Thursday, March 25, 2010

Being on the Radio--WNPR Helps Me Fall in Love with My Story Again

This week I had my small moment in the sun. A thrill for any writer, I was invited for an interview on WNPR about my new novel, Qualities of Light. I'd sent a copy of the book to WNPR in October, when the book was released, hoping but not expecting. The email came in February--We're interested in interviewing you. Yes! I said.

The host is a real expert at getting the story behind the story, no matter who she's talking with. Faith Middleton's show is in its twenty-ninth year, and it has won two Peabody Awards (broadcasting's equivalent of the Pulitzer).

I've spoken on over 100 radio and TV programs in past years, for my other books, and it should've been a breeze. But the novel felt much more personal, more risky to talk about. I prepared lots of notes, and even with all my experience, I was nervous as I drove to the studio in the rain that morning. I'd heard wonderful things about Faith's warm and engaging style, but it didn't matter. What if she asked me something weird? Or, worse, criticized my book in front of all those invisible listeners?

She asked me to sit across from her, in a cozy armchair. I asked for a table for my notes, and she said I wouldn't need any. Oh, boy, more jitters. But her smile and obvious enjoyment of the process of our interview softened everything. So did her first question:

Tell us about the image or moment when you began this book. Where were you, what were you doing?

I'm a writer who lives in images. I usually start a book with a moment, or an image, and when Faith asked that question, I was immediately back on the lakeside dock, that summer nine years ago in the Adirondacks, watching the waterskiier's white wake across the wide expanse of water. I remember how that image struck me at the time, how it propelled the thought She walks on water.

I began to dream the dream that begins each book. To look at this dream again, during the interview, brought back all the joy I felt on that lakeside dock. Since I'm a painter, the visual was the doorway for me, into the dream. Other writers experience this dream doorway as sounds or smells, a feeling, a thought, a different kind of moment.

The other question Faith asked that really surprised me, delighted me, and made me think anew about the writing process was this: What did I expect readers to get from my story, and how that was different from what they said they got.

What an insightful question. Yes, there was a difference!

My intent, simply put, is for people to accept the idea that love is love. When love comes, no matter how it comes, it is important and real. You can't predict it, or control it, and it's a gift most times. I wanted us, as a culture, to get over the idea of predictable packages and recognize love in all its miraculous forms.

But readers take books in different directions than authors intend. My readers have been mostly transfixed with the family story--the equally miraculous change that happens in families after trauma, when certain "qualities of light" within a person transform and heal other family members. One elderly friend bought eleven copies of my novel to give to her friends, saying that the story was healing because of what happened in the family. It would give families hope.

This Week's Writing Exercise

This week's exercise has two parts. It lets you explore your starting and your ending for your beautiful project.

First, spend some time revisiting the initial image of your writing project. What did you start with? Was it visual, a sound or smell, a feeling, a thought or idea? Spend 10-20 minutes writing about it. See what comes to renew your love for your book or project.

Secondly, freewrite for 20 minutes about your intent for the book. What do you want readers to get from it? What might they get, despite you?

If you want to listen to my interview on WNPR, the online link is below. Let me know what you think: