I received an e-mail from my cousin the other day — a wonderfully long, heartfelt response to my debut novel. It confirmed what I had already begun to recognize: that the greatest part of writing a book is the dialogue it creates between author and reader — between a writer and his friends.
One passage of my cousin’s message keeps revisiting me — on a walk, in the shower, lying in bed. It is poetic and authentic and beautiful … and it provides a frame for so many seemingly random thoughts that I have had:
“I guess I heard my Dad say that he thought novels were really letters between friends, with a side hope that someone saw some creative and commercial merit in the writing – so a buck might pass here and there to support the continued letter writing.”
I considered paraphrasing the passage, but it seemed silly to do so. How could I possibly say it better? It says so much about why writers write, and why readers read.
I’m not sure I have ever felt more vulnerable than I did when I released my novel into the wild. I wasn’t particularly concerned about public response — every review, critique or constructive criticism I receive will help me to become a better writer — but I was more than a bit uncomfortable knowing that my family and friends would read it. That they would no doubt wonder what parts of the story are mine; what parts of Oliver Bruce are Mark Cameron; who inspired the wide range of supporting characters; and why those characters made the decisions they did. I was — am — constantly reminded of the lyrics of one of my favourite songs, lyrics that roll through my head in the way that my uncle’s quote does:
“2 AM and I’m still awake, writing a song
If I get it all down on paper, it’s no longer inside of me,
Threatening the life it belongs to
And I feel like I’m naked in front of the crowd
Cause these words are my diary, screaming out loud
And I know that you’ll use them, however you want to”
– Anna Nalick, Breathe (2am)
Indeed, I have used them. I hope Anna Nalick won’t mind.
I often wonder why I wrote the story I wrote, or created the characters I gave life to. Why I chose the names or locations or plot turns I did. Much of that was conscious, an intellectual exercise in crafting dialogue and plot. But much of what emerged was a surprise to me; names, places, facts and anecdotes popping into my head, as if appearing from nowhere, weaving themselves into my story. Only when I was done — when I had written the last word and ordered 360 books to be printed — could I begin to step back from the process and understand the journey I had undertaken. As one of my own characters said, “The pen rarely lies.”
I don’t want to live in the rabbit hole, analyzing every detail of the decisions I’ve made — both conscious and subconscious — or every piece of feedback that I’ve received. I am learning that every reader will perceive my story in a different way, through their own filters, based on their own experiences. I don’t expect anyone to see it as a masterpiece — it’s just a book, the first of what I hope will be many — but I do hope that Goodnight Sunshine continues to evoke dialogue between writer and reader — between me and my friends. For I believe that the greatest gift an author can receive is neither praise nor criticism (though both of those have their place); it is to know that on some level, in some small way, the story you have written affects people.
Cotipaxi image By Frederic Edwin Church – shared using Creative Commons license.
6 thoughts on “Letters between friends”
Beautifully written. I really must get back to my book on the history of Foothills Academy and stop writing random
I think you should do both! And thanks, btw…
I am so proud of you, Mark! You have learned so much from this exercise! Your written words flow so easily. Thanks for sharing!
Case in point … more dialogue — from my mom, no less! 🙂
I am three quarters of the way through your book, and loving it so far. I’ve caught myself laughing out loud at some of your characters one-liners. As a reader I have intentionally been waiting until I’ve read every word to fully digest the story, and process the journey you have taken us on! It was interesting to read your post above and think of it from the writers perspective. I think of the written word as an artistic creation. When I hold a good book in my hands I think of the person who created it, and ponder all of the influences and experiences that helped to bring the story (and characters) to life. It’s much like when I hold a beautiful piece of handmade pottery, or another piece of art. I am always amazed that someone has created it, and so appreciative that they have shared it. So thank you for sharing Goodnight Sunshine!
I love your perspective on writing (and art in general), and I agree. I’m appreciative of every book I read … even moreso now that I know how much work it takes to write one. So, you’re welcome … and thank you for reading it!