Posts Tagged 'love'

The Universal Experience

 

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by Juliann Rich

 

GRAVITY, my latest book is not a coming out story. It is a coming of age story. When I asked Kathi from BSB for topic ideas for this blog, she suggested readers might be interested in why I’ve written four books featuring LGBT characters. So I thought about that, and it didn’t take long to figure out that my closest connection to teen culture has been through my son…and my son’s friends…and their friends ~ all of whom gathered around my kitchen table, playing D & D and eating me out of Doritos and Oreo cookies. Just like in the world of GRAVITY, no one needed to worry about “coming out.” Not in my house, anyway. There, they were not “gay” or “lesbian” teenagers. They were simply my son’s friends. And as I had experienced approximately one and a half million years ago when I was a teen myself, they were growing up and falling in love and trying to figure out how not to be flung into the stratosphere since the world had stopped spinning on its axis.

 

So, in answer to the question about why I write what I write, I’m going to share a chapter from my own life. It is my touchstone memory to which I return again and again as I remember how this universal experience we call falling in love for the first time forever changed me.

 

***

 

The first boy I ever fell in love with was named Brian. I was 13, maybe 14, and volunteering as a candy striper during the summer holiday at the hospital where my mother worked as a nurse. I was too young to get a job that paid money, but old enough to volunteer and my mother was determined—even then—that I would follow in her rubber-heeled and white nursing shoes steps.

 

She had my whole life planned out for me and if that fact bothered me at the time, I don’t remember.

 

My body had changed over the previous winter and the pink stripes on my uniform followed all my new and unfamiliar curves. I was still part-child and smitten with the “dress up” aspects of volunteering at the hospital. I was also part-adult and my future was easier to imagine as I pushed my cart with an ice compartment and a large garbage receptacle through the gleaming white hallways. I did, however, hate the hospital’s hair policy, which mandated I wear my hair in a bun since even my tomboyish ponytail hung down my back. I liked feeling older. I hated feeling old. And so every shift I tugged out half a dozen strands from that granny bun and let them fly free.

 

Too many years have passed and I have no memory of whether Brian glimpsed my red-headed rebellion when I walked into the hospital room where his younger brother lay in the hospital bed, his right leg in a cast. There aren’t enough years in one lifetime, however, to make me forget how one glance at him utterly changed my reason for being there. Yes, it was my job to take out the garbage and change the water in the pitcher, but there was one and only one reason to be in that room: to look into his dark brown eyes.

 

“Hi,” I said, blushing. “I’m Juliann.”

 

“Brian,” he told me, and I remember deciding I had a new favorite word. “This is my brother Jace. He broke his leg,” he said, unnecessarily. “Do you work here?” he asked as I crossed the room. I would use the word sashayed because it’s probably a more accurate description, but it’s a stupid word and even now I’m unwilling to admit that’s what I did.

 

“Yes and no.” I opened the curtains though that was not technically one of my candy-striping duties, but sunlight made my hair look like it was on fire and singeing Brian seemed a perfectly acceptable response to the question his eyes were asking the curves of my uniform. I returned his stare and took in all the important details of him: 5’7”, maybe 5’8”; medium build that whispered rather than shouted the presence of muscle; dark brown eyes; hair the color of coal; and cheeks that flushed ever deepening shades of red the longer I held his gaze.

 

“I’m a volunteer,” I finally said. “A candy striper.”

 

Jace attempted to sit up in his bed and winced as the cast dug into his swollen leg. “Your job is to give out candy?” he asked. “Cool!”

 

I laughed which made Brian laugh and I decided the rest of the hospital could live with overflowing garbage cans and stale water for the remainder of my shift. “Sorry, no, but I do have gum.” I reached into my pocket and withdrew a pack of grape-flavored Bubblicious. I popped a piece into my mouth before handing it over to Jace who looked disappointed, which would have bothered me if I weren’t so relieved to know my breath was, if not minty-fresh, at least grape and not garlic scented.

 

My flirting skills were not then what they are now. Neither were Brian’s, probably, and so I emptied the garbage can to the unspoken cadence of one thought that looped through my mind like a broken record: Brian…Brian Who and how am I supposed to find you again in a world filled with Brians?

