Great Writers (and me) on Writing

Tony - Writing

I have some great news for which I am very thankful.  I have accepted a position as a writing instructor at a local community college.  The course is called “Introduction to Academic Writing” and it is primarily designed to teach beginning students to construct well written, persuasive essays.

To make the most of this educational opportunity, however, I want to share my passion for writing as well as the mechanics of how to do it well.  To prepare, I have pulled out part of a post (below) I wrote on writing.

A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song. ― Maya Angelou

The primary purpose of good writing is not to fix a problem, but to make it more meaningful and beautiful to live in a world filled with problems.  This is one reason I don’t read more Charles Dickens and why I haven’t even started Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle.  I’m thinking more of fiction here, but even good non-fiction should steer clear of one-dimensional moralism if it is to be effective.  The song must be sung, not explained or advocated or shouted out.  Which leads to my next quote –

Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass. Anton Chekhov

Again, while this is true for any writing, I find it especially true for songs and poems.  Don’t say you’re depressed because your girlfriend broke up with you and then go on for 500 words telling me the symptoms of your depression.  Pay a therapist to do that.  Instead,  paint a picture of your sadness, like John Prine in the chorus of  “The Blue Umbrella” –

Blue umbrella
rest upon my shoulder
hide the pain
while the rain
makes up my mind
well, my feet are wet
from thinking this thing over
and it’s been so long
since I felt the warm sunshine
just give me one good reason
and I promise I won’t ask you any more
just give me one extra season
so I can figure out the other four.

The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug. ― Mark TwainThe Wit and Wisdom of Mark Twain

Here is where I’m going to put in a plug for self-editing. I read a lot of blogs about writing and I notice that many writers mark their progress by their word count.  Some even set goals of writing 1,000 or 2,000 words a day (or some such amount).  I believe if your goal is good writing, you should lo0k instead at how many words you delete.  I knew of a college professor who set page limits to essays.  If you exceeded the number, he would rip off the extra pages, throw them away and write across the paper, “It seemed a little incomplete.  Try again.”  One right word yields far greater power than two (or three, or one hundred) wrong ones.

One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple. ― Jack KerouacThe Dharma Bums

I like this quote both for its humility and wisdom.  The truth is, we never really get it “right” in this writing life.  Becoming better writers should always be our goal for some distant “one day.”  The direction we should be headed to get there, however, clearly should not involve complex formulas but simple methods of telling it like it is better than we told it the last time, possibly even better than anyone has told it before

Anybody who has survived his childhood has enough information about life to last him the rest of his days. ― Flannery O’Connor

In terms of writing material, we have a lot within us into which we often fail to tap.  It’s true if you are writing on any subject, you should do good research and not just sit back in your writing chair (mine is a recliner) and write what is on your mind.  Still, if we just pay enough attention to our lives (and the world around us), we will have plenty to start writing every time.

In old days books were written by men of letters and read by the public. Nowadays books are written by the public and read by nobody. ― Oscar Wilde

What may have been witty hyperbole in Wilde’s day has become almost literal truth today.  I visit many blogs that have few (if any hits).  E-books are being published that sell almost no copies.  You can’t even give them away.  We could debate what is worthy to be read, but I believe three of my primary obligations as a writer are to read, read, read.  Read what others are writing on their blogs.  Read new books being published by known and unknown authors.  And then, to relax before bed, read (or listen to) the classics (including the Bible) to let my mind be refreshed by the gifted wordsmiths of days gone by.

What are your thoughts on writing?  What quote sums up what you believe most true for you as a writer?

I’m an Author Now! Just Look at Facebook.

book cover 1

There are only a handful of truly special events in a man’s life…

The day he meets the woman who becomes his wife.

The day he holds his precious child in his two trembling hands.

And the day he sets up a Facebook Author page and begs people to “like” him.

Yes, dear readers, I have reached the pinnacle of success and you (and only you) can help me maintain this mountaintop experience.  Click on Tony Roberts and “like” me.

