Reaching My Reader — Part III

 

Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s.  ~  Stephen King

"Rock and a Hard Place" Several months ago, I blogged about the challenge of writing on a controversial subject—sexual fluidity—for an audience that spans three generations.  As I noted then, many of the words that describe the spectrum of sexual relationships described by Alfred Kinsey a half century ago carry very different connotations depending on whether you are age 20, 40 or 60. 

In retrospect, the challenge was more easily met than I anticipated. Because the theme of A Fitting Place is the growth that occurs when you step outside of your comfort zone, my interest was in how Lindsey Chandler deals with change, not with social constructs of gender or sexual identity. 

In this context, my camera is trained on the day-to-day interaction between two idiosyncratic women who are searching for new ways to cope as they struggle with failed marriages and distraught children. What matters is their ability to provide support, affection and physical comfort along the way. They see no need to attach a label—such as lesbian, bisexual, or sexually fluid—to their relationship. 

In a sense, the concept of sexual fluidity is of much more interest to me as an author than to my characters. In recognizing that sexual attraction, particularly for women, is often influenced more by the person than the gender, the concept allows me to discuss the dynamics of rebound relationships without getting ensnared in the “chick lit” genre.

The situation seems far more problematic now that my focus has shifted to marketing,  to getting this book into the hands of readers interested in the options available to women who have left, not always by choice, a long and stable relationship.

Suddenly, I am in the world of sound-bites, of pithy phrases, of zingy one-liners.  To use a cliché, I feel like I am between a rock and hard place.  

The term “sexual fluidity” has only recently come into non-academic usage, and is unlikely to resonate with a large audience.  Marketing copy that uses “lesbian” or “bisexual” implies something about my characters that may or may not be true, depending on the reader’s definition of those terms.  While the labels don’t really matter to the story, leaving such terms out of my marketing materials may result in  disappointed or angry readers who do not wish to read about unconventional sexual behaviors.

A Fitting Place addresses the challenges of rebound relationships, and their implications for all of us. The trick is to find a way to make an unconventional story appealing and accessible to a broad range of women.  

Hmmh ?  ?

 

My series on themes in A Fitting Place continues.  I welcome your comments on this blog. If you would be interested in contributing to the discussion with a guest blog, please check out my guidelines here. 

 

A Meaningful Life

I am traveling in California, a leisurely break from my pursuit of a meaningful life as a writer. My travels make getting a weekly blog written out of the question. Instead, I offer a lovely piece from Sunday’s Brain Pickings Weekly … excerpts of advice that Hunter S. Thompson, the renowned journalist and philosopher, offered to a friend when Thompson was a mere 20 years old.

Question-Mark-820x1024How to Find Your Purpose and Live a Meaningful Life

“To be, or not to be: that is the question: Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles…

“And indeed, that IS the question: whether to float with the tide, or to swim for a goal. It is a choice we must all make consciously or unconsciously at one time in our lives. So few people understand this! Think of any decision you’ve ever made which had a bearing on your future: I may be wrong, but I don’t see how it could have been anything but a choice however indirect – between the two things I’ve mentioned: the floating or the swimming…

The answer – and, in a sense, the tragedy of life – is that we seek to understand the goal and not the man. We set up a goal which demands of us certain things: and we do these things. We adjust to the demands of a concept which CANNOT be valid. When you were young, let us say that you wanted to be a fireman. I feel reasonably safe in saying that you no longer want to be a fireman. Why? Because your perspective has changed. It’s not the fireman who has changed, but you.

[…]  “As your experiences differ and multiply, you become a different man, and hence your perspective changes. This goes on and on. Every reaction is a learning process; every significant experience alters your perspective. So it would seem foolish, would it not, to adjust our lives to the demands of a goal we see from a different angle every day? 

[…]  “To put our faith in tangible goals would seem to be, at best, unwise. So we do not strive to be firemen, we do not strive to be bankers, nor policemen, nor doctors. WE STRIVE TO BE OURSELVES.

But don’t misunderstand me. I don’t mean that we can’t BE firemen, bankers, or doctors—but that we must make the goal conform to the individual, rather than make the individual conform to the goal. In every man, heredity and environment have combined to produce a creature of certain abilities and desires—including a deeply ingrained need to function in such a way that his life will be MEANINGFUL. A man has to BE something; he has to matter.

As I see it then, the formula runs something like this: a man must choose a path which will let his ABILITIES function at maximum efficiency toward the gratification of his DESIRES. In doing this, he is fulfilling a need (giving himself identity by functioning in a set pattern toward a set goal) he avoids frustrating his potential (choosing a path which puts no limit on his self-development), and he avoids the terror of seeing his goal wilt or lose its charm as he draws closer to it (rather than bending himself to meet the demands of that which he seeks, he has bent his goal to conform to his own abilities and desires).