 

In the end it was Brian who changed the tune I danced to for the rest of that summer and the year that followed by shoving an uncapped black magic marker in my face when I returned from my cart with a pitcher of ice water. The intoxicating scent of ink and solvent flooded my nose and made my head spin.

 

Oh, I knew what he wanted, but I had evolved enough as a woman in the previous five minutes to know the value in making him say it. I placed the pitcher on the swing table that covered Jace’s stomach but left his cast perfectly accessible and looked at Brian.

 

Your marker, buddy, your move, I thought.

 

Something swelled inside my chest and expanded until the last bit of little girl that remained inside me was pushed out by something new. Something mysterious. Something deeply connected to all the other changes that were happening to me.

 

“You’re supposed to write your name,” Brian said as he looked at me with eyes steadier than his hand. “Both your first and last name,” he rushed to add. “You know, so people know who you are.”

 

Rarely, but occasionally, I have been inspired to recklessly fling open the doors to my hidden places where I keep my most private of feelings.

 

This was the first of those moments.

 

I took a step toward Brian and reached for the marker. “If we’re talking about writing on casts, I’m obliged to tell you I’m not bound by any rules,” I said, staring into his eyes.

 

“Huh?” he asked.

 

“There are rules. Lots of them actually,” I admitted. “But I highly doubt there are any stipulations regarding the content of what someone writes on a cast. I mean, it’s not like you can report me to some Official Broken Limb Message Inspector if I don’t write my name, first or last, on Jace’s cast, right?”

 

I stood there, hand still outstretched for the marker, while the realization flooded his eyes. He was hopelessly outgunned in any contest involving words and he knew it. Lucky for me he seemed clueless to the fact that he could defeat my strongest defense with one glance.

 

One smile.

 

He answered by dropping the marker in my hand.

 

“I thought so.” I bent over Jace’s leg just as he smacked a bubble, spraying me with artificially sweet and grape-flavored spit.

 

“Jace!” Brian scolded while I wrote a message that contained seven numbers and two words, neither of which was my first or last name.

 

“Eight, seven, three.” Brian began reading what I’d written, but when he finished with the numbers, I read the words.

 

“Call me,” I said, and then I turned and walked out of the hospital room, leaving Brian to ponder whether or not I’d broken any rules. As for me, I’d stepped into my womanhood, and I didn’t give a damn.

 

***

 

Would it have mattered if Brian had been Brianna? To the world? Yes. This was the early ‘80’s when leg warmers were cool (the first time around) and girls wore off-the-shoulder sweaters and John Travolta was still skinny and if you were a girl into another girl or a guy into another guy, you didn’t talk about it. So yes, had Brian been Brianna, the world at large would have reacted very differently.

 

Hence, decades of coming out stories – including The Crossfire Trilogy.

 

But with GRAVITY I explored the inner experience of falling in love for the first time and discovered something I think I’ve always known. I cherish that memory of the day in the hospital not because I met and fell in love with Brian, but because I met and fell in love with a strange and wondrous new version of myself – one I would spend the next million and a half years trying to understand.

 

Which is what has inspired me to write every single book.

 

That moment. That encounter. That journey.

 

I’ve simply written about it through the lens of the kids who rolled the dice in life and love and left my kitchen table covered in Oreo crumbs.

 

 

~ Juliann Rich

 

 

 

 

 

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Minnesota writer Juliann Rich spent her childhood in search of the perfect climbing tree. The taller, the better! A branch thirty feet off the ground and surrounded by leaves, caterpillars, birds, and squirrels was a good perch for a young girl to find herself. Seeking truth in nature and finding a unique point of view remain crucial elements in her life as well as her writing.

Juliann is the author of four young adult novels: CAUGHT IN THE CROSSFIRE, SEARCHING FOR GRACE, TAKING THE STAND, and GRAVITY (forthcoming in November, 2016). She writes character-driven books about young adults who are bound to discover their true selves and the courage to create an authentic life…if the journey doesn’t break them.

Juliann is the 2014 recipient of the Emerging Writer Award from The Saints and Sinners Literary Festival and lives with her husband and an adorable but naughty dachshund named Bella in a 1920’s brownstone she is lovingly restoring to its original beauty.

 

Her newest novel, GRAVITY, will be released by Bold Strokes Books on November 15th, 2016.