I can’t promise you health or wealth and we’ve already given away the ginsu knives and the chia pet.  I can only assure you that in God’s economy, we are blessed when we are a blessing.

Gratefully yours,

Tony Roberts, Author (it says so on Facebook)

Preparing for the 2013 Midwest Writers Workshop

Picture0723131951_1.jpgThis image is a rather blurry photo of my new promotional cards I’m taking to the Midwest Writers Workshop this weekend. In addition to my name, contact information, and book title, there is a wonderful review from my editor, Leanne Sype which reads, “… a magnificent gem nestled within the muck and mud of uncharted territory.”  Thanks, Leanne.

I’m getting terribly excited about the workshop.  Last night I woke up after midnight and reviewed the schedule.  The sessions I’m attending include–

“Building an Author Website” — Roxane Gay

“Queries That Work” – Amanda Luedeke.

Writing Memoir” – Hank Nuwer

On Friday morning at 9:45, I’ll be making my agent pitch to Amanda Luedeke who represents MacGregor Literary.

On Saturday afternoon at 3:00, my query with be critiqed by Hank Nuwer and at 4:00, my synopsis and 5 pages of my manuscript will be reviewed by Holly Miller (faculty bios are here.)

My pastoral counselor asked me how he might best pray for me while I am at the workshop, and I want to share this with all of you who pray as well.  My prayer is that God would shine “a lamp for my feet” (to keep me from stumbling) and be a “light for my path” (to show me my next step).  I am headed into a vast wilderness and I don’t want to get absorbed by the darkness around me.  Just stay on my feet and keep moving forward, one step at a time.

Interview with Molly Best Tinsley, Author of “Entering the Blue Stone”

I recently had the opportunity to read an e-book entitled Entering the Blue Stone, a memoir written by Molly Best Tinsley about the last stages of her parents’ lives.  In an upcoming post, I will be reviewing the book.  Here, I’d like to present an e-interview I had with Molly over the weekend.

molly tinsley

What motivated you to write your parents’ story as a memoir instead of as fiction? And, how did this change your approach to writing?

When a life experience qualifies as “stranger than fiction,” I believe it’s most powerful presentation is as non-fiction.  In other words, if a reader might dismiss an occurrence as something the author probably invented, the occurrence will make less of an impact.  And I wanted this story to make a strong impact.  Both as supporters of an older generation or as individuals facing the inevitable aging process ourselves, we need to look squarely at end-of-life issues.  We need to understand the options, the stakes, the decisions that must be made.  Most importantly, though, we need to embrace the end-of-life as part of life.  

A lot of crazy things happened to my siblings and me as we tried to shepherd our parents through a three-stage continuing care facility in their final years.  Some were the product of a seriously flawed system in the facility itself; some stemmed from our ignorance of the end-of-life process; and some were actually natural parts of that process—things it would be futile to try to resist or change.  I’m hoping that readers facing this process (as we all are) will take my story seriously and thus become better able to differentiate the craziness!
Entering the Blue Stone was my first attempt at non-fiction, though much of my published fiction borrows from my own biography.  Maybe it was because I had to write this memoir—it was a sort of personal catharsis—that it felt easier to create.  And because putting life into words has always been one way I cope with it, I kept a journal during the years we were caring for our parents.  So when I sat down to actually craft the narrative, much had already been written; and the material had an immediacy that I hope the final story preserved. 

How did your family respond to your book? Did you seek their consent or blessing in some way?

My sister, the lawyer, read the book twice and loved it.  We’re very different in our approaches to life, and she tends to remember issues and ideas more than specific details.  She was actually grateful to have the experience preserved in its concreteness.  For ultimately the story affirms the human condition as both comedy and ordeal.
To be honest, I have yet to hear from my brother about the book.  Because we often felt helpless with regard to controlling or changing our parents’ treatment, I have a feeling that he just doesn’t want to revisit the experience.

