An Essay

What does fiction mean to me?

This is the question posed by my fabulous life coach, Andrea Maurer, as part of our 90-Day Power Play program. And being the A+++ student I strive to be, I wholeheartedly threw myself into research and reflection.

First, however, a little background. This question was prompted by my general angst and insecurity about writing fiction full-time. (I know, I know. Me? Angst and insecurity? Shocking.) A portion of my 90-Day goals revolves around completing and releasing my next book — my first published work of fiction. Oh, I’ve written plenty of novels — none of which will ever see the light of day. “See How They Run” will be the first. And there’s a lot of nervousness around that — of course, because that’s how I choose to experience it.

It seems indulgent, really, after a lucrative and successful career as a marketing copywriter to switch gears and devote myself to the writing that I actually love to do — the writing that fuels and inspires me. Just because I made a career as a copywriter doesn’t mean I can make a career as a novelist, right? Just because fiction is what I love doesn’t mean it’s earth-shattering for anyone else, true? And those are the self-limiting conversations that run laps around the hamster wheel in my mind.

Who am I to follow my dreams? Who am I to believe that what inspires me might someday inspire others?

And that’s where Shmee comes in.

“What is the value of fiction to you?” she asked. “What would your life be without books?”

And thus my research began.

My entire life has revolved around reading and writing. From as early as I can remember, I was hoarding books, checking out as many as the library would allow, sneaking into the adult section to read snippets of Judy Blume’s “Wifey.” (I mean, how dirty could the author of “Blubber” be, really…?) When I wasn’t reading, I was writing, observing, listening, jotting down bits of conversations, maneuvering my way through the complex maze of human emotions via words and pencils and paper.

And yes, there were books that changed me, shaped me, helped me define my own place in this world. Judy Blume almost singlehandedly taught me how to make my way through grade school. V.C. Andrews taught me about high drama and cliched angst. Ernest Hemingway helped me appreciate the power of great literary works. Maya Angelou introduced me to the beauty of poetic prose. Today, I still continue to learn from my favorites… Ann Patchett, Donna Tartt, Lisa Genova, Julia Glass, Chris Bohjalian, Ilie Ruby, Caroline Leavitt, Kim Edwards, Anne Lamott, Amy Bloom, Ann Tyler, Kathryn Stockett, my newly discovered Eleanor Brown… I could go on forever.

I suppose the point is that if fiction helped shape my life, perhaps my own words can help shape another’s. Shmee explained to me, “You have a gift. You need to give that gift away. You have to allow it to grow and expand. A gift is nothing if it is not offered with open hands.”

You see, I’ve been worried (again, shocking, I know…) that what I want to do most doesn’t really mean anything. I’m not saving the world, I’m not reforming public education, I’m not writing self-help books to help improve lives, I’m not feeding hungry children in Africa, I’m not rescuing abandoned dogs, I’m not saving souls from eternal damnation.

But.

What if one person reads one sentence and says, “Yes! Yes! That’s how I felt. That’s what I saw. That’s what I needed to hear.”

Again, it all goes back to the human connection; our need to feel a part of something bigger; our need to know we are not alone in this crazy world. Our stories are all different, and yet they’re all the same. We’re human. We love, we hurt, we heal, we grow, we cry, we laugh, we need, we give, we take, we run, we stumble, we doubt, we believe. We are.

We are.

I was browsing at the bookstore with Mary the other day (best friend, beautiful day, books… ahhh…), and as always, I was like a proverbial kid in a candy store. I could stay at Barnes & Noble all day long, without a meal, a bathroom break, a drink of water, a prolonged breath. That’s how sustaining books are to me. My eyes are always wide, my hands always reaching for the next one, my lips eager to spread the word.

“Have you read this one, Mary?” I asked again and again and again. And we talked and laughed and shared recommendations.

At one point during our trip, Mary turned to me and said, “I love how much you love books.”

It was the greatest compliment anyone could bestow upon me.

Books help me connect life’s dots — if I slow down enough to draw the lines between them. Shmee has introduced me recently to the beautiful Amy Oscar. She is a lovely soul who writes about angels and heavenly interventions and spiritual awakenings that tend to stretch me out of my normal comfort zone. Yes, I believe in angels. I’m a good Catholic girl, after all. (Well, the “good” might be debatable…) I have a guardian angel; I attended a school named after Michael the Archangel; there are most definitely angels in my life. But I don’t necessarily talk about them. Verbalizing those beliefs is a little “woo woo” to me, I must admit. But Amy Oscar does it beautifully, gently, without boundaries or judgment. And so, I’ve been reading what she has to say and wondering how it all fits into my own life.

During that same Barnes & Noble trip with Mary, I picked up a copy of Chris Bohjalian’s “Secrets of Eden.” It was a signed copy, and after I kicked myself for completely missing the opportunity to meet him in person (can you say Author Stalker?), I bought the book. I’m a sucker for a signature. And I’ll be damned if a central theme in that book wasn’t angels. Angels! And you know what else? It was set near Bennington, Vermont. And you all know how I feel about Bennington. I don’t know what all those things mean, but I know there aren’t any coincidences in life. So, I’m listening. I’m waiting. I’m ready to connect those dots when the next one makes itself visible to me.

