Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Making Friends of Readers

Here's another chance to win a free book!
"On the eighth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me...

Win a copy of The Queen of Sleepy Eye OR Seeing Things, your choice, to stuff into your very own stocking or to give to a friend. I'll drop the book in the mail tomorrow. You'll have it by Christmas. Click here to view the rules.

I loved Katy's post on Monday. She spoke to the profound interaction that can take place between a work of fiction (the author!) and its reader. For Katy, Walter Wangerin Jr. taught her the missing element in her own writing. She learned to love her characters, and she learned her lesson well.

Until I read Elizabeth Berg's novels, I didn't even know I wanted to be a writer.

It was my turn to choose a book for book club. I hadn't been a member of the group for very long. The weight of choosing a book to suit varied tastes made my pits sticky. I wandered around Barnes & Noble for hours reading back copy and first paragraphs, beginning to believe the perfect book didn't exist.

And frankly, I was looking for more than the next book. I was looking for a new direction. We'd read about plague years and dream-seeping violence and horrendous violations. Don't get me wrong, I'm not squeamish when it comes to hard-hitting fiction, but a steady diet of the stuff had left me battered.

And so, the search labored on. My checklist included these requirements: rich language that wasn't syrupy or distracting, a story that valued the small things that tower large in our lives, a story about familiar things portrayed in surprising ways. That's all. Simple. A story that is neither contrived nor soul-crushing.

Why was this so hard?

And then [cue the rapturous music], I picked up Joy School by Elizabeth Berg. My prize! The story is ordinary and extraordinary. Human. Winsome. Transparent. The girl's mother wears Tabu perfume, for heaven's sake.

I read the book quickly and set it down, only to pick it back up again. I read random scenes. Underlined favorite passages. Carried the characters around in my head for days, maybe weeks. Is anyone gagging yet?

I'd read many wonderful books up to this point--classical, popular, and literary. This is the book that made me want to be a writer. But why?

I wanted to spend my days playing with words and writing stories that become friends to the reader. That's my goal, anyway.

BTW, I traveled a thousand miles to attend a writers conference where Ms. Berg was the keynote speaker. I sat in the front row at all her appearances. The poor lady was on the tail end of a long book tour. She looked ragged. Did that keep me from schmoozing my way into a conversation with her? No! Are you kidding? I have the picture to prove it.

So, is there a novel, a book, a teacher, an experience, a person who provided a turning point for you as a reader/writer?


Diane Marie Shaw said...

My turning point to seriously believe I could write happened when a dear friend started a Small Group at our church titled:Pen to Published. She forced us to write and encouraged us in what we put on paper. It felt so good to write, it was like coming home to what I was supposed to do. I felt like God was smiling.

Unknown said...

I've recounted elsewhere here on NovelMatters how I, as an awkward and shy new mother met Joyce Landorf at one of her book signings and how she said, "I have a publisher who would love to publish a book by you." (And Zondervan did just that.)

But another author also encouraged me. I had read and studied through The Narrated Bible 17 times, and just assumed that the author, LaGard Smith, was dead like Moses and Paul and those other guys.

Imagine my surprise when I learned that he nominated me for the Distinguished Christian Service Award from Pepperdine University.

To receive that award, and have that kind of support from that kind of author caused me to see myself not just as a professional writer of books about Mormonism and about the Bible, but also as a colleague of other writers.

I can't tell you what that meant to me. Now, years later, to be in the company of women like Patti and Sharon and Debbie and Katy and Bonnie -- to be regarded as a colleague of extraordinary novelists -- humbles and amazes me every day.

Wendy Paine Miller said...

I love Elizabeth Berg and have read most of her books. Have you read Escaping into the Open? I found it helpful. She nails characterization and women's fiction.

In college, Anne Lamott pushed me forward in my dreams to write. Berg is on that list. Picoult. Kingsolver. Wally Lamb. Sue Monk Kidd. The list goes on.

I would travel to see Berg too.
Fun to share that in common. I'm new to this blog.
~ Wendy

Patti Hill said...

Love your stories! Becoming a writer requires a lifetime of discrete steps, all the way from learning to read to developing craft, practice, and finding voices of encouragement.

Yes, Wendy, I have read Into the Open and should have mentioned it. And welcome! We love meeting writers. Another voice of encouragement is always welcomed.

Kathleen Popa said...

Wendy, a thousand welcomes to Novel Matters! I'm so glad you're here, and that you're talking to us!

After I read Wangerin's Christmas book (and The Book of the Dun Cow, and The Book of Sorrows), I sent him an effusive fan letter. He sent me a copy of his wonderful book, Swallowing the Golden Stone.

Latayne, you just put us Novel Matters ladies in the same club with Joyce Landorf and that guy who wrote the Bible (sort of). You dear, dear lady.

Terra said...

Now I am intrigued and will read "Joy School", since you write so glowingly about it.
My most admired author is C.S. Lewis and I hope to meet him in heaven one day, where I imagine he is right now, beaming at all of the Christian writers out here.

Patti Lacy said...

LOVE Elizabeth's writing, and have for years!

At the 2009 Southern Kentucky Book Festival, I relished chatting books with Janis Ian, who'd just penned her autobiography.

Yes, it is cool. Very cool.


Anonymous said...

Great post, Patti. We just finished reading Home Safe for our bok club. I loved it. Read it twice, in fact. I definitely want to read more of Ms. Berg, and will begin with this one.

And Patti Lacy ... Janis Ian?!? Wow. Wish I could have been there with you. At 17 is one of my all time favorite songs. All Time!

Anonymous said...

Actually, we read Home Safe for our BOOK club. The bok club was something different : |

Carla Gade said...

I knew I wanted to be a novelist and when I learned that a Christian author lived the next town over I went out on a limb and contacted her. Susan Page Davis was happy to come to my home and we had a delightful visit. Now we are friends! I think that seeing a "real author" in person made me believe that I can reach similar goals, because she is just a very down to earth, regular person with a family and everything!! She is so smart and just a great person and I love the historicals that she writes. Wouldn't you know though, that first time we met and she asked me what I was writing she had a novel already submitted focused on the same historical event. Oh, well. She encouraged me that it's a big world out there and not to let that stop me. I haven't - I'm still working on the novel.

Kathleen Popa said...

Carla, one of the first, best benefits I received from attending the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference was that I got to meet other writers and learn that they were rather like me. It was a startling, empowering revelation.

(BTW, the 2010 conference is coming up in March, and you can register now -

I don't think I could count how many times I have had what I thought was an original idea, only to find someone else was thinking the same thing. As I wrote To Dance in the Desert, one of my characters surprised me one day by lying down on the center line of a quiet highway to continue a conversation. How surprising, I thought. How unique. How uniquely surprising. How surprisingly...

Well. Shortly after the book was published, I watched The Notebook, and there was this upstart character, carrying on a conversation, lying on the center line.

Shortly after I sent The Feast of Saint Bertie to my publishers, a movie came out about a woman whose husband - just like my character's husband - wrote a series of letters to be delivered to her one by one following his death.

So far I can't bear to watch the film, for fear I'll find her name is Bertie and she lives in a gardener's shed in the mountains.

In fact, if you read Patti Hill's novel, Seeing Things - which she wrote before we knew each other - you will find that she has a character named Birdie, and like my Bertie, she has this controlling woman named Suzanne in her life ...

All to say, Carla, get used to it.