In a conversation with my cousin last week, we discussed, among other things, the ending of my first published novel by Simon & Schuster/Strebor (2015), The New Middle. This conversation led to discussing Vulnerable, my second novel published by Simon & Schuster/Strebor (2016), which she had recently finished while on holiday. I’d asked my cousin to share with me what she didn’t like about the newest book. “Now that you ask . . .” she said with just a hint of enthusiasm; and then she proceeds to explain to me what she didn’t particularly like about Vulnerable. This is what I gleaned from my cousin’s critique: The subplot of Vulnerable got in the way of the novel’s central storyline–the dynamics which played out between four complex characters.
Moreover, I learned that my aunt (my cousin’s mother) struggled with–let’s say the “elusive” and disputable finale of the first novel, The New Middle. Without giving away nuances of the narrative to any potential future readers, let me just say, the incessant reaction to this novel at first felt rather strange. Now, though, I find myself anticipating curious dismay, and the same set of furrowed brow questions and remarks.
Generally I write stories that lead the reader to question the lives of the characters–beyond what is written on the page. I enjoy it when I set out to let the audience decide the fate of not just the characters, but where the story leads after “the end.” For some that might require effort, and I get that. The reader wants to kick back and enjoy a good read. But the idea that anything I’ve written gives the reader pause is why I chose to write in the first place.
Writers–deep down–want to inspire; they want to engage the world with words that turn chaos into meaning. They use their imagination to create ideas on the page with the hope that the reader can make sense of the world they are writing about; or at the very least, keep them turning the page because something—perhaps unnameable–has their attention. When I decide to pen a story, my ultimate goal is that the reader has a different mind-set once they read the last line in which my name claims the credit. Likewise, though, they are touched or even pissed at the characters I invented–whether it’s because they didn’t like the characters or simply couldn’t relate. This is how and why I developed as a character-driven storyteller over time. The idea–my way of writing–is to bring a concept to life in which the reader can get involved in what is happening on the page. They are judge and jury; they decide the story’s fate.
Several friends have inquired about the sequel to The New Middle, and recently a reader, who follows me on Twitter, remarked, “Umm, how you gonna do us like that?”, and wondered if The New Middle part 2 was in the works. These visceral or not so visceral reactions—the WTHs—have been kind of yin and yang, but leave me satisfied with the fact that I have elicited reactions from the reader. Even if, as the reader closes the book totally annoyed and feeling they’d wasted their time; still, my prose, the storyline–something–effected them, even if it was unconscious.
Fictionalized storytelling hinges on provoking—if not evoking—the reader. More and more published novels are less sophisticated, some poorly written, because even as little as 10 years ago, they wouldn’t have seen the light of day. Self-publishing has changed that. But even those books, and the authors of those narratives, have the ability to capture the reader with their own unique vision. And if the reader is stirred to any degree whatsoever, the storyteller, ultimately, has done what writers and storytellers should be able to do. And that’s in spite of the reader having closed the book and felt utterly disappointed or absolutely dumbfounded.
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