“You’re a writer? So what do you write about?”
Approximately one minute before I get this question, I’m usually smiling, relaxed, teasing, and intrigued by you, oh stranger. Or perhaps I’m intensely honed in on my current project, somewhat oblivious to my surroundings, and when I’m looking up from my work, my brain is orienting itself.
Whatever the scenario, your question has just sent me into a blustering response of half-formed sentences, a fair amount of stammering, and a weak head nod at the end that silently tacks on, “Or something like that… it’s hard to explain.”
And the answer you get leaves you feeling disappointed and awkward, feeling little more enlightened than you were a moment ago.
It’s something like this, “Well, they’re uh – guess coming of age stories. One is set in 1950 about a boy who likes to swing dance, but he’s short so he can’t find a partner. And then this girl comes who’s even shorter but she’s the preacher’s granddaughter so she’s not allowed to dance. The other is a time-travel about a modern girl who meets a girl from 1912, and they’re able to step into each other’s worlds. And the one I’m working on now is a fictional kingdom about a boy who leads a double life between being a prophesied leader of an ancient kingdom and the nephew of an abusive king.”
And while I’m saying these responses, my brain is going, “Is it really though? You just told them you wrote Dirty Dancing and said nothing about the WWII backstory or traumatized brother or Lila’s secret. And now you’re going to make them think “fantasy kingdom” when there’s no magic, but it kind of feels magical because of their beliefs, even though there isn’t magic, and…”
And to compensate for my lack of preparedness, I’ll probably stammer something about them being so different from each other that they’re hard to describe in simple terms. Then I’ll redirect the conversation, ask you something about yourself, and we’ll move on.
It’s not that I’ve never gotten this question before, or spent a good deal of time at home trying to come up with clear, concise answers for you. It’s not that I haven’t done my homework, found an ideal reader, or tried to develop an “elevator speech” like the books tell me I need to do to become a successful author.
I could make it sound like my problem stems from some impressive reason like that I’m found of complex storylines, deep side characters with backstories, or that some of my books run around 500 pages following the lives of multiple characters. Or that they’re different in writing style and storyline so there’s no easy way to sum them all up.
Except that there are consistent themes in them, and I stumbled on them today.
I write books about broken people who find their way to hope and then offer it to others. By extension, I write books for hurting readers who are looking for a friend who echoes their pain and helps them find the courage to start a new way of life.
Yes, it sounds a little vain. No, I’m not sure if that’s the best way to answer the question of, “What do you write?”
But that is what my books have in common. When I think of my ideal readers, of course I want to think of long lines of people eager to buy my book, or speaking to large crowds who know what character I’m talking about just by hearing the name.
But honestly, the people I want to talk to from those crowds are people who found themselves in my writing and emerged with courage and hope.
Maybe it’s a lonely teenager who finally finds a friend who understands him or her. Maybe it’s a 20 something who has stepped into the world of adulting and feels unprepared for it. Maybe it’s an individual who grew up in a restricted environment, where questioning was frowned upon, demands were intense, and standards were impossible to keep. Maybe it’s a retired man and woman who remembers a time when life was simpler, love was purer, and maybe hurt a little bit – but who’s received a fresh breath to embrace the present with all the best that they can draw from the past. Maybe it’s someone who has a dream but is afraid to try it or someone who is searching for strands of truth in a culture of lies.
But if my characters could speak to you, I think the majority of them would admit that they’re looking for the same thing you are: courage, hope, and the ability to take the best from the past to forge a new future. They’re not cheerleaders to inflate you with courage; they’re friends looking for readers to travel this road with them. They’ve got your back, no matter how broken you are, and they’re always, always moving toward hope.
I suppose, in the end, I believe that no matter how dark your world is, you can always walk into the light.