I received an irate email from a Waiting For Spring reader last Saturday; we’ll call her “C”. A friend of hers (hereafter known as “S”) printed out the e-book and, when she was done with it, passed it around for her friends to read. At chapter 26, C threw the book down in horror and disgust. (Well, I don’t know that she actually threw the book down. Since it wasn’t a book at all, but rather a stack of printer paper, I tend to doubt it. That would’ve been pretty messy. But the image strikes my fancy, so I’m sticking with it.) After plowing through twenty-five chapters of foul language, steamy sex, drug use, violence, minor blasphemy, and a sympathetic openly gay character, what could have so offeneded this Christian woman that she could bear to read no further?
Its “blatant pro-choice message.”
I have to admit, I’ve always expected strong reactions to chapter 26. It’s not necessarily graphic, but it is emotionally intense, and C isn’t the first person I’ve heard from about it. Still, I was quite surprised to read the words “blatant pro-choice message.” I was also a little nervous. Not because of C’s negative reaction (sorry C), but because she thought there was a message at all. Ripped from the headlines novels typically irritate me. That’s what “Law & Order” is for. I hate it when an author uses their characters and fictional world as a thinly disguised soapbox. When I encounter that sort of thing in a novel, I immediately throw it down in disgust, because I don’t like being manipulated. And I shuddered to think that’s what someone thought I’d been trying to do to them.
The truth is that, although I do have strong personal opinions about this issue, Waiting For Spring wasn’t written to give voice to them. It isn’t meant to be pro-choice. It isn’t meant to be pro-life. It isn’t meant to be pro-any political issue. It’s honest to goodness slice of life reading, with all of life’s beauty and horror and joy and pain. It’s about confronting and dealing with life’s shit head on, before you get buried in it. It’s about what happens when you don’t do that.
Imagine my surprise–and relief–when, on Sunday, I opened up an email from “S”. She confessed to being surprised at C’s reaction to chapter 26. Why? Because S thought it was blatantly pro-life.
Another Waiting for Spring question. Or rather, two questions:
Are you an artist, like Tess? And what is Van Dyke Brown?
* Do you consider this art? I call it:
Arms Up, Arms Down, Arms Behind Your Back
Seriously…no, I’m not. Like Tess I sometimes struggle to express myself verbally. Instead I have my keyboard. She has her paintbrushes. I did do a great deal of research before I put those brushes in her hand, though. I have a close friend who is an artist (her stick figures are much better than mine), and I peppered her with so many questions that she stopped answering her phone when she saw my name pop up on the Caller ID. Next I read several books and visited lotsa websites to fill in some of the blanks. Finally, I bought a canvas, easel, and a bunch of acrylic paints and brushes and went to work. The result was hideous, and was immediately destroyed (also research; if you’ve read the entire book, you’ll know what I mean), but it did give me a feel for the process. And it gave me one of the biggest headaches of my life. I was kinder to Tess, and let her paint with the windows open.
* Van Dyke Brown: CLICK HERE.
Today I got an email with a question about my novel, Waiting for Spring:
Anne of Green Gables obviously had a big impact on Tess, and your use of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintainence hints at Jason’s struggle to connect with his father (or his father’s memory), but some parts of Waiting for Spring remind me of The Little Prince. Is this the case? And if so was it conscious?
I read The Little Prince for the first time when I was nine, the second time when I was nineteen, and I’ve read it several times since then. It’s probably obvious that I love the book, but any influence on Waiting For Spring was unconscious…except for this passage from Chapter 3:
And anyone unlucky enough to ask me that fatal question [“what do you do for a living”] without preceding it with at least two others–for example, what books have you read lately or who’s your favorite ballplayer–was answered with:
‘I’m a lumberjack.’
Because any person with a greater interest in what it is I do to earn enough money to afford rent and music and beer and food and jeans–rather than in the fact that I think Bill Lee is the coolest guy ever to climb onto the pitchers mound–deserves to think I spend my days in the woods cutting down trees.
It’s an homage to this, from The Little Prince, chapter 4:
When you tell [grown ups] that you have made a new friend, they never ask you any questions about essential matters. They never say to you, “What does his voice sound like? What games does he love best? Does he collect butterflies?” Instead, they demand, “How old is he? How many brothers has he? How much does he weigh? How much money does his father make?” Only from these figures do they think they have learned anything about him.
I can also say that Tess is a prime example of what happens when a person of artistic temperment grows up surrounded by people who see hats instead of boa constrictors from the outside.
A little aside (and a confession) regarding Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintainence. Originally, I used it as a hats-off to a buddy of mine (who is a frequent visitor of this blog.) He’s been trying to get me to read it for a few years now. So when I needed a cool, quirky book for a minor character to read that would show some hidden depth, that’s the first one that came to mind. It was only later, after perusing ZAMM myself, I caught the father-son angle and decided it would be a good way to show Jason’s internal struggle; thus I had Tess mention that it was one of his favorites.
I have joked in the past about the thousands of emails I receive each week from readers of this blog. Today, though, I speak the truth when I say I’ve gotten four different emails from four separate readers (none of whom are related to me by blood or marriage) in the past week with lots of feedback, and some questions, about Waiting for Spring. I’ll be honest…I’m wicked excited about that.
So far, the most commonly asked questions have to do with the characters; namely whether or not any of them are based on real people. The answer is a resounding NO. I especially want to make it clear, for the record, that Tess’ mother in no way resembles my own mother, who is the very model of a modern supportive Mom. She’s had a copy of a poem I wrote about banana bread hanging on her refrigerator since 1984. Or, to be more precise, she’s had the poem hanging on three consecutive refrigerators since then.
Another common question: Are New Mills, Brookfield, and Westville real towns in Maine? Again, the answer is No. Struggling mill towns are a sad reality up here, so it wasn’t difficult for me to create this fictional world, but Portland and Bangor are the only real places visited or mentioned in my novel.
Finally, a rather touchy subject: Yankee fans. I don’t hate them. I have a very good friend who happens to like…that team. We simply choose not to talk about baseball. This makes for very long and silent summers…
Stay tuned for more Q & A, and feel free to send me any of your feedback and/or questions. You can either email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can put ’em in the comments section of this post. Just one request: As a courtesy to those who are in the middle of the novel, please don’t post anything spoilerific here at the blog. Thanks!