Tuesday, November 20, 2012

A Revised Reader/Writer’s Gratitude List (in alphabetical order because no way could I rank them)

I wrote the first version of this post for Thanksgiving three years ago. Since the book world and I have changed in that time, I’m claiming a writer’s privilege and revising, keeping the parts that still hold true, cutting sections that are outdated, and adding new thoughts.

Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote a lovely, eleven-line poem called “Pied Beauty” that begins “Glory be to God for dappled things.” The speaker goes on to offer praise for the freckled, speckled beauty in the created world. I always read this Hopkins poem during the Thanksgiving season. It reminds me to be more attentive to all that is praiseworthy in my world. While I will certainly offer thanks on Thursday for big things—friends, family, faith—and small ones—a single, perfect, golden leaf, the curve of a baby’s plump cheek, the sound of rain at night—I will also give thanks for bookly things, and my thanksgiving will include the fun of coining a word like “bookly” when it suits my purpose.

Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird
I read lots of books on the craft of writing, and I have found useful tidbits in nearly everyone I’ve read. But my favorite continues to be this book by Anne Lamott. It’s wise and funny, and Lamott’s voice makes me feel that she’s someone I’d love to have lunch with. I’m thankful she wrote this book, and I’m thankful that I have all these pithy quotations from the book that I can copy and stick all over my desk. It’s as if she knew exactly what I most needed to hear.

I worry about whether my plotting is an irredeemable flaw, and Lamott says, “Plot grows out of character…. I say don’t worry about plot.  Worry about the characters.  Let what they say or do reveal who they are… The development of relationship creates plot.”

I battle perfectionism, and Lamott says, “Perfectionism is a mean, frozen form of idealism, while messes are the artist's true friend. What people somehow (inadvertently, I'm sure) forget to mention when we were children was that we need to make messes in order to find out who we are and why we are here - and, by extension, what we're supposed to be writing.”

I wonder if writing is too important to me, and Lamott says, “Writing can be a pretty desperate endeavor, because it is about some of our deepest needs: our need to be visible, to be heard, our need to make sense of our lives, to wake up and grow and belong."

Books on my keeper shelves
I have several thousand keepers that I have collected over the years—mysteries, poetry, women’s fiction, and literary fiction as well as lots and lots of romances. The oldest ones belonged to my mother, others date from my childhood, and a few were published this year.  Most are books that I return to again and again, sometimes to reread in their entirety and sometimes to reread favorite passages. They make me laugh and weep and grow and remember. They hold within their pages pieces of the person I was when I first encountered them—the ten-year-old exhilarated and terrified by the idea of growing up, the twenty-something consumed with grief and finding healing in worlds that offered happy endings, the graduate student seeking escape from the “storm and stress” of literary studies, the teacher weary of marking student essays, the writer running short on inspiration and aspiration.

Friends who are writers
When I feel that everything I’ve written is crap, when I want to shelter my progeny from the blasts of rejection, when an agent’s words convince me that in the current climate publication is an unattainable dream, I have friends who zap my self-pity, cheer for my word count, challenge me to send my offspring into the world, and give me the courage to get up again when I stumble. Each shares my dream of producing a publishable novel and battles the same demons that plague me. They inspire me and sustain me. I am immeasurably grateful for them individually and collectively.

I’m also thankful for the joy of seeing friends’ publication dreams come true. It’s an experience that always brings particular delight, but this year that joy has had an extra measure as I’ve seen two that I count among my dearest friends reach different points on this journey, one with books published and readers raving and one with a golden finalist position and a contract in hand.

My book budget is inadequate for the list of books I long to read, but thanks to my public library I get to read everything on my list. If I discover an OOP back title of a paperback romance that is unavailable in electronic format and is I can find only for $103 on AbeBooks.com, I can usually locate a copy via my library.  I have access not only to books on the shelves of my local library but to 9.6 million books on library shelves across the state. Add to this bounty the more than 3 million volumes plus countless electronic copies available through my university library, which allows me to check out books for three months plus renewals, and the wonders of ILL and the resources are vast indeed. My gratitude is boundless.

