Asking why I write is like asking why I breathe. Because I have to; it’s not voluntary. Tell the ocean to stop making those damn waves; leaves not to bud, bloom and then fall; clouds not to gather and clear. Try telling me not to write.Sometimes writing feels more like an affliction than a passion or interest. But the why is simple. There are stories in me I must tell.A lot of what I write is make-believe. I like playing it safe. Telling the truth is fraught with high voltage wires which once touched can electrify and ignite. Plus writing fiction can be delicious. From acts of betrayal in “real-life,” I can capture villains and victims, placing them as hostages in my fantasies. Go ahead and jilt me, I will murder you with ink. Drop me from your inner sanctum of friends, you may find yourself a fat, pathetic, whining murderer. Fire my child and see how you like being the foil for someone’s cruel indifference. And you can never complain, because, you see, I don’t write about real people. Of course, I don’t.If you drink Guinness, you know somewhere beneath the frothy head on your stout, below that first sip so delicious none other can be as good, you hit the thick body of liquid, heavily laden as if all of Ireland’s burden had been poured into your chilled mug. Though not necessarily as pleasant as the head, or first sip, it is in this sludge where you will find genuine flavor and satisfaction.That is why I write. So I can dredge from the sludge the inescapable reality of the flavor of life. Ignoring what needs to be written never makes it go away, it only makes it thicker, heavier. The stuff churns, not regularly or predictably, but rather when you don’t expect it. A word or an image flashes by, sending you a message reminding you you will not be free to move about the cabin until you flee the binding strangulation of your seat belt, the one you buckled yourself into.Writing drains the wound, opens the sore to the fresh air to heal. Writing releases the pressure and eases the pain. A writer is like a sponge, soaking in the human experience, occasionally jubilance or triumph, but mostly the exquisite sad stories of ordinary souls.Like Larry, for instance. There I am on a tropical island so pristine and perfect, I have trouble ignoring God. As I amble onto a beach where I plan to spend my day reading, swimming and purging myself of the toxins in my life, I see two women and a man crouched down around an immature sea gull. Of course, I can’t shut up. I have to ask. They tell me the gull can’t fly. I make sympathetic noises, happy for once to let someone else be in charge.I settle in and watch the man tend to the immobile gull. He gently scoops the bird into his hands and walks with it down the beach to the cottage where he is apparently staying. The gull barely resists. Larry, I now know his name even though I don’t want to because I am committed to not being involved in this mission while I strive to be without one, wades into the water about knee deep and sits the duck on the still Caribbean blue water. The gull can at least float. I turn back to Harlan Coben.But even while Harlan rivets me, I cannot stop watching Larry and the gull, who has now been named Louie. I am drawn to this story. I watch Larry as much as Louie.Larry is a handsome man in his late fifties, early sixties. He is tall and appears fit. His skin is smooth and tanned. But something is wrong, I sense. Larry’s gait is tentative, hesitant. His eyes are vacant. His words are slow and few. He tends to Louie with loving simplicity, sitting with him in the sand, taking him out in the water for dunks, feeding him tiny fish he has spent hours catching, worrying when Louie will not eat.Larry’s wife, vivacious and vibrant, the perfect study in contrast to her mate has called the vet. Thank God. I can move onto my next book. Monitoring the story of Larry and Louie is beginning to exhaust me. I am writing in my journal about them, worrying that Larry is becoming too attached to Louie. I am becoming too invested in their story. I am on vacation, for God’s sake.The vet comes to the beach and bustles around Louie, smiling and laughing all the while. I stay glued to my beach chair fifty feet away, book opened on my lap, thrilled that my Jackie O sunglasses allow me to observe what is going on with the vet without being observed. I am now stalking a sea gull. This is my vacation.The vet explains that a number of birds in Florida and the Caribbean have developed a syndrome where they simply are unable to fly, that it is somehow connected to balance; some recover and others simply die. There is no treatment. She offers to take the bird. Larry’s wife looks at Larry and turns to the vet. She asks the vet if she could come back later in the afternoon after her last house call so that Louie could spend the rest of the day with them. I am beginning to like Larry’s wife.Larry sits on the sand next to Louie. He and his wife take Louie in the water where he eats something the wife has ground up that makes her wriggle her nose in disgust. Larry hangs out with Louie for the afternoon, much as I am hanging out with my husband. They sit on the beach, go in for a swim, come out, dry off, sit some more on the beach. I am worried how Larry will cope with his separation from Louie.Toward the end of the afternoon after Larry had taken Louie for a walk down the beach and back, he steps into the water right in front of where I am sitting. He places Louie once again on the silky turquoise water. Louie flaps his wings a little, then a little more. I lean forward, my book falling face open into the sand. I don’t care. Louie is going to fly, I just know it.I sense my husband next to me also at attention. We are about to witness a miracle. The flapping stops for just long enough for me to hold my breath and hope Larry’s heart is not about to break, when Louie spreads those wings once more and flies up about three feet and skims over the water for a hundred yards, landing out by a few yachts where the other gulls hang, waiting for a treat.We clap without thinking. Larry turns around and looks at us and smiles. My eyes tear. I know something is happening to Larry that I can’t understand. What I do understand is that I have been privileged to witness it.Larry and his wife head home a few days before our vacation ends. Twice after their departure, while my husband and I sat in the same spot we territorialized our entire vacation, a gull landed about three feet away from us. On each occasion, the gull walked around a little, cocked his head a few times, and let out some very plaintive cries. “Where’s Larry?” we knew he was saying. Louie, I wish I knew.Why do I write? I write because Larry’s story seeps into my cells, weighs my heart and brings a lump in my throat that won’t go away until I do.Read more
Am I the only one who intentionally waits to read a book until it calls to me?
Don’t get me wrong. I fully plan to read the latest Sue Grafton waiting on my shelf since August as soon as I finish the book I am currently reading. You see, Kinsey Millhone called to me last night. Maybe I was thinking about peanut butter and pickle sandwiches, which I don’t eat. Or was it seeing some hearty seniors running the Eight Tuff Miles race in St. John in the Virgin Islands that made me remember fondly Kinsey’s dear friend and landlord, Henry? Never mind, I just know something tugged and me and told me it was time to take “X” off the bookshelf where it has been patiently waiting for my beckon.
I had the pleasure of meeting and talking with Elizabeth George at the New England Crime Bake this past November. She has been one of my favorite authors since I bought her first book in hardcover in blind faith almost thirty years ago. Surely, I would want to immediately devour A Banquet of Consequences, especially since the author signed my copy. But I knew better. There would come a moment when the book would practically leap into my arms, so hungry was I for tales of lofty Lynley and lovable, but naughty Havers. That moment arrived a few days ago when the 573 page novel fell into my arms, just a day after Robert Galbreith (JK Rowling’s pseudonym) had left me breathless after A Career of Evil, also read when I longed for Strike and Robin to share their new adventures.
Sometimes the draw seems to be place. Authors who write location as passionately as character can affect me so in the future, I find myself thinking, it’s time to be in Dublin and Tana French must be read. Other times, I find myself missing characters, which is one reason I love series.
I wonder do others have these literary cravings. Insatiable, as if for a memorable Bolognese, do you find yourself absolutely must having to read a particular author or about a place or character?