Your title conveys a spiritual outlook. Do you have peace your parents are in a better place?

My own spiritual beliefs are in a stage of constant evolution, and so difficult to actually articulate.  The title refers to a particular action by my brother—the scientist—which surprised my sister and me, and suggests a spiritual vitality that he had never talked about before—and he hasn’t since.  I think my siblings and I all have regrets—there are plenty of things we would have done differently if we’d known in the moment what we knew after the fact.  But I can say this:  our parents are now where they belong.  After rich lives and unfortunately rough deaths, they are at peace and part of the mystery of eternity.   And this may sound odd, but I can also say that I am in a “better,” more expanded, and perhaps more humbled, place because of their deaths.

Is there anything in the book you regret sharing?

Nothing.

Is there anything you had to leave out (perhaps due to word count) that you’d like us to know about your parents?

Tony, that would be a book in itself!  But here are some details that might flesh out the abbreviated portraits in the memoir.  By the way, it wasn’t word count that nixed them so much as the need to stay on topic.  My sense of memoir is that it should be very focused, topic driven—writing it was like pulling a single strand from a thickly braided rope.

My parents met at a summer resort in the Pennsylvania Poconos.  My mother, the daughter of an immigrant from Spain, had finished her freshman year as a non-resident scholarship student at Barnard and was working for a vacationing family as a baby-sitter.  My father, the son of a Brooklyn physician, was between his sophomore and junior years at Princeton, and staying in his family’s summer house.  Somehow they struck up a conversation in a candy shop.  Unfortunately, I never asked who spoke first and what they said.  I do know my mother was one of those “most likely to succeed” types, whereas my father was shy; so I suspect she was the more vivacious and aggressive.  Without question, they both fell head over heels in love.

Their courtship lasted three years.  When my father showed up at the fifth-floor, walk-up apartment in Yonkers where my mother’s family lived, my grandfather would screen himself with the newspaper and grunt monosyllabic responses to my father’s polite overtures.

My mother hinted to me that their premarital romance was passionate but chaste—that she would have been amenable to complete physical intimacy, but my father wanted to do things right.  That difference perfectly captures them—my mother, emotional, impulsive, and given to episodes of iconoclasm; my father, rational, deliberate, faithful, and playing by the rules.  As happened in many relationships of that generation, the longer they were together and the more they merged, the more polarized they became—my mother doing the emotional and interpersonal work on behalf of both of them, my father keeping the finances, earning the living, and working hard to achieve advancement.  Even when his 24/7 military responsibilities absorbed too much of him, the word was that he was doing it all for my mother, and the four children that came along at planned intervals.

Despite their diametric differences, my parents forged a powerful bond in the process of unmaking then remaking their home every couple years.  Neither had strong friendships with other adults, and moving all over the world, we hardly ever saw members of our extended family.  As Entering the Blue Stone shows, the family created its own world.  Meanwhile, there was the constant pressure on all of us to present a flawless front.  For if an officer can’t control his own family, how is he effectively going to lead his troops?  Thus life became a performance—we acted out the drama of the perfect family.  When Parkinson’s disease then Alzheimer’s struck my parents, it’s an understatement to say that no one had any idea what to do.

Thank you, Molly, for devoting your time to this interview.  I really appreciate your work and wish you the best in your coming ventures.

(Photo of Molly Tinsley from fuzepublishing, used by permission.  For more information about Molly and the fuzepublishing team, click here.)

Some Good Writing on Faith in WordPress

candle

I spent some time this evening exploring posts tagged “Faith” in WordPress. Before I share with you my findings, I should probably disclose some of my criteria for selecting “some good writing on faith.”  I’ll name three.

1)  Good writing on faith stays true to the (broad) parameters of the Biblical narrative.  I’m not looking to promote a particular theology here, but I do find truth best represented in God’s Word written (the Bible) and, most fully, made flesh (Jesus Christ).

