Of late, my blogs have taken a turn toward the current state of our nation. We’re witnessing a type of unbridled chaos that leaves one simultaneously exhausted from and titillated by the constant flow of unbelievable news emanating from Washington, D.C., Mar-a-Lago, or Bedminster, New Jersey. Many a writer has posted on Facebook or tweeted on Twitter, “You can’t make this &*%$ up!” They are correct. Today’s truths and untruths stretch the imagination beyond the limits of many fiction writers.
While I endorse writing novels with a message, I also appreciate the fact that a lot of people prefer films, plays, and novels that entertain, that tell a good story with a happy ending. Many readers enjoy relating emotionally to the ups and downs of a character’s romantic entanglements, especially if those entanglements are ironed out at the book’s conclusion. Today, perhaps more than ever, many readers seek to disengage temporarily from the news’ headlines and dive into the lives of their novels’ characters. Romance fiction fulfills readers’ desires.
Earlier this month Women and Words posted Fiona Zedde’s blog, “3,000 romance writers walk into a hotel…,” written after Fiona attended the Romantic Times Booklovers’ Convention in Atlanta. Never having been a participant of such a huge gathering of writers and fans, she took note of her emotional reactions to the conference’s various events.
I recognized the feeling of unity with other writers that Fiona experienced. Vicariously I relived the sparks of mental stimulation that have flowed through my brain each time I’ve listened to other writers speak at the annual GCLS Cons.
Two Thursdays ago I set off to attend a presentation given by an author whose name I didn’t know. The event was sponsored by Center on the Hill, a combination arts, cultural activities, learning opportunities venue located in the spacious annex of a Presbyterian church just ten miles or so from my home. The memory of Fiona’s recent experience pushed me into my car and motivated me to attend.
Driving past country cottages interspersed with newly built mega-houses, and a field of sheep grazing on baby-green grass, I asked myself what did I expect to hear from this unknown author. What did I expect to learn as I listened to a man whose CV detailed a life spent in corporate America? As I parked in the shaded lot behind the building, I recalled the flyer I’d read about the program. It included a blurb announcing free coffee and dessert. If listening to this author turned out to be as thrilling as watching cement dry on a rainy day, surely the free goodies would sweeten the afternoon.
Twenty people gathered and sat down at tables that were distributed throughout the auditorium-size space. The speaker-du-jour, Harry Groome, M.F.A., walked to the podium, straightened his posture, and greeted us.
Once again, I asked myself why was I there? What did I have in common with this man?
Harry Groome was not a black writer. He was not a female writer. Nothing about his presence signaled he was gay. My internal gaydar screen remained devoid of any blips.
Harry was a retiree who’d always loved to write. He spoke slowly and thoughtfully, without any prepared notes. He told us he’d always considered himself a storyteller. He mentioned his childhood years, growing up in a family which he labeled “members of Philadelphia’s impoverished aristocracy.” Harry described his romance with the craft of writing and his tenure as editor-in-chief of his college’s award winning student newspaper. He recounted each position he’d filled during a corporate career spent in the U.S. and the U.K. Each job had involved writing or editing. Clearly, writing was one of the strands of Harry’s DNA.
During a lively question and answer period, Harry described what for him was the most difficult aspect of being an author…receiving rejection letters whose contents convinced him he was a failure. He reminded us that writers live solitary lives and sometimes “solitary” really feels more like “lonely.” When asked about his writing process, he explained he never outlines his plots. His favorite task in creating a novel is when he revises a first draft. That’s when he has an opportunity to use the best language and all the writing skills he practices.
At the end of that hour spent with Harry Groome, I felt the same level of enthusiasm for the act of writing that I’d experienced during many GCLS sessions. I felt affirmed.
As does Harry, I eschew outlining a plot. Instead, I let my characters lead me to and through their stories. I absolutely love the revision process because I love language and the possibility of using it to create vivid images and sensory-filled metaphors. They are not always perched on my shoulder when I’m writing a first draft, but they’ve been known to skip across the computer screen as I’m revising.
I’m happy I had the chance to listen to Harry Groome. I’m even happier I didn’t allow our gender, ethnicity, or sexuality differences keep me away from his presentation. After all, writers share many traits and behaviors that erase our differences.
When you listen to other writers’ voices, inevitably you’ll hear the echo of your own voice uttering messages you’ve given to yourself many times before.
And oh, the red velvet cupcake with the cream cheese icing was to die for.
Renee Bess is the author of five novels and several pieces of short fiction. Her current project, Our Happy Hours : LGBT Voices from the Gay Bar, is a labor of love she’s sharing with her co-story collector, Lee Lynch. Renee and Lee expect the anthology to be published later in 2017.