PASSAGES IN INDIA
Recently, a colleague went to India on business. She loves to read, and she asked if she could take several of my short stories with her. I was thrilled and promptly loaded two manila envelopes, thinking that she probably wouldn’t really enjoy them, that perhaps she was just asking to be polite.
Yesterday she came up to me and told me that my stories had saved her life.
Before she goes on any trip, her husband buys her a book to read. For this trip, he’d given her the latest novel by her favorite author, one he was sure she hadn’t read. Ecstatic, she decided to read the novel on the long flight and stowed my envelopes in her checked luggage.
After the plane was in the air, she eagerly cracked the new book—then got to the end of page one and realized she had read it. She could have read it a second time, she said, but frankly, she hadn’t really enjoyed it that much the first time.
When she finally arrived at her hotel, she was wired. “I thought, ‘what the hell am I going to do with myself?’ and then I remembered your stories and I was so excited!” She had her favorites—for those of you who are curious, she loved “Red Circle,” “Crossing Guards,” “Paisley Surprise,” and “Doors” the most—and went into detail about how they affected her, or what they made her think. “Every night at the hotel, I had them all spread out on the bed, and I’d pick one to read. Sometimes I read two, and some of them, I even read twice. I would have gone nuts over there if I didn’t have them.”
Although I was, of course, flattered by all these compliments, that’s not why I’m sharing this. I’m sharing this because during the course of the conversation I was struck by how many times I’ve doubted my career choice: as in, ‘why am I a writer? What’s the point of all this?’ I know other writers feel this way sometimes, too, although from sharing with my friends, most of us agree that it’s because we can’t not write—it’s born in us, something we have to do or we go crazy. This is usually followed by shop talk: what good writing is or is not, whether or not something we wrote is technically perfect, the minutiae of submissions, the state of the publishing industry or academia. We get all tangled up in the business, where we fit in it, and how it will judge us.
I had an epiphany when I was talking with Karen. That sometimes we forget the other reason we’re writing: our readers. Part of the job is providing them with an experience: we can allow escape, entertain, spark laughter, encourage thought, inspire change. It’s not all about us. It’s about others. Any piece of work we write—even if it’s not perfect—could heal someone, change his outlook, teach him something. That—not selling millions of copies at the bookstore or getting tenure in an English department—is the true measure of success.
Before we parted ways, Karen said she was going to pass the pile on to one of her colleagues.
I wonder what my stories will do next.
 “Red Circle” was first published as “The Red Circle” in The Adirondack Review’s Fall 2002 issue and is still available online for free here. It was reprinted in Mudrock: Stories & Tales’ Winter 2005 issue.
 “Crossing Guards” was published in Millenial Concepts’ Walls & Bridges Anthology in 2008. It’s available in both paperback and Kindle formats.
 “Paisley Surprise” will appear later in 2010 in Lame Goat Press’ Inner Fears anthology.
 “Doors” was just written while I was in Ptown in January and still has some minor clean-up to undergo before it gets submitted. If you’d like to read what inspired it, however, you can visit here.
Posted on March 23, 2010, in Deep Thoughts & Fun Stuff and tagged Crossing Guards, Doors, India, Paisley Surprise, Red Circle, Writing. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.
“I had an epiphany when I was talking with Karen. That sometimes we forget the other reason we’re writing: our readers. Part of the job is providing them with an experience: we can allow escape, entertain, spark laughter, encourage thought, inspire change. It’s not all about us.”
Thank you! My dear friend, you have just summarized exactly why I write fanfiction. Because my fanfic truly is all about the readers. My non-fanfic stories… I have no idea who will read those. That can be cool, but also sometimes a bit… dull? But I know a whole group of people who will definitely read my fanfic stories, who will, above all, enjoy them. And that can be a great source of satisfaction.
Thanks, Rachel! I remember, way back in high school, I used to do the same thing…write stories just for my friends. Everyone enjoyed them. I just realized that while it’s nice to aim for the stars, it’s also nice to remember that bottom line.
And I loved your Combat! ghost story. That was rockin! I finally had a chance to read it. Hopefully we can hook up at Panera soon when your life calms down. I really miss our afternoon write-ins.
We can either meet up for a couple hours around 1pm ish some Saturday without the baby, or I can bring her along at this point and she should just sleep and nurse the whole time — things are easy when they’re this little and that’s all they do. Either way works for me.
I wrote a brand new story today with her asleep on my lap — 2,100 words in two hours, typed with one hand! I’m so psyched! My first new whole story since the ghost one. Which I’m glad you liked 😀
Sounds doable! I’m actually not around for like the next couple of weekends, but I will be after that. I’m so GLAD to hear you’re back on the writing horse!