2)  Good writing on faith conveys the Spirit of humility about what can be known, and a sense of awe about God’s wondrous creation.  The Bible says we are “stewards of the mysteries of God”.  Good stewards don’t explain away the mysteries, but learn to “contain the contradictions.”

3)  Good writing on faith reveals something extraordinary about the ordinary.

With these search tips in mind, I went on my quest and this is what I found….

The Parable of the Unscrupulous Judge” (21st Century Faith) examines a key ingredient of faith in the story Jesus told of a persistent woman.

Already/Not Yet.  Maybe.  We’ll see.” (Faith, Fertility, and the F Word) shares a brief cautious yet hopeful expectation of a pregnant father.

A Prayer for Guidance” (musings of a recent college graduate) uncovers an old prayer and lets it come to life in new ways.

“-pathy” (stay gold.) wonders about the uniqueness of feeling deeply the pain of others.

Glorious, Not Tidy” (It Goes Without Saying) describes a simple, yet profound revelation one busy mom receives in a conversation at church.

The Faith of God in Himself Now in Us” (Immortality Road) contends that the source and substance of the faith in us is God’s.

I Have In My Hands…” (Peaceful Partings) leaps from a quote by author Annie Dillard into the a well-worded reflection on good and worthy intentions for writing.

(image “Candle light” from Alesa Dam, some rights reserved)

A Way With Words is Growing Up

father and infant

Having just celebrated the birth of A Way With Words about a month ago, I feel somewhat like a first-time father when his child comes home from the hospital.  I want things to be perfect (or at least as good as I can make them).  I never know what to expect.  Sometimes I dress her up in a new outfit only to watch her spit up and require a change.

Now we’re heading into our second month, some patterns are developing.  Nothing quite like a fixed schedule or format.  There will no doubt be interruptions, but there will also be things you can look forward to, some things you can count on.

Here are some of the features I anticipate you will find in A Way with Words this coming month…

1) Author Interviews: We had a good response to my interviews with Matt Robb and Rob Diaz II.  I have since arranged an interview with author Molly Tinsley whose new book Entering the Blue Stone is a memoir of caring for her parents at the last stages of their lives.  More information about Molly and her writing can be found at Fuze Publishing.

2) Book reviews: It is my hope to publish a review of Entering the Blue Stone after my interview with Molly Tinsley.  I just picked up a copy of Light in August by William Faulkner.  Also, I will continue to post periodic reviews and writing exercises inspired by Writing Well: The Essential Guide by Mark Tredinnic.

3) Creative writing: I have been privileged to get in on the ground floor of the start-up collaborative blog Today’s Authors.  I plan to respond to their “writing prompts” as often as I can.

There will be more.. spiritual reflections, John Prine, humor, best blog posts features…  Who knows what this growing child will get into as it explores the world and learns to toddle about and discover what life is all about?

(image “Happy Father’s Day” from Insight Imaging: John A Ryan…, some rights reserved)

The Russians Are Spying On Me (And I’m Loving It)

My Dad is a Cold War veteran.  For part of his stint, he was stationed in Germany defending the Berlin Wall (or at least cooking for those not far from it).  He was taught (perhaps like Mitt Romney) that the Russians are our true enemies.  To this day, when Dad experiences static on his cell phone, trouble sending or receiving e-mails, or his cable TV goes on the blink, he declares –

It looks like the Russians are spying on us again.

Well, today I awoke and went to the computer to see my blog stats through the night.  There I discovered that, while I was sleeping, someone from Russia was spying on me.  Some “Russkie” as Slim Pickens from “Dr. Strangelove” would say, has viewed my blog and now there’s no telling what will happen.

I’m not going to panic.  I mean, I’ve been dangerously exposed before.

– Like when my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Underwood, caught me trading my baseball cards in class and took them away from me for a whole day. (I didn’t think I would ever get over that one.)

– Like when I wrote a pastoral e-mail reply to one person and clicked the “Reply All” button.

