Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Why Does the Novel Matter? A Year in Review Conversation with 10 writers.

Throughout 2012 we've been holding a conversation here at Novel Matters, a year-long exploration of the question, Why does the novel matter?

To help us poke around for some answers, we invited ten writers to weigh in with their thoughts. Those writers, Joy Jordan-Lake, Alice Kuipers, John Blase, Tracy Groot, Rosslyn Elliot, Sharon K. Souza, Athol Dickson, Claudia Mair Burney, Cynthia Ruchti, and Julie Cantrell, all offered their thoughts, impressions, and perhaps even more questions to why the novel matters.

Today, as a gift to our readers this Christmas 2012, we offer this “conversation” between 10 writers we love, to inspire you to read, write, create, and become who you were created to be. It is a conversation that never happened, but, of course, it did.

Novel Matters: Make room for Joy, everyone. She’s last to arrive. The room is a bit tight, but we’ll make do. Everyone smile for the group photo! Great. Uh, John? Rabbit ears? Really? Never mind, I’ll photo shop it out later. Sit, everyone, let’s talk about why the novel matters. What good does it do anyone anymore?

Alice Kuipers: Personally, the thrill of reading, of being consumed by a story so much so that the real world ceases to exist, is one of the great joys of my life.

Sharon K Souza (nodding emphatically): The novel matters for the sheer pleasure it provides. I often read two or three books at one time, a non-fiction of one type or another, a book on the craft of writing, and a novel. The novel is always what I conclude my evening with. I’ll read an hour or two before bed, and that hour or two is the dessert I look forward to all day.

Claudia Mair Burney (waving a hand): Novels take the edge off a brutal reality. Sometimes they distract me. Sometimes they make me laugh. Sometimes they remind me that I am not alone in my suffering, and often, they fuel the most reckless, glorious hope.

Tracy Groot (standing to address the group): Totally agree. Novels supply society with needed diversion, needed respite, and needed truth that may not come when it's served up cold.

Novel Matters: Oh, sorry Tracy, I thought you were standing so we could all hear you better. Could someone pass her the veggie dip? Thanks, Athol. Tracy, I love what you said about truth.

Julie Cantrell: There is no better way to deliver truth than through fiction. It’s as simple as that.

Tracy Groot (high fiving Julie): If we're really lucky, truth may come through a kid named Huckleberry, a ghost named Marley, a hobbit named Frodo, or a place due east of Eden.

Novel Matters: A ghost, a hobbit, and the Salinas Valley. How could this trio possibly have anything to do with truth? How do those stories manage to tell the truth about life while still telling a story?

Joy Jordan-Lake (looking professor-ly, but still very kind): As novelists, we have to figure out how to spin our stories for the modern, harried, distracted reader so that the old-fashioned words-on-page print form makes sense, is worth the time and trouble because the reader comes away changed—becomes a part of the Story, and the Story, a part of them.

Alice Kuipers: Novels allow me to live other lives, explore other realities, exist in places and in ways I never could otherwise. 

Athol Dickson (wiping veggie dip off his fingers with a napkin): The novel is uniquely qualified to weave the spiritual and physical realities of life together.

Rosslyn Elliot: Stories need to be told in a way that ignites our passion for us to imitate their sincere and courageous example.

Novel Matters: Great point, Rosslyn, but doesn’t non-fiction do that just as well?

Tracy Groot: the world is always looking for a good story.

Julie Cantrell: I believe that’s where sermons and non-fiction books can be useful. Novels should tell a good story that encourages the reader to close the book with questions. I’d much prefer to read a book that makes me think, than to read a book that tells me what/how to think.

Sharon K. Souza: The novel matters to me because a novel is a window into the soul of a society, an age, an era.

Alice Kuipers: The novel . . . is one of the best contemporary ways to encapsulate story without visual influence – letting our imaginations as readers do the work that other mediums may not allow.

Joy Jordan-Lake: . . . to allow ourselves to be transported to a different world, to see things from someone else’s perspective, to allow ourselves to be moved and frightened and inspired and entertained---and changed. It’s that chance to slow down and step away and look deep into what makes us tick as human beings, what really matters, what really doesn’t.

Cynthia Ruchti (jumping in): Every novel I've ever read has informed me, influenced me. Some have taught me what not to do or challenged me to write in a more compelling way. Some have edged me forward in my understanding of the human spirit and what it's capable of enduring, or strengthened my grasp of concepts like hope and grace.

