Friday, September 19, 2014
P.S. Duffy is the September Author in the Spotlight here on BookSnob and she has written a wonderful guest post on the power of story and the connections between readers and writers. Knowledge is power.
BOOK SNOB GUEST POST
Author of The Cartographer of No Man’s Land (W.W. Norton/Liveright, 2013)
Ernest Hemingway was once challenged in a café to write a six word story. The story he wrote on the cocktail napkin was “For sale. Baby Shoes. Never worn.” Six spare words that hold an entire world within them, that make us pause, reflect, wonder—what happened and what will happen? We do not know, but in that brief burst, the story is complete—our empathy is enlisted, our emotions engaged, our imaginations active. That is the power of story—we enter another world that intensifies our experience of the real world.
A story is a collaboration between the writer and the reader. The writer breathes in inspiration and breathes it out onto the page. That act alone can be and is very satisfying. But without readers, the story retains only the author’s vision. It is static. It does not grow. It cannot breathe. For life is defined by change. Every minute, every second, we are evolving, time is moving, and we are in the “flux” of being.
The reader’s imagination is where a story lives on. There must be enough written on the page, but also enough left unwritten to give the reader room to re-imagine it through their own perceptions and life experience. The physical image of Angus or his son, Simon Peter, the two main characters in my novel, The Cartographer of No Man’s Land, may not match yours. You’ll know Angus is tall, that he has dark hair and dark eyes, and that he has two little lines etched on the sides of his mouth. The rest is up to you. And it is your image of his physical characteristics, not mine, that you’ll hold onto as you read and discover his nature, his humility, his reluctant leadership, and his journey.
A reader said that after reading the book, he felt like he had revisited his own memories. As if he’d lived the tale. That is the way a story stays alive. That is the reader-writer collaboration. A paragraph or character will resonate in ways the writer could not have imagined nor predicted. An elderly man wrote to say the story changed the way he looked at the world and at himself. A college student I met tearfully repeated some lines near the end of the book that helped her deal with a friend’s suicide. A woman my age told me that one of her favorite characters was Peg, Simon Peter’s horse (a very minor character indeed!). When I asked why, she said that Peg was the first one to relate to George, the troubled, wounded veteran, and went on to note that she herself raises horses. Of course! She saw the “character” of Peg through her own lens. And she was right. Though I barely knew it as I wrote it, Peg’s response to George helped young Simon Peter grow to trust him. The craft of writing is a conscious act; the art of writing is a mystery best left unsolved.
When I set out to write The Cartographer of No Man’s Land, it wasn’t for fame or fortune, but for that—the hope that the words on the page, the world of the story, would touch the hearts of readers, stay with them, live on in them. What I hadn’t known was how their vision would enlarge my own. So, I thank my readers for entering in, being part of that world, for keeping it alive, re-imagined, re-drawn.
If you would like to win a copy of P.S. Duffy's book please enter here: The Cartographer of No Man's Land Giveaway