– Like last night, when I commented on a blog post that listed many ambitious worthwhile goals by writing, “You are a man on a mission.”  And the reply came back, “Actually, I am a woman on a mission.”

But now, the Russians!  That’s a different story.  What should I do?

– Should I practice hiding under my desk like in those “Duck and Cover” drills we used to do in grade school?

– Should I contact the FBI and inform them my blog is under surveillance (as if they don’t already know)?

– Should I delete the post I did on “The Death (and ultimate life) of Ivan Ilych” for fear that Tolstoy is an enemy of the state?

So much fear and trembling.  What to do?  Lord, help me.

[pause for a brief period of intensive prayer]

Okay, I know what I’ve got to do.

– I will strengthen my feeble knees and dose up on some Alexander Solzhenitsyn (one Russian author I’ve not read).

– I will reflect in blog posts on themes of faith in my favorite Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky.

– I will search out Russian bloggers who could be looking for “A Way With Words” without even knowing it.

If you are watching this, President Putin, beware!  You may be able to pass legislation restricting Americans from adopting Russian children, but you can’t stop this American from exercising his freedom to reach Russian children (of all ages) with words of encouragement and hope.

 

vladimir putin

(“Vladimir Putin is watching you!” from Limbic, some rights reserved)

 

Note to my Psychiatrist: 

Dear, Dr.W_____, I got your message.   No, I haven’t stopped taking my medicine.  It’s true I didn’t get much sleep last night.   But I promise you I haven’t been hearing any strange voices or seeing any unusual visions.  Trust me on this one. 

P.S.  Do you know if Communists have an equivalent of a “fatwa”?  Just wondering.

Interview with Author and Playwright Rob Diaz II

rob diaz

I first encountered Rob Diaz when he commented on one of my posts.  I’ve since come to know him as one of the masterminds or partners-in-crime (actually, contribuing editors) of the community blog Today’s Authors that has publically opened the day of this writing.  I did an e-mail interview with Rob which resulted in the following –

What is one piece of writing (book, story, play, essay) that has changed your life?

     The phrase “changed your life” makes this question pretty difficult for me to answer.  My initial gut instinct was to say that the book that changed my life was actually a math book given to me by my fourth grade math teacher when I was bored with the regular curriculum and wanted more challenging work (math was and continues to be a passion of mine).

But math books tend to be boring prose, so what my real answer to this question will be is:  Foundation by Isaac Asimov.  I read this book for the first time when I was in fifth grade, about ten years old.  It is the first book in my memory which made me want to read another book.  And then another (and not just the books in the Foundation series, either!). It was also one of the first books I ever wanted to read a second or third time (I’ve probably read it a dozen times now).

The book focuses on the math involved with Psychohistory and its predictions of the downfall and rise of the Galactic Empire.  As I said, math was a passion of mine from an early age and to see it have such a prevalent role in a masterful book such as Foundation, it changed my outlook on reading and, in turn, on writing.  I would certainly be a different person today if I had not become as much of a lover of words as I am a lover of numbers.

How is seeing your plays produced different (and/or similar) to producing other forms of writing?

     Scripts have a special place in my heart and in my writing.  It’s not that I prefer them over other forms of writing, it’s just that at the time I wrote my first script (when I was a freshman in high school), I had been on the verge of giving up on writing at all.  A teacher of mine encouraged me to participate in a Playwrights Workshop that was being held in my school and despite my hesitations I did so.  And I loved it.  The positive feedback and interactions with the other writers and the instructor were so amazing that it rekindled my passion for writing in many ways.

The first script I wrote was horrifically bad (though it was incredibly funny at the time).  The second one I wrote, Bad Impressions, was produced on stage at my high school when I was 16 in a series of one acts (mine and four or five professional scripts were done).  It was incredible and nerve-wracking.  I’ve had two more scripts produced since then and the feeling has been the same: super levels of excitement to see the words and stories transposed onto the stage coupled with lots and lots of anxiety about the audience reaction.

