Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Honest to Fiction

I started to do something a couple of days ago that I have never done before and then I started wondering why I had not done it before. By age 43, I have done a lot of things, been a lot of places, said a lot of things, and written an ocean of words, so why haven't I ever written to an author before? I think I haven't done this b/c I equate authors with fictitious spirit creatures who deposit their thoughts in the libraries and bookstores of cities and towns, and then depart into Museland to do it all over again. They are idea people who's presence appears through words which touch our hearts and souls, but are untouchable themselves. I believe that is why I had such a struggle writing Beth Berg b/c like Santa and the Easter Bunny, I don't believe she's really there. And, like my mother, I also believe she would know if I weren't "writing true."

My scribbled and discarded letters to Beth looked something like this:

Dear Beth,

I inadvertently bought your book three years ago, thinking you were someone else. No wait. That's not really true. I enthusiastically bought your book Escaping into the Open the Art of Writing True b/c the title was eye catching, but I had never heard of you before. That won't work either--too truthful.

Dear Ms. Berg,

I bought your book three years ago while I was vacationing in Destin and needed something to keep the sun out of my eyes while getting a tan on those pristine white sand beaches that you see advertised on all those vacation brochures in the Southeast. It turned out to be a very educational and inspiring book on writing, however, not what a normal person would read on vacation, and sadly, not big enough to shield me from a whopping sunburn. To tell you the truth, it was several weeks later after I got home (and finished peeling) that I decided to declutter my life when I came across your book again and decided to yank out the annoying fluorescent strip of paper that the book store stuck in there to-- what?-- make people NOT buy their books? So, I decided in midcrumble to read the junk mail that I held oh-so-momentarily in my hand.

I was totally shocked.

On the papaya colored swath of attention grabbing paper, the hand stamped words "Signed by the Author"took my breath away. Ok, it was really stamped and then copied a zillion times, but anyway, it did leave me breathless--and feeling lucky b/c I don't like to wait in line for anything, not even for those mythical creatures called authors who appear for any hour or two on earth to push their craft, make their fairy marks in our literature, and then disappear again to the quietude of a tiger stripe oak roll top desk to create beauty in a blissful Wonderwordland. (Think Lion Witch and Wardrobe with fountain pens and ink rivers instead of fauns and winter witches.)

I'm looking at the evidence right now on the desk beside me--"Elizabeth Berg" scrawled in a flourishing script right above her printed name on the title page. Does this mean authors live here among us? I'm talking about the real authors, not fingers-in-the-air-quotes "authors" who claim to be writing a novel to justify their full skeleton of lazy bones. These two handwritten words written in REAL black ink in MY book, changed everything. I mean everything. My relationship with these mass produced printed pages transformed from "a book for anyone" to "a book for ME."

So, now that Elizabeth Berg successfully captured my attention in those microscopic ten seconds that the experts say consumers allow for perusal of printed material, I had to know more. Not wanting to take a big chance on Ms. Berg at this point, but curious, nonetheless, I went to the library instead of the book store intending to "consume" for free. (Sorta like shopping at Sam's Club on a Saturday at lunch time instead of dropping $25 at O'Charlie's for the same size portions.) The library had bunches of Berg's titles, but unfortunately only three sat on the shelf. I chose Open House to be the first novel I read which was about a single lady who kept her house by taking in boarders. I started reading it and became so engrossed that I couldn't leave the library. When I did leave, I greedily went back to the shelf to grab two other titles Talk Before Sleep and Range of Motion but the first was already gone. Not good. Well, it's good for Berg's reputation and following, but bad for me who wanted to get a lot for a little.

After I finished Open House the next day, I found that it was good that I wasn't able to bring home the entire Elizabeth Berg collection in one day. Like eating all your Christmas stocking candy by the day after Christmas, there was just too much richness in her novel to speed ahead to the next one. I wanted to open each novel carefully, take a lick, think about what the flavor reminded me of, and then wrap it back up and store it away in the safety of my thoughts. That's what an Elizabeth Berg novel does--it stays with you--(not like Christmas candy stays with you,) but Berg's words and characters validate the truth inside the fiction that stays close to our Muse and deep in our hearts.

Maybe I should tell her after all.,,

Dear Beth,

You write good. Keep it up.

Your biggest fan,