 

Gravity FINASometimes you fly. Sometimes you fall.

A dream at Olympic gold in ski jumping. It’s a dream that’s been the exclusive property of male Olympic athletes.

Until now.

For seventeen-year-old Ellie Engebretsen, the 2011 decision to include women’s ski jumping in the Olympics is a game changer. She’d love to bring home the gold for her father, a former Olympic hopeful whose dreams were blown along with his knees on an ill-timed landing. But can she defy the pull of gravity that draws her to Kate Moreau, her biggest competition and the girl of her dreams?

How can Ellie soar through the air when all she feels like doing is falling hard?

Previous works by Juliann Rich:

The Crossfire Trilogy, published by Bold Strokes Books

 

Caught in the Crossfire 300 DPI    Searching For Grace 300 DPI    Taking the Stand

 

 

 

 

To learn more about Juliann, visit her website: http://www.juliannrich.com.

Searching for a Happy Ending

 BY FIONA RILEY

**There’s a song out right now by Lukas Graham called “7 Years,” it’s delightful and really moves me. (Take a second to listen to it sometime, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LHCob76kigA) It’s on loop in the background as I write this blog)**

Miss MatchAs the release of Miss Match approaches, I find myself doing some things I never imagined I would do. I’m answering Q&A’s, planning podcasts, doing interviews, sharing things that feel like secrets…I often wonder if I am giving too much of myself away in these instances. Am I too free with my truths?

I was once told that true success in life comes from finding joy and passion in all that you do: your work, your home life, your play, the way you love, etc. It’s about the delicate balance of juggling all the parts of yourself that make you feel whole. And for some of us, there are many, many parts to juggle.

The most common questions I am asked these days are: “What made you want to write Miss Match?” And “what makes Miss Match special to you?” The answers to these questions are much more complicated than I can sort out truthfully in a few easy sentences.

I want to tell you about a story, a story about someone searching for a happy ending:

As a little girl, I loved to read. I wrote poetry and played music and was endlessly creative. As I got older, I pushed aside some of that creativity in the pursuit of academics and a career in the medical field. I became a professor. I had students to teach and a business to run and I probably worked too much. But I was happy. Blissfully ignorant and happy.

In the fall of 2012, two months after my twenty-eighth birthday I was diagnosed with advanced, metastatic cancer. I wasn’t given a lot of time to think about the weight of that diagnosis- within two weeks I was rushed into surgery and treatment in hopes of saving some semblance of my life. After a long and complicated surgical intervention with subsequent hospital stay, I was sent home to heal enough from the surgery to start chemotherapy. The worst of my treatment was ahead of me, not behind me and unfortunately for me, I knew all too well what to expect- this was something I taught my students about.

Leaving the hospital with my new friend, "Happy Feet.”

Leaving the hospital with my new friend, “Happy Feet.”

I’d been fooling around with words for a while when this happened. I’d written a few one-shots and even drafted an outline for the beginnings of what would become Miss Match about two weeks before my life got turned on its head. I went from being very busy, juggling two full-time careers to being essentially trapped in my house while undergoing treatment. I had a lot more time to reflect on what I wanted to accomplish in my life and suddenly was faced with the fact that I may have a lot less time to accomplish those things than I had originally thought.

Miss Match came to me as a dream on the summer before my diagnosis but became a reality when I needed a distraction from the side effects of the treatment that was intended to keep me alive. I wrote every day for as long as I could tolerate sitting. I wrote as often as the neuropathy from the chemotherapy in my hands and feet would allow. I dragged myself out of bed even when I felt my worst because I was dedicated on making sure that I would give my characters something I may not get for myself: a happy ending.

That’s why I decided to write a romance novel. I wanted to write a story about two people, overcoming obstacles in their lives and finding someone else to help them realize their true potential for happiness was within themselves all along.

The process of Miss Match getting published was a long and difficult one for me. I submitted the story to Bold Strokes Books just as I was finishing chemo. I received a note from Radclyffe with some advice to rework the story a little and resubmit. I used the summer after chemo to do just that and was making great progress until three months after I finished treatment, they found more cancer, this time somewhere new.

It was like hitting the reset button and tumbling back to the bottom on the long and windy path I had been on for almost a year. It was only eleven months after my initial diagnosis and I was back in surgery and facing another six months of chemotherapy. As I recovered, I spent my time trying to learn and improve my craft because I had made the decision that I was going to be a published author no matter what it took. I resubmitted my manuscript and by winter 2014 I had signed a contract: Miss Match was really happening.

Getting’ Christmas Eve chemo in style

Getting’ Christmas Eve chemo in style

When I was diagnosed at twenty-eight, I never thought I would live to see thirty. Suddenly, getting to the next decade of my life was something I was desperately hoping for, instead of running from like most of my peers. Getting older doesn’t scare me, never seeing “older” does. Even with a contract, there was no guarantee I would ever see Miss Match in print. That was a difficult, but important thing for me to accept: life goes on whether you are ready or not.

As sobering as my diagnosis was, it gave me the opportunity to reflect on the things that had been forgotten along the way. It gave me the chance to put all of my “adulting” responsibilities to the side and really focus on the parts of me that had been neglected for some time. Remember that little girl I mentioned earlier, the one that loved music and art? She made her presence known in a way that could not be ignored. She reminded me that once upon a time I wanted to be a writer and that the possibilities were endless. Had I not been diagnosed and subsequently treated for cancer, I don’t know that Miss Match would ever have been published.

Fast forward to today- a copy of Miss Match sits next to me as I write my next WIP. It’s a little surreal, looking back, organizing my thoughts, recounting the events that brought me to this moment…it almost feels like it happened to someone else.

Miss Match came to me as a dream, but in the end, writing Miss Match got me through the darkest time of my life. Samantha and Lucinda were so vivid and so real to me because they came to me when I needed something to help me get through the difficulties of my own life. I was able to express the usual levity and playfulness of my true nature through their dialogue and flirtation. I could put my passion for life on display when they danced and *truly* showcase it when they loved. Writing a story about a matchmaker who has failed to find love for herself when she finds it for everyone else, was just the right distraction I needed in my own life. And when a beautiful dancer with a troubled past, resigned to living a life alone crosses paths with that same matchmaker? Well, that felt like a story that needed to be written.

The reason that Lukas Graham song gives me all the feels is because I really hope I see sixty years old. I really hope my story gets told and I really hope I have many more stories to share with everyone. Miss Match is about two women searching for their happy ending and wading through all of life’s challenges with hopes of finding it. It was a dream to write, even if the reason I wrote it was kind of selfish. 😉

As I embark on the next part of my life, I am looking forward to all of the adventures Samantha and Lucinda have in store for me. As of right now though? I’m living my life every moment. 🙂

 

Xx

Fiona Riley

Jonathan Bennett

By Clara Nipper

So I’m an atheist. I don’t know how or why I was born and it doesn’t matter. But when I die, if there’s some sort of science-based chemical reaction where we all queue up again for another turn at life on earth, you can bet I’ll be in the bathroom smoking a fatty. I never, ever, ever want to come back here. Why? Because of love. Because love is a no limit credit card. Its bill almost kills you (death would be kinder) when it comes due. Death is the bill. And death always gets paid. Let me be clear: I don’t see death as an enemy. It is a tender mercy and a necessary release. I just dread the pain that comes with it.

Perhaps for you, this is no problem. Good. But for me, I’m a huge-hearted child who is bursting with too much love to give and no filters or cautions. Some examples: I love wildlife, so I dedicated my entire front and back yards to them; I can’t bear to cut flowers, so they stay put on the plants; I gently carry every spider outside, thanking her for her work and telling her she’s welcome and safe here; I invite wasps to nest anywhere they wish; I encourage bats, raccoons and especially snakes. On a recent walk, I found a snake in the street and I rescued it and carried it home and released it to a hollow under a rock in my wildlife habitat. I apologize to ants if I squish them. I am a beginning beekeeper because I want to help bees and will certainly not harvest their honey. I am vegan because I can’t bear consuming animals or participating in their torture and suffering. I forbade our cleaning service to disturb a spider in the bathroom ceiling corner for weeks until she had hatched her young and died. I cry when a see a tree cut down; a dead squirrel, or a dog on a chain.

“Well, sure, that’s just super,” you say, “you are one terrific lady. But what do you do for humans?”