I think the difference for me is simply that when I have a story published in a book, the audience is disparate.  Readers can be anywhere and everywhere and for the most part they are not in one place, reacting at the same time.  A script that is being staged, however, has an audience of many, sitting and experiencing the story together for the first time and at the same time.  For me, I find myself worrying when something I found funny in the script doesn’t get the volume of laughter I expect or something I found dramatic doesn’t get the collective intake of breath that I expected.  Does the audience not like it? Do they not get it?  Do they regret their investment of time and money to see it?

Similarly, I feel energized when they do laugh or catch their breath or applaud.  Honestly, I have all the same fears and excitement with other forms of writing. I suspect the reason it feels different with plays is just the fact that there are so many more people reacting at the same time and in the same place.  The reaction is more real and more direct, if that makes any sense.

“Today’s Author” is now officially launched.  What are your biggest hopes and greatest fears for this blog?

      My hope for Today’s Author is probably much like the hope of everyone else involved with it: that it can be a safe place for writers and readers to interact, that it can be a source of inspiration and entertainment and that it can be a place to share our collective knowledge and experiences with the written word.  Honestly, if we can inspire even just one person to take a chance with words – to tell their story and let the world see it – then I’d think Today’s Author is a success.  I think the openness of the editors and contributors on the site to share their successes, their failures, their hopes and their fears will lend itself to encouraging our readers and participants to do the same.

On the flip side, I think “fear” may be too strong a term for my feelings but I do worry. I worry about making sure that we at Today’s Author are providing content and prompts that are relevant to our readers and useful enough to keep readers coming back.  Readers and participants of the site should drive the direction the site takes as time goes on, so I worry about making sure we read and understand the feedback we get to make sure we react and anticipate the needs of the community we are building.  Ultimately, if we don’t build an engaged and vibrant community, we won’t have the success I hope to have with Today’s Author.

Thanks, Rob, for devoting some of your New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day to conduct this interview.  Look for more of Rob and read a generous sampling of his work at his blog Thirteenth Dimension.

(picture of Rob from Today’s Authors, used by permission)

Some Great Writers (and me) on Writing

In the twelfth post of Christmas, I truly give to you…

Tony - Writing

Since one of the primary aims of this blog is to write about writing, I thought I might end this series of posts with some reflections from master writers talking about their craft.  I could let these six quotes speak for themselves, but I can’t resist reflecting on them (if only briefly) and how they tie in to what I try to write and what I look to read each day.

“A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.”
― Maya Angelou

The primary purpose of good literature is not to fix a problem, but to make it more meaningful and beautiful to live in a world filled with problems.  This is one reason I don’t read more Charles Dickens and why I haven’t even started Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle.  I’m thinking more of fiction here, but even good non-fiction should steer clear of one-dimensional moralism if it is to be effective.  The song must be sung , not explained or advocated or shouted out.  Which leads to my next quote –

“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”
― Anton Chekhov

Again, while this is true for any writing, I find it especially true for songs and poems.  Don’t say you’re depressed because your girlfriend broke up with you and then go on for 500 words telling me the symptoms of your depression.  Pay a therapist to do that.  Instead,  paint a picture of your sadness, like John Prine in the chorus of  “The Blue Umbrella” –

Blue umbrella
rest upon my shoulder
hide the pain
while the rain
makes up my mind
well, my feet are wet
from thinking this thing over
and it’s been so long
since I felt the warm sunshine
just give me one good reason
and I promise I won’t ask you any more
just give me one extra season
so I can figure out the other four.

“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”
― Mark TwainThe Wit and Wisdom of Mark Twain

Here is where I’m going to put in a plug for self-editing. I read a lot of blogs about writing and I notice that many writers mark their progress by their word count.  Some even set goals of writing 1,000 or 2,000 words a day (or some such amount).  I believe if your goal is good writing, you should lo0k instead at how many words you delete.  I knew of a college professor who set page limits to essays.  If you exceeded the number, he would rip off the extra pages, throw them away and write across the paper, “It seemed a little incomplete.  Try again.”  One right word yields far greater power than two (or three, or one hundred) wrong ones.