In short, he has not dedicated his life to reaching a pre-defined goal, but he has rather chosen a way of life he KNOWS he will enjoy. The goal is absolutely secondary: it is the functioning toward the goal which is important. 

[…] So if you now number yourself among the disenchanted, then you have no choice but to accept things as they are, or to seriously seek something else. But beware of looking for goals: look for a way of life. Decide how you want to live and then see what you can do to make a living WITHIN that way of life. But you say, “I don’t know where to look; I don’t know what to look for.”

And there’s the crux. Is it worth giving up what I have to look for something better? I don’t know—is it? Who can make that decision but you? But even by DECIDING TO LOOK, you go a long way toward making the choice.

 

To see the article in full, see Brain Pickings Weekly.

 

Keeping Secrets

 

cartoon_ear_whisper-783886Keeping secrets can do enormous damage in a marriage or, for that matter, any personal relationship.  The cost of keeping secrets is one of the key themes I explore in my novel, A Fitting Place.

It is a subject I know well. 

Over the years of my marriage, there were a thousand times I chose not to share my ideas with my husband. Sometimes it was as trivial as my desire to stop for lunch when I thought he wanted to keep driving.  Sometimes it was more substantive … the kind of house I wanted to live in, or the kinds of food I preferred to eat. Sometimes it was an awkward subject … what I wanted from him by way of emotional support or sexual gratification.

As with more conventional secrets (e.g., an adulterous affair, an addiction), my unwillingness to reveal myself was driven by a fear of what he would think.  Beneath that fear was a belief, instilled by a hypercritical mother, that how I felt and what I wanted was silly or childish or immature.

As too often happens, I carried this relationship with my mother into my marriage, projecting her scornful attitude onto my husband. It was not long before I started to read every difference of opinion as criticism, to live in fear that he “wouldn’t love me” if he knew that … [you can fill in the blanks].

To avoid the criticism and scorn I imagined he felt, I let him make most of “our” decisions and articulate most of “our” opinions.  Day by day, I drifted farther away from the thoughtful, interesting and often opinionated woman he’d once wanted to marry. By the time we left for the journey recounted in Sailing Down the Moonbeam, I had become a cipher, an empty shell in the role of a wife.

And, of course, I blamed him for being controlling.

Our divorce, when it came, was all the more painful because I was in a foreign country where I knew no one and I had no support systems.  But it also meant that, for the first time in my life, I had no one to tell me what I should think or what I should want or what I should do … no one to tell me that I was silly or stupid or childish.  

At age 45, I finally stopped keeping secrets. I finally took control of and responsibility for my own life. The world has been a much better place ever since.

Are you a keeper of secrets? Have you been a keeper of secrets in the past? How did affect your relationships?

 

This blog continues the discussion on themes in my novel.  I welcome comments and guest blogs from my readers based on their own experiences.  Let me know if you’d like to do a guest blog on one or more of the issues relevant to A Fitting Place

 

 

Finding a New Comfort Zone

 

medium_524314942The SOLD sign is gone. The money is in the bank.  The new owners have moved in. 

I’ve loved my century old brick home perched on hill. The open floor plan. Rooms flooded with light throughout the day.  Deep windows that didn’t need to be draped.  The sometimes joyful, sometimes raucous laughter of neighborhood children. The shaded north-facing garden with its spontaneously-generated masses of tiny grey-green moss flowers alongside my intentional beds of color by the season—daffodils, astilbe, roses, lilies, and phlox. 

IMG_2996I lived there thirteen years, much longer than any place else. It’s where I wrote Sailing Down the Moonbeam and completed several drafts of my forthcoming novel A Fitting Place.  Twice now, coming from town, I have driven right past my new home, heading to the old one out of habit.

And yet, in a way I don’t fully understand, I am glad that house is behind me.

Some of the reasons are obvious. One is a growing resistance to the burdens of a charming but also aging house with a garden that needs constant tending. Another is my desire to travel; I want a place I don’t have to worry about when I’m away. And it seems right and fitting that Kent and I should have “our” home instead of trying to carve out a place for him in “my” home.

Less obvious is the notion of stepping outside your comfort zone, of having to deal with a world that is different and sometimes unsettling.  Since childhood, I’ve consistently strayed beyond the boundaries of whatever situation—good or bad—I happened to be in, in search of new ideas and new experiences.

If you define comfort as places and things that are familiar, I’ve spent most of my life outside my comfort zone.

Perhaps “familiar” is not where my comfort zone lies. Perhaps my comfort zone lies in meeting the challenge of the different and unsettling.  Could it be that my much loved house had become too familiar and it was simply time to move on? 

How do you define your comfort zone?  Do you need to redefine it from time to time?