A few examples: I put money in plastic Easter eggs and label them ‘for whatever child finds this’ and I hide them in playgrounds and parks. I make sure to visit everyone I know who is in the hospital; I attend all funerals and I send sympathy notes and deliver food and staples like toilet paper, plates, cups, and flatware. I give housewarming gifts; I send non-traditional Valentines every year to all those I love because I believe that if we’re going to have a fictional holiday like Valentine’s Day, it should be about all love, not just romantic. I write thank you notes for absolutely everything. Everyone works hard, life is a struggle and we are all doing our best, and a thank you note acknowledges that effort. If someone is home bound, I deliver food, do laundry, and run errands. For my last birthday, I withdrew a lot of cash and Kris and I drove around looking for the saddest cars and we anonymously tucked envelopes of cash under the wipers. When I’m out walking, I leave love notes in public places for anyone to find. I make desserts almost constantly so when someone new moves to the hood or goes through a hard time or has a birthday or provides superlative service, I make sure they are overwhelmed with a supply of truffles, cookies, or lemon pound cake.

I know it’s possible to hold love in your heart and never move. That’s powerful too. But for me, love is service. Love is action. Love is seeing the unspoken needs and filling them eagerly. And it doesn’t matter if I’m a fierce and ferocious medical caregiver for Kris before, during, and after surgeries or if I’m leaving a gratuity for the garbage men. It’s all from the same root and flow.

Life is full of such beauty and happiness; I grieve for all that aren’t experiencing it. I feel they are all me and I don’t want to hurt. I don’t need to go into gruesome, shocking detail, but like you, I have already had two lifetimes of hurt and I’m done. I am the tree, the spider, the bee and I want us all to be happy. I am filled with gratitude and wonder every moment and always seeking new opportunities to love; and without effort, I am surrounded by amazing people who love me. I’m lousy with love.

I regularly remind my spouse, Kris that I married her with our first kiss twenty years ago and that has stayed true every minute of every year since. I love her without limit or reservation and if she dies before me, I will join her one way or another in twenty-four hours.

A few years ago, when roller derby seduced and filled me with insatiable passion, I shocked myself repeatedly by finding no limit on what I would do in service of my derbylove. No limit. Think about that before you read on. My motto was “anything for the team.” Yes, I would’ve done sex work if it had benefitted derby. I only wish I believed in Satan so that I might’ve conjured him and made a helluva derby deal.

When I love, I’m all in. Nothing held back. And when death comes for that kind of love, it’s completely devastating. I don’t know about you, but I despise mental anguish and emotional pain and never ending despair as a result of loss.

I can sound just as sage and wise and peaceful as the bodhisattva next door, believe me. “Grief is a gift; honor your process; love never dies; death is a natural part of life and should be welcomed and embraced and yes, even loved.” But truthfully, I would rather be a robot than endure the nuclear meltdown of grief. Any grief. Yes, I want to cherry pick my experience and take only the joy and bliss of giving and receiving love and none of the heartbreak and hassle.

But then, there were cats.20160324_202920

I was determined to begin skating to work, so when Kris told me to be safe as I put on my helmet and soared away, I saw fear in her eyes. Halfway there, resting at the top of an entire range of Olympian hills, I seriously questioned my sanity. After I completed the journey and called Kris from my desk, I asked, “Am I actually crazy?”

“Yes.”

“No, really, I’m not kidding.”

“I know and yes.”

“Seriously?”

“Yes.”

So multiply that by a squillion to reach the level of devotion I heap on cats. And every time one of the relatively short-lived beloved bastards dies decades too soon (in my opinion), I swear never again.

20160324_203343  As I write this, I’m on our bed, which has been transformed into a sick bed for our gravely ill cat named Jonathan Bennett. He has a potentially fatal virus and my life has been dedicated to acute nursing, home vetting, trips to the doc, and worrying for the past forty-eight hours. He’s on our bed because it has the best view, birdfeeders close by, the finest sunshine and is cloud plush soft.

Sh, he’s finally sleeping. After repeated vomiting, diarrhea, coughing fits, fever, dehydration, refusal to eat, and losing two pounds in two days, we all need the rest. And Bennett isn’t your average cat-he adores people. Our entire neighborhood is upset that he is sick and have been giving continual comfort and support.