Sharon K Souza (after the shouts of “amen” and “yep” and that’s it! Die down): You learn the things that make one age different from another, and that in more ways than not, we aren’t that different.

Claudia Mair Burney: And when the pages are all read, we put the book down with a sense that our lives matter; our troubles and our trifles. We matter, because we see ourselves right there in print. And we find ourselves in the work. Sometimes we say, "amen." Other times we say, "I'm sorry."

(there’s a little hush here, while we all absorb the wonder of this statement.)

Novel Matters: What we’re talking about is transformation. Or, maybe better, human formation. The novel matters because it helps us form as human beings?

Cynthia Ruchti: Every time a reader opens a novel of any significance ... [she doesn't] walk away the same.

Athol Dickson: Art is one of the objective proofs that human beings have a soul or spirit, and novels, of course, are art, so novels matter for that reason. Only in a novel can we become a kind of proxy for the work of art itself.

John Blase (raising two fingers to indicate he has something for us here): For example, a lower middle class poet (me) can read about a man dying of ALS (Jim Harrison’s Returning to Earth) or about two sisters being raised in Fingerbone, Idaho (Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping) or about the lifelong friendships of two married couples (Wallace Stegner’s Crossing To Safety) and to some extent I become a better person for it because I’ve entered into these lives that I have never lived and might not want to lead but nevertheless it stirs, I think, the sense of possibilities within life. . . You understand to some extent their lives, plus your own a little more, and to a greater degree this mystical incarnation we call life. It’s quite beautiful, really, this becoming more sympathetic or human. It entails becoming more compassionate and friendly and sensitive. I like that.

Novel Matters: Thanks, everyone. Can we try for another group picture, this time without the rabbit ears?

We writers at Novel Matters wish you an inspired Christmas season, and a New Years filled with vision, transformation, and most of all, great literature.

Peace on earth. Good will to all.


Tracy Groot said...

Ha! This was wonderful!

Edith said...

Great post! I love novels especially those which leave me utterly changed and transformed within, the sort that infiltrate my dreams and permeate my waking hours with a veil of something special draped over all so that I am seeing again as if for the first time!

Susie Finkbeiner said...

Wow. What a year it's been! Thank you all for inspiring us to keep writing our novels. For reminding us that our work matters. Much love to all of you this Christmas!

Anonymous said...

What some see as rabbit ears I see as the sign of peace...quite beautiful, really. Thanks, God bless us everyone.

Cynthia Ruchti said...

What an honor to be included in this recap of thoughts from 2012! One of the things I love about great novels...and Novel Matters--they make you think. In a world that favors ease over wrestling something through, it's refreshing to find books and blogs that compel us to think. Thank you, Novel Matters!

Athol Dickson said...

Umm. Love that veggie dip. :-)

Bonnie Grove said...

Tracy: You're wonderful.

Edith: Transformation is a long, slow journey, and novels as companions point the way. Glad you enjoyed!

Susie: Merry Christmas to you, Susie! We're looking forward to your big debut happening early in the new year!

John: Peace, brother.

Bonnie Grove said...

Cynthia: What a generous compliment. Thank you so much! Merry Christmas.

Athol: Dip on, sir.

Lori Benton said...

Whoa, that's a lot of inspiration and insight in one room. I'll just sit here and say Selah. And pass the dip.

Merry Christmas Novel Matters!

Joy Jordan-Lake said...

Novel Matters leads all the best discussions. So now you've made me want to show up in person and hang out with all these interesting people.... Should we be expecting the plane tickets to arrive in the mail any day now? I'd walk, if need be, a long, long, way to have this conversation in person over the course of several days with all of you!

Julie Cantrell said...

Oh my goodness, this is by far the best blogpost I've ever read. Thanks for inviting me to such a fabulously fun cyberchat, and for including me in the same realm as such talented literary giants. Huge honor. Happy Christmas! j

Claudia Mair Burney said...

Great party! Thanks for having us.

Cherry Odelberg said...

Bonnie, loved your retelling of succinct phrases.

Sharon K. Souza said...

It was such an honor to have all of you share with us this year. Thank you for opening yourselves to us and our friends. Have a blessed Christmas and a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year.