Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Reading and Writing Friendships

It's been snowing. The river outside my office window has frozen in choppy waves and the ice is frosted in white. It's the perfect time to curl up with a book, whether that's a manuscript in progress or someone else's book to read. Most people are under the impression that writers and readers are solitary souls with no interest in companionship. Nothing could be further from the truth! Writers and readers are surrounded by friends, whether those friends are fellow writers in a community spreading from our local critique group to online contacts on the other side of the world, or friends we discover in the books we read or the books we write, who walk off their pages and make their homes in our hearts.

Often as I read a book while I was an aspiring author, I'd wish I were brave enough to write to the person who'd written that book, and tell him or her how much I loved those characters and their story. "And one day," I dreamed of adding, "I'll be published just like you." But I never wrote. What if they saw me as a stalking fan? Even worse, what if they never wrote back?

One of those books was About David, by Susan Beth Pfeffer. Lynn, the narrator walked off the pages of that book to become a friend. I even liked difficult, damaged, and dangerous David. And I very much admired the author. I lived in upstate New York at the time, and worked part-time at my local library. When I discovered that Ms. Pfeffer was speaking to a group of librarians in our region, I convinced my librarian boss to let me go along. This much-admired author was a great speaker, as friendly and intriguing and human as her books. But I still couldn't manage to introduce myself as an aspiring writer and a fan, although I went home and over the years have read my way steadily through her books.

A few years ago, I saw she had a new book out, Life As We Knew It. Miranda, experiencing the changes in her family's life after a meteor strikes the moon and knocks it off course, stepped off the pages of her diary and made herself my friend. She was no noble heroine who saved the day by setting the moon back in its place - she was a prickly teenager who was angry that the world was ending around her when she just wanted life to get back to normal so she could have a boyfriend and a proper date - and fudge. Yet she grew through the book into a teenager who still wished for those things, but accepted that she wouldn't get them, and treasured what she had in terms of family all the more.

After I finished reading this book, I felt the familiar desire to write to this author. But by then I was a published writer myself. I looked online, and to my delight, I found that Susan Beth Pfeffer had a blog! And an e-mail address! And so - I took the plunge. I wrote to her. And I made a friend, not only of the characters in a book this time, but also of their author.

I've just finished reading the ARC of the third, and probably last, book in her moon series, This World We Live In. (There was a second book in the middle, the dead & the gone, which I've also read and enjoyed, but if I write much more this blog post will grow to epic length...) I'm marveling at how my friendships have deepened, both with Sue and with Miranda, who is still prickly and fights with her mother, but has also grown into a strong, unflinching young woman who makes hard choices out of love - more like her mother than she yet realizes - and is able to act on those hard choices with tenderness. I don't want to write a formal review of this bleak, yet beautiful book - I just want to treasure the way my relationships with character and author have moved forward.

Between my friendship with Miranda and my friendship with Sue Pfeffer, I'm not alone at all as I look out at the snowy expanse.


  1. Glad to see you blogging again, Elaine! I just added you as a follower this weekend, so obviously I magically caused you to do so and am to be congratulated. :) Coincidentally, Susan featured my blog on hers this morning, and I was writing about sharing research, so we're all connected in thinking about connection today. It is all too easy to get isolated when you live inside your head as much as writers do.

    I wasn't sure about reading those new books of Pfeffer's. The premise sounds hard to bounce back from. But on your recommendation I could try them.

  2. Definitely you should take the credit, Peni - I congratulate you! We are definitely all connected in our writing life, and I really appreciate Susan sending potential readers our way. I find it hard to blog as frequently as I ought to, so I console myself by thinking that no one's reading me anyway! Now that I know more people are, I'll have to thing of things to write more often.

    I definitely recommend the three moon books - the second one is probably the hardest to take, but all of them end with hope, though not with easy answers.

  3. I suspect more people are reading your posts than are commenting on them - what a nice way to connect with friends, and incidentally find new books worth reading.

  4. Thanks, Kate - this is an excellent series, and I definitely like recommending new books to friends.