20160324_124958   Bennett has been christened, “The Mayor of Brookside” because he’s such an enthusiastic, charming, goofy, dude cat. We adopted him as a kitten from a shelter where the previous owners had abandoned him and committed the unforgivable sin of naming him Garfield (Bennett is as orange as they come). So here I am, caressing Bennett as the sun sets and the birds sing and eat, and I’m caught by the short hairs again by that sneaky temptress love.

I am not sure how to end this, except to say surrender. There’s nothing you can do about it anyway. Love, unlike that rock and roll music and these gadgets called computers, isn’t a passing fad.

Kris sat with me this afternoon as I mixed potions, assembled injections, and loaded a syringe with emergency care cat food and I snapped, “This is your future if you get sick.” She smiled at me and that radiance reminded me that it is worth it. Love wins. Well-played.IMG_20160324_115018

So I don’t know what tomorrow will bring: tears, rage and despair or joy, gratitude and relief. I guess it doesn’t matter. It’s all love.

Time for the rehydrating IV and another syringe feeding.

 

The End

Martha [Lesbian] Living

What is Love?

“The Price of Salt” was one of the first lesbian novels that I read. When “Carol,” which is the retitled film version of “The Price of Salt,” came out to such positive reviews, I started watching the local movie ads. At last it came to Springfield. Ann and I decided to see it on a Tuesday in the late afternoon. The weather was supposed to get pretty bad later in the evening, so instead of our usual post-movie eating out, we planned on eating at home all snug inside watching the snow fall.

The movie stars Rooney Mara, of the “Dragon Tattoo” fame and Cate Blanchett who won Oscars for “Blue Jasmine” (best actress) and “The Aviator” (best supporting actress). They both are beautiful women. The film takes us back to the 1950’s and includes period dress, cars and attitudes. Blanchett’s character, Carol, has a complicated life: she’s in the middle of a divorce, has a little girl to whom she is devoted and a penchant for affairs with women. Mara’s Therese is a young woman who meets Carol and feels an attraction at once. She’s never been involved with a woman, and she has a boyfriend who wants to marry her. Young and innocent, Mara’s large eyes remind me of Audrey Hepburn in her role as “Sabrina.” So we are set up for the more sophisticated Carol to corrupt the young and inexperienced Therese.

There’s energy between these characters that seems genuine. From the first kiss, it’s as if the earth suddenly slopes away from us and we are propelled toward the hotel room, which—several smoky scenes later—is where Carol opens Therese’s blouse and there’s no bra. The younger woman’s breasts are smooth and sinuous —okay, this is a close up—there are two freckles on her ribs that would drive any card-carrying lesbian insane. Then they start kissing and touching and you know. So I leaned toward and Ann resting my chin on her shoulder, I nuzzled a bit and whispered in her ear, “Do we have any potatoes?”

Without missing a beat, she whispered, “One but it’s a big one. We can split it.”

So I’m wondering if this is what love turns into when you’re both in your sixties? Because I do love that woman. And in all fairness, there was a coming snow storm and we were eating at home. Yet I am puzzled. When I was a child, my grandparents were playfully affectionate. Was that about something as chaste potatoes? Is love cooking a meal for her? Is it quietly reading together for hours? Is it fussing at her to call a doctor when she’s sick? I don’t examine love and its meaning often these days. But I feel as a writer, I should be able to put it into words. All of my failed attempts over the years taught me (I am a slow learner) that love may be something that comes natural for all of us, but its quality takes practice and skill.

Anyway, here’s what I do know. I can’t forget those goddamn freckles. Outstanding movie.

Widow 300 DPISee Martha Miller’s latest book “Widow” was a finalist for Colden Crown Mystery Award 2015. See her web site www.marthamiller.net for “The Best of Lesbian Living” and other titles.

Cards on the Table

BY NELL STARK

I have a new book out this month: All In, a romance between a professional poker player named Nova and a casino host named Vesper. The book is about many things, but one of those things is poker. In many ways, poker is a microcosm of life. Your luck can change in an instant. Deception is a powerful tool, but it has its limitations. Those with more money have certain advantages, but sometimes an underdog is capable of usurping them. Risks are not always rewarded, but if you venture nothing, you gain nothing.

 

Having a book come out is a lot like laying your cards on a table after the river. Once your cards are down, the game is frozen—open to reaction and interpretation, but not to revision. You, the player, recede momentarily into the background. The cards speak for themselves.

