The Thanksgiving tradition in my household is to go around the table and allow everyone to say what they are thankful for. There will be no such table at my home this year (thanks, Covid) though if the weather is decent, we shall share some outdoor dinner with my jobless (thanks, Covid) son and his delightful girlfriend.
There are all kinds of folks I could put on my thank you list, my wife, my kids, my friends such as my editors, publicity director…but a writer like me needs to go out of the way to thank his readers.
Not long ago a young lady, having recently read The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, wrote to me:
“I fell in love with the story and with Charlotte, with the Seahawk and her crew. My imagination ran wild. I would pretend I was climbing the rigging with Charlotte in the storm, clinging tightly to the ropes so I didn’t slip. I was completely immersed by the story. It was wonderful to see Charlotte defy the gender roles of her society and follow her dreams.”
I think it’s impossible for a writer to get a better response than that. But I must admit, when I get such letters, what comes into my head is, “Did I really write that book?”
I can speak only for myself, but when I write a book my sole goal is to write a good story, a story that grabs a reader’s attention, and carries them to another place, another experience, another emotion.
Sometimes (I’m truly not sure how) I reach that goal. Sometimes not. But I always try to live by my mantra, “Writers don’t write writing, they write reading.”
But writers do only half the job. They need readers who are willing to engage in the story, who dive fully into the experience, who take joy in the reading-ride to … someplace.
I always go back to what I heard Donald Hall (our former poet laureate) once say:
“The writer’s job is to write what is like the letter O. But she/he writes the letter C. If the gap is too big the reader can not fill it. If the gap is too small there is no reason for the reader to fill it. But if the gap is just right, the reader fills the gap with his/her own experience and the circle (O) is complete.”
The writer and reader are collaborators. Think of them as two individual hands. Only when they come together is there a joyful noise.
So, this writer this Thanksgiving gives thanks for his readers—whoever and wherever you are—for the joy we create together.