In the past three weeks, I’ve read every book pictured above. As I was plumping my pillow, gripping my glass of Apothic Red, and reaching out for the next decadent work of fiction, I said to my dissertation-writing husband, “I’m becoming a book whore.” He replied without pause, “You’ve always been a book whore.” And so I have.

When I was little, I eschewed TV in favor of my next “Little House on the Prairie” book. Of course, I never missed a Tuesday night curled up on my mom’s lap to watch “Happy Days” and “Laverne and Shirley,” but otherwise, I always favored reading over watching. I’d spend hours upon hours curled up in a storage locker in our apartment laundry room, poring over words while engulfed in the overpowering scent of Downy fabric sheets and the comforting chug of the dryers. In the summer (when I wasn’t racing my bike to the Boys and Girls Club to compete in my next softball game or kicking all the neighbor boys’ asses on the basketball court), I would venture out into the field behind our building and hunker down with a book in the cozy cardboard fort I’d created. (I’d probably also sneak a Merit Ultra Light or two, but that was neither here nor there…)

Literature courses in high school and college? Manna from heaven. Essay and research paper assignments? Bring it on. I couldn’t get enough. And even when I was taking 18 hours of Shakespeare and American Lit and Women’s Lit, I still found time to read contemporary fiction.

And so, Dear Shmee, here’s what I’ve discovered: If I have allowed others’ words to mold and shape my day-to-day life, then I need to give that gift back to the world. In fact, it would seem downright selfish not to, wouldn’t it? Who am I to decide what someone else might want or need in his or her lifetime? All I can do is open my hands and offer whatever I am able.

Now, I’m going to wait patiently for my A+++.

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About Katrina Anne Willis

Author, friend, lover, dreamer, drinker of red wine.
This entry was posted in Big Thinks, Great Reads, Me Myself And I, Write On and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to An Essay

  1. Amy Oscar says:

    Thank you for your lovely mention of my work, my book. I loved your post. As I read it, there was so much that made me want to respond – to comment. This line kept jumping out at me: “It seems indulgent, really, after a lucrative and successful career as a marketing copywriter to switch gears and devote myself to the writing that I actually love to do — the writing that fuels and inspires me. ”

    I felt the same way, when I quit my job to write in my own voice- scared and unsteady and ever so selfish. But as it turned out, NOT writing my way would have been the most self-indulgent act of all. I would have stayed in a job that I enjoyed but was not filled or fully ‘useful’ in. I would have become more and more resigned and resentful.

    Instead, I discovered, as you are, that when I allowed my true voice to flow, I was doing the least selfish thing possible. It was the only way to truly be of service in the world – using myself up by pouring myself fully into life, using my gifts to share my experience with others and encouraging them to do the same.

  2. My work here is done. You get it. You get that gifts as big as the one that books have been to you, are made to share. And in that sharing, the gift gets bigger and bigger and bigger… for everyone, those that read and are touched by what you write AND you. That’s the magical part.

    You HAVE to give it, Kat. There is no other choice. There will be no rest (for any of us, I fear 😉 until you do. These kinds of things won’t go away, quietly or otherwise. It will nudge and knock and buzz around your head incessantly until you heed its call. Every book you read is like adding fuel to the already raging fire that burns inside of you. I guess what I’m trying to say is, for the love of GOD, finish the damn book and put it out into the world where it can work its magic.

    Oh, and by the way, you’re not just a book whore… you’re also an A+++ whore. I think that might me your pimp. Sweet.

  3. Dawn Waldron says:

    Oh yes! This is a wonderful post that made me shiver all the way down to my toes. You absolutely have to write because I was there with you in Barnes & Noble and I’m completely with you re the power of books to change lives – and to support the rest and relaxation of those who are changing lives. Without books my (wonderful) life would have been a greyer place. As a child they were my escape, as a young adult they sheped my life, as an older adult they expand my horizons, all the time rubbing soothing balm between my shoulder blades. Please write. You need to. We need you to.
    PS Isn’t Shmee wonderful?

  4. Dawn Waldron says:

    or even ‘shaped’ my life 🙂

  5. patsy see says:

    Please refer to the film Chariots of Fire:

    Eric Liddell: “God made me for [missionary work in] China; but He also made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.”

    Also see references in the works of St. Thomas Aquinas re: the variety of gifts of mankind.

    My opinion (because there is no writing from me that does not contain a vehement assertion): It is a pitiable sin not to use the gifts that God gave you. If you use them, you make Him smile; if you use them to connect–others to each other, others to their inner selves, others to greater truths–you make Him sing with joy.

  6. Nicole says:

    Great post! I’d be lying if I said I didn’t zoom in on that pic to see how many of those books I’d read too…;) You inspire me to read – and write – thank heavens you’re in my life!

  7. Dawn Pier says:

    Oh Katrina! This is why you came into my life. We have so much to share, so much that connects, dissects and interjects. I feel like God was talking to me through you in this post. Thank you.

    And Patsy, your comment about making God sing with joy when we use our gifts “to connect–others to each other, others to their inner selves, others to greater truths” touched me profoundly.

  8. How do you feel about Bennington?

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