Let’s talk about falling in love. With an author.
God, that new author feeling, the thrill of discovery, that moment poised at the brink, knowing you’re falling and just fucking going with it. The best moment, even after falling, is looking that author up and finding out they have a backlist. Even I love that, and I’m maybe the stingiest person you’ve ever met. I stress over a buck ninety-nine gluten free yogurt covered pretzels.
How do you find this new love, this brilliant door leading to all the new worlds? Maybe you find them through a friend, online or meat world. Maybe you stumble upon a link somewhere, a line about a book that looks intriguing, and you click that link, not knowing you’re about to change your fucking life.
(I’d apologize for being dramatic, except I’m not being dramatic. I wouldn’t be sitting here talking to you if I didn’t think books change lives. I know they do. Books opened up entire universes for me, worlds that absolutely helped me survive adolescence. Books get me through rough nights with a baby and toddler, terrible days struggling with depression. Books change lives. I assume, going forward, that you and I agree.)
Let me tell you a story. No. Let me tell you a few.
I received two books from a friend of my dad’s for my eleventh birthday. These remain, to this day, two of the only birthday gifts I remember from my entire life.
Dolores Claiborne by Stephen King and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie (Wikipedia page contains mad spoilers, so don’t read it if you haven’t read the book). Clearly the gift of someone who was not, himself, a reader, but thought, Hey, Pat’s kid likes reading, so I’ll get a few random books. These look good.
I devoured Delores Claiborne almost immediately and proceeded to track down quarter copies of any Stephen Kings I could find. That book just happened to be recently released the year I turned eleven, and yet, it started me on a lifetime of love for Mr King.
Now the Agatha Christie, that’s an interesting one. I’d never read Christie before The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, and no other book of hers lived up to the mindfuck of that one. (It took me a full year to read it straight through. I’d tried to read it maybe five times–at the time I flogged myself through a lot of books I thought I should read, like Gone with the Wind, though TMRA is one of the only ones I ended up enjoying.)
No idea how it landed in my lap, like I’m relatively sure no book store employee said, “Oh, eleven, that’s the perfect age for Agatha Christie!” And it didn’t end in a love affair with the author, though I did read a number of Marples and additional Poirots over the years. But I fucking loved TMRA like it was going directly into the part of my brain where the muse lives. The end of that book? Floored me. Knocked me flat on my ass. I started it right over again to see how the fuck she’d done it.
No spoilers. Seriously. I know it was published a long time ago, but you gotta just walk into that one and let it steamroll you at the end.
The last story is courtesy of my pal Cass. (HI, CASS!) Years ago Cass was working at a big bookstore, and co-facilitated a lesbian book club. (She’ll correct me in the comments, maybe, if I’m getting that wrong.) One of the books she picked um was Ammonite by Nicola Griffith, and she ended up passing it along to me.
Oh my god. Fucking Ammonite. I moved into that book and lived on Jeep for days.
Nicola Griffith’s style isn’t something I’m in the mood for all the time. I’m trying to figure out how to describe it. It’s not cold, by any means. It’s rich and deep and visceral, but it also shows restraint–in a good way, in a way that perfectly suits her stories, but you may have noticed that writerly restraint is not my strong suit. Nor is it something I particularly enjoy reading, even when it’s the exactly perfect tone for the story in question.
But god, her stories twist my balls just right; they make me want more, they make me want a thousand fanfictions to follow it up, they make me admit, grudgingly, that no matter how much more I want, these books are really complete, and I should just fucking get over my reader-greed. (Naturally, I linked above to a post on her blog which includes an Ammonite prequel, because: YES, PLEASE.)
The other glorious thing about Nicola Griffith is that although we write very different things, in very different ways, she talks about writing in a way that makes sense to me. This happens almost never. Writing is so fucking personal, and the vast majority of people talking about it are either talking about Big Art or bitching about how hard it is, and writer’s block, and whatever. Nicola Griffith talks writing like it’s both art and work, like it’s both magic and also, man, it’s just fucking building, it’s architecture, it’s putting the pieces together and taking them apart and digging the trenches and constantly assessing whether the changes you’ve just made got you closer to the book, or pushed you farther away.
She’s got a brilliant, incredible piece on revising, but I can’t find it. The take-away from which is about paying attention to your body when reading your work; if your stomach hurts, or you suddenly have a killer headache, or you find you’re shifting around uncomfortably while you read, something’s wrong in the story. Pay attention to that, go back a few pages, and figure out what your body understands that your brain hasn’t caught up to yet.
I could go on for hours and days and tens of thousands of words, but I’ll stop. (For now.)
Over to you all–who are your author love affairs? What books have taken over your life and changed the way you see the world? How often does that happen for you? Because I gotta tell you, if I could hit this high once a week, I would do it. I love the addiction, and I always want more.