Online romance community
The online romance community is huge and diverse. A quick google of the term offers 106,000 sites. I’m grateful for that larger community because it’s evidence of how large the romance umbrella is and how active romance readers are. But my greater gratitude is for my online community—the people I meet here at Just Janga and on the boards, blogs, and email loops I frequent who love the books I love (usually), read my raves and rants, make me laugh with their witty quips and bawdy humor, impress me with their intelligence and insight, and just generally make my world bigger, brighter, and better.

Writers who keep writing
I’ve lost count of how many Nora Roberts books line my keeper shelves. I only know that I loved The Witness in 2012 as much as I loved the first one I read, All the Possibilities, in 1985.  My Mary Balogh collection begins with A Masked Deception (1985) and ends with The Proposal (2012). On shelves filled with books by Elizabeth Bevarly, Jo Beverley, Connie Brockway, Robyn Carr, Loretta Chase, Christina Dodd, Anne Gracie, Eloisa James, Lisa Kleypas, Teresa Medeiros, Mary Jo Putney, Julia Quinn, Barbara Samuel, Kathleen Gilles Seidel, and many others, tattered copies and shiny new covers coexist, mute testimony to my history with these authors. I love discovering new authors, and I am grateful for their books; but my thanksgiving song is more fervent for those writers who after five years or ten or twenty-five are still giving me reasons to be glad I am a reader.

Where would writers of books or blogs be without readers to respond to the words we weave, to share their own ideas, and to be our best critics and most enthusiastic supporters? I am grateful for each of you who takes the time to read my posts, to answer my questions, to tell others about this blog. When I count my blessings Thursday, you will be among them. Thank you.

Do you celebrate Thanksgiving the fourth Thursday in November or any other date? For what bookly blessings are you most grateful?


irisheyes said...

I will be celebrating Thanksgiving on Thursday with the DH's family and on Saturday with my side. One of the biggest things I'm thankful for - an overabundance of family!

Bookly blessings...hmmm. First and foremost I would have to say just the fact that I found enjoyment in reading again. I had gone so long without reading and then it was like stumbling upon treasure after treasure after treasure.

Then I would have to say the internet because that just blew the top off of the access I had to everything - authors, new and old; any genre of book I could imagine; and most importantly all of the awesome, awesome friends I've met over the years that share my love of romance reading.

I am especially grateful for you, Janga, who have steered me toward so many HEAs I've lost count!

Have a truly happy and blessed Thanksgiving!

Nancy Northcott said...

Janga, Happy Thanksgiving! Our family celebrates today, and I'm watching the Macy's parade as I type this. The Pikachu and Spongebob floats and the Power Rangers Megaforce unit took me back to the boy's childhood, which included all those characters at one time or another. He's home until Sunday, which is the best part of the holiday for the dh and me.

I loved your survey of your keeper shelves. I, too, have thousands of keepers.

You have better luck at the library than I do. Our public library doesn't keep genre paperbacks very long, alas. Thanks to cutbacks, they don't buy nearly as much fiction as they once did.

I wish you the best in your quest for publication. I firmly believe persistence is key.

Happy Thanksgiving!

quantum said...

Thanksgiving is a uniquely American holiday I think. It sounds like a great idea to count your blessings at least once a year.

When I count my blessings Thursday, you will be among them. Thank you.
I never thought of myself as a blessing before. Hey, I quite like it!

For me, justjanga is the book blog par excellence. It provides a satnav to guide me through the complex terrain of romance literature, always following the high-road to enlightenment, illuminated with a purity of spirit and love and skilfully avoiding the morass of meaningless sensual indulgence.

In the domain of fiction, you are definitely one of our blessings Janga.
Long may it continue! *smile*

Janga said...

Thanks, Irish. The online community has considerably enlarged my reading lists too and given me a tribe of intelligent, funny reading friends who love romance as much as I do. I'm so glad you are part of that group.

Janga said...

Nancy, I think family is the best part of any holiday.

The funds for our local library have been radically cut as well, but it helps that I can put books on hold at libraries throughout the state. Part of the fun of picking up a stack of books is checking to see how many Georgia counties are represented in the group. Surprisingly sometimes tiny libraries have books that other, much larger ones don't. In these reduced budget times, I suspect much depends on what readers in the community donate.

Janga said...

Thanks, Q. Your comments always leave me with a smile. It was indeed a blessed day when you joined the Bon Bons at the EJ/JQ board.