The study of the mind and its workings—how creativity and neuroscience and storytelling intersected—became my new obsession, and the allure of any work addressing those things captured me. I vaguely knew, once again, that I was skirting the beast itself—fiction—but I was enthralled and what can one do? Sometimes you have to follow where the heart leads.
Falling In Love Again
I’ve recently pulled back on social media, trying to tame a habit I knew was not in alignment with how I wanted to live. Not that social media is terrible—it’s actually wondrous in many ways—it was my use of it that needed amending. And then an amazing thing happened—into the stolen minutes and twenty-minute snippets of life slipped reading. Instead of scrolling Facebook, I was checking the Table of Contents of Scientific American. Instead of browsing social media, I was browsing the stockpile of non-fiction articles I had sitting around, waiting for just this moment to be consumed. Slowly, I started seeping fiction into those moments as well… a dabbling of recommended romance reads that promised to be satisfactorily work-related for my romance-writing Penname… and then I hit a roadblock. Some of these stories I was reading were just plain bad. Poor formatting. Bad editing of every kind—copyediting, line editing, story editing. Or more likely, no editing, as far as I could tell, because surely anyone with eyes could catch that missing period. And before you think I’m lambasting indie published works, or even romance in particular, these were books published by Harper Collins and Simon&Schuster and spanned genres of SF, romance, and even some of that non-fiction I was still reading. Books I paid top dollar for. It was as if they couldn’t be bothered to put out decent stories (anymore? had they ever?). I didn’t finish more books than I did. I often couldn’t get past the first page (it was like peering into a scattered mind), or I deleted the damn thing off my kindle because the characters were so horribly flat or, most recently, I got to the middle of the book before I finally gave up—the characters were so erratic, the motivations so unnecessarily strained, that I just couldn’t bear it any longer.
And I was pissed.
Then I realized why I’d been avoiding fiction for so long—the emotional investment of fiction, the very thing I sought and considered essential for good storytelling, was a risky venture. I could be disappointed, and it would hurt. If I read a disastrously stupid non-fiction book, all I would lose was time (a precious enough thing), but with fiction… there, I was taking a chance with my heart. I wanted to engage with a story. I wanted to feel the full breadth of human experience that the author was offering up for my eager consumption. After this most recent disappointment and a string of others, I nearly despaired. I knew that reading fiction as an author would mean my critical eye was heightened. My demands were higher. An author would really have to deliver the goods to whisk my attention away from the mechanics of the story and absorb into their fictional world. I wanted that. Craved it, even, like a re-awoken addict. I was every forlorn hero and heroine who simply wanted to love (books) again. So I picked up another story, determined not to give up… and was rewarded with a book so well written and engaging and gorgeous, I wanted to slurp up the pages.
This was what I wanted… and the exact reaction I want my readers to have as well.
It’s inspired me on two levels:
- Read better works and don’t settle until I find them—it might take slogging through a lot of first chapters, but I’m willing to do that now. I’ve stared the Risk of Fiction in the face, and it blinked. And now that my appetite has been whetted, I have “found” the time.
- Take my craft up a level to deliver even more of what I crave as a reader—it’s really two halves of the same thing, being a reader/writer. Fortunately, I already have a workshop scheduled to attend. I’m traveling to Seattle 9.15.17 to take the Emotional Craft of Fiction workshop with Donald Maass. Three days of immersion in the craft, and I plan to use every minute to its maximum. If you’re near Seattle, they still have room, and I’d love to see you there!
In Love Again,
If you can’t make the workshop, get the book.