“One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.”
― Jack KerouacThe Dharma Bums

I like this quote both for its humility and wisdom.  The truth is, we never really get it “right” in this writing life.  Becoming better writers should always be our goal for some distant “one day.”  The direction we should be headed to get there, however, clearly should not involve complex formulas but simple methods of telling it like it is better than we told it the last time, possibly even better than anyone has told it before.

“Anybody who has survived his childhood has enough information about life to last him the rest of his days.”
― Flannery O’Connor

In terms of writing material, we have a lot within us into which we often fail to tap.  It’s true if you are writing on any subject, you should do good research and not just sit back in your writing chair (mine is a recliner) and write what is on your mind.  Still, if we just pay enough attention to our lives (and the world around us), we will have plenty to start writing every time.

“In old days books were written by men of letters and read by the public. Nowadays books are written by the public and read by nobody.” ― Oscar Wilde

What may have been witty hyperbole in Wilde’s day has become all too true today.  I visit many blogs that have few (if any hits).  E-books are being published that sell almost no copies.  You can’t even give them away.  We could debate what is worthy to be read, but I believe three of my primary obligations as a writer are to read, read, read.  Read what others are writing on their blogs.  Read new books being published by known and unknown authors.  And then, to relax before bed, read (or listen to) the classics (including the Bible) to let my mind be refreshed by the gifted wordsmiths of days gone by.

What are your thoughts on writing?  What quote sums up what you believe most true for you as a writer?

Good Writing, J.D. Salinger, and the Blogosphere

What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn’t happen much, though.   (The Catcher in the RyeJ.D. Salinger)

catcher in

(image from StevenTong, some rights reserved)

This quote about the powerful connection between a reader and a writer seems strange coming from a man like J.D. Salinger.  Shortly after the immense popularity of his    Catcher in the Rye (1951), Salinger virtually disappeared from the literary world, and became a virtual recluse.  One biographic sketch notes –

…Salinger struggled with unwanted attention, including a legal battle in the 1980s with biographer Ian Hamilton and the release in the late 1990s of memoirs written by two people close to him: Joyce Maynard, an ex-lover; and Margaret Salinger, his daughter.

My question is if he (through the voice of his character Holden Caulfield) truly valued the almost spiritual connection between the writer and the reader, how could he have abandoned his fans like he did?  Why couldn’t he have forfeited some of his privacy and simply learned to be a public figure (like so many others do)?

I’m sure I’m woefully naive when it comes to what immense popularity does to a person’s psyche, but I happen to adore the attention I’ve received in just a couple weeks I’ve been blogging publicly on this site.  In fact, I’ll be the first to admit I seek out readers like a junkie seeks out a hit.

– When I did a post quoting Wendell Berry, I browsed the blogosphere to see who else might be interested in his writing.  I left comments to get a conversation going.

– When I wrote about death and loss during the Christmas season, I googled “grief at Christmas” and got an encouraging response from a psychotherapist posting about a similar topic on her site.

– When I reflected on John Prine’s Christmas in Prison, I left on message on the board at the PrineShrine site and, as of this writing, seven folks have already linked me from there.

My aim, understand, is not just bragging rights over visits and views.  I am genuinely looking to form virtual relationships with people all over the world.  I want to exchange ideas, bask in the glow of good sentence structure, banter about language.  Learn something.  And maybe teach somebody something as well.

It’s too bad Salinger couldn’t get over his hang ups soon enough to enjoy the wonders of the Internet.

Come to think of it, though, I think I am going to take my phone number off my profile.  I mean virtual friends are nice, but once they break into real time, well, you’ve got to draw the line somewhere.