In a couple of weeks, The Divine Secrets of the Writing Sisterhood will celebrate their second anniversary. It has been two very rewarding years, packed with happy moments. We Sisters have grown close to one another and to our followers. A new part of us has emerged in this blogging journey. We have become award-winning bloggers, we have learned fresh skills and passed old knowledge to new friends. But in this post I would like to share my own personal experience, the gift that these two years have given me, particularly the faculty to fall in love again…with novels!
I started this blogging trip with a baggage of preconceptions about the whole process of writing, publishing and the mechanics of reading. After two years, I´m sorry to confess that my prejudices against the publishing industry and its minions have increased, but I have lost fear and gained respect for self-publishing and e-books. I truly hope many novice writers learn about these new paths before subjecting themselves to the anguish and self-doubt the other road could lead them to.
Alas! Self publishing is not an option for me since along the way; I lost one piece of luggage, the one containing my dreams of becoming a published author. Does that mean I have learned humility in this trip? Perhaps I will when I discard one last dream, writing fiction altogether. I am still clinging to that bag, but reason and conscience tell me that writing non-fiction is my thing. In these two years I have acquired appreciation and reverence for the blogging profession and for non-fiction writing in general. I will not stop scribbling, but I may stay away from fiction (and yet I have such a wonderful story in my mind that I shall take to my grave).
Most important than giving up on writing, is the recovery of an old romance that shaped my personality in the past. I am talking about my love for novels. Reading novels plays different roles in each individual life. Some read to learn, some to escape reality, some seek entertaining; others search for models to apply to their own craft. In Sister Mary Mary’s blog there is a quote that reads “a book is a present that you can open over and over again.” According to Carlos Ruiz Zafón, books are “mirrors” that return our reflection. Indeed, in more than one occasion fiction has thrown my own reflection back at me, the old "identification thing” that I have so often mentioned in my posts. Indeed, they are presents that constantly renew their promise of joy, but they are more than that, and this blog helped me discover it.
“What are books for you?”an interviewer asked me years ago. “Friends,” I answered regretting what could sound like a cliché. They are friends, but once in a while, some charismatic piece of fiction has also been my lover. I have struck friendship with novels into the past, but I also became romantically attached to certain stories. There is such intimacy in burrowing inside a good tale, wandering into plots that make me meet the unconventional, the unpredictable and the incredible while forcing me to see my image mirrored on them like on a lover´s eyes. Losing that experience was akin to losing part of my womanhood, and yet I let it happen.
I wonder if all of you writers have gone through something similar, but as I ventured into writing land I became disenchanted with literature. Fiction ceased to charm me. The more I learned about style principles and publishing rules, the more judgmental I became. Every novel that had come to the market after 2000 seemed flawed, artificial, lacking of charm and mystery. As my capacity for self-criticism increased, so did my cruelty in judging imperfection in others, especially those who had found agents and publishers. It went beyond envy as I never judged out of spite, I never criticized without grounds. The manual was there, always at hand to remind me that those who broke the rules made it to the top.
Enough of that. Just know that reading fiction became a painful, exhausting and eventually boring affair. It resembled a mathematical exercise, leaving no space for romance. Blissfully, I did not regret it much. Like so many things that age had banned for me, I accepted it. But the enormity of what I had lost only came to me when I recovered it, and I have only this blog to thank for that. In order to write a monthly post, I was forced to read fiction (and sometimes watch films as companions to the text) again. Little by little, I gave up on the stylistic examination and let great plots sucked me in. I narrowed down my criticism just to apply it to the content and character development aspects of a novel, exactly as my undergrad and graduate studies had prepared me to do.
Over these last two years, I have bumped into new and fascinating genres like the historical whodunit and its partner, the historical thriller. I have re-discovered the poetry of Edith Wharton’s tales and made my peace with The Devil Wears Prada, to the point that I consider it above the mere label of “chick lit.” And I have fallen in love with George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire. It had dazzled me, it had comfort me, and it had humbled me showing that whatever my work was before it could never reach that magnificence.
If I were to encapsulate the essence of that magical fiction that charmed me of my tree branch I should mention three qualities: characters that evolve to the point where you want them to be; a plot that combines every ingredient of the human tragicomedy including romance, and a sense that although the tale is set in fabled days it could have happen in a real historical setting, even in my own Twentieth Century. Most important, all those qualities transport me to a spot within those pages in which I cease to be a mere reader-witness but become both an actor and the writer-puppeteer that pulls the strings in that universe.
Have you ever experienced such degree of emotion with a book? I hadn’t reached these heights of passion since I read Paul Scott’s The Jewel in the Crown in another continent and another century. There´s something angelic in words that bring you to such heights. A quality that I can only find in Chopin’s Preludes or Ol’Blue Eyes’ voice. Perhaps that is why they make the perfect musical background for my reading journeys.
In many ways, reading can be a transforming experience, and a passionate one that moves you to tears of joy and fits of anger. If I compare it to a love affair is because I cannot think of any other activity that provokes such a myriad of emotions in me. But what about you? What is your relationship with fiction? Do you read to learn, to distract yourself from everyday routine or do you experience once in a while rapture similar to mine? If so, could you share with us which novels have moved you?
Malena (formerly known as Violante)
Malena (formerly known as Violante)