 

As do all texts. Back in 1946, the field of literary studies (specifically, two British blokes named Wimsatt and Beardsley)[1] spawned a concept known as the “intentional fallacy.” It goes something like this: the author’s intent behind a work is not special or privileged. It is only one interpretation among the many that may exist. As long as a reader can prove his or her theory about a text in a responsibly justified literary argument (ie. not taking quotes out of context), his/her interpretation is valid. Some people hate this idea, and I can understand why; even though our culture venerates movie stars and athletes and wealthy entrepreneurs, we still get excited about authors. There are plenty of examples ready-to-hand: the powerful public reaction to the death of Maya Angelou; the buzz about J.K. Rowling’s male pseudonym; the anxiety over whether George R. R. Martin will live long enough to finish A Song of Ice and Fire. Authors are powerful because they have answers. Or so we think.

 

I recently finished reading John Green’s The Fault in our Stars, which I picked up because a solid third of my college freshmen students named it as their favorite book. In July, I will be on a panel at the Golden Crown Literary Society’s conference about so-called “Young Adult” literature, and so I figured I’d better read a book so popular with the genre’s target market. The Fault in our Stars is viscerally beautiful and tackles many themes, but the central quest of the narrator is to find out what happens to the characters in her favorite novel after its abrupt ending. And she believes there is only one way to do this: by seeking out the author.

 

While listening to an audio book about Egyptian history[2] a few months ago, I learned that for 700,000 years, humanity had only one kind of tool: variants on a saw made of stone. But I don’t think that’s true. If those prehistoric people had language—even a very rudimentary one—then they had two tools, because they were able to tell stories to one another. Stories allow us to construct meaning out of a life that can seem, at times, utterly senseless. They are the building blocks of myth and religion, creating frameworks that help us understand everything from natural phenomena to human motivation. The story is the essential human tool. Without stories, we would have no laws, no history, no science. Like genes, stories pass from person to person, evolving through time. And also like genes, stories do not have intrinsic meaning, but rather find their meaning in expression.

Neither the bards of old nor the authors of today can determine the meaning of the stories they tell. That power belongs to their audience.

 

As our stories have evolved, we humans have done what we do to everything we touch: we have labeled them. A story, we learn, fits into a box: it is told in poetry or prose; it is an epic or a tragedy or a mystery or a romance or a thriller or erotica or YA or NA or… While these labels have a certain utility, they are also constricting—as constricting as the ones we apply to ourselves. We pin down our stories like dead butterflies, and then we ask them to fly. But the miracle is that even as we sort and categorize them, stories help us transcend our labels. They prompt us to peek over the edge of our boxes—to reach out and make connections. They create empathy.

 

Some authors feel called to stretch our imaginations by portraying the fantastical or the future. Others make meaning out of the simplest details of daily life. Some urge us to confront the darkness between the stars, or the darkness that hides monsters, or the darkness in our own hearts. They compel us to laugh, to sob, to gasp, to shake our fists. Each of us prefers certain stories over others, but humanity needs them all.

 

At the climax of James Joyce’s Ulysses, his protagonist, Stephen Dedalus, confronts the ghost of his mother and asks her the question that drives him as both a man and an artist: “Tell me the word, mother, if you know now. The word known to all men.”[1] She does not give him an answer. Scholars have argued over “the word” for decades, and if Joyce were still alive, they would doubtless beg him to tell us the word that was in his mind. I don’t think he would oblige them. I think he would say that whatever word he was thinking of—if, in fact, he was thinking of only one—is just as “correct” an answer as anyone else’s. That meaning, in other words, is constructed not by an author, but by their readers.

 

For me, “the word known to all men” is love. And that is why I write the kinds of stories that we have chosen to label romances: because love has been the structuring principle of my life and the lens through which I understand the universe. Love is my strong nuclear force and my cosmic background radiation. “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”[2]

 

All In BSB-AllInwas created in the service of this love. It lies open on the table, in your hands.

 

 

[1] Wimsatt, William K. and Monroe C. Beardsley. “The Intentional Fallacy.” Sewanee Review, vol. 54 (1946): 468-488. Revised and republished in The Verbal Icon: Studies in the Meaning of Poetry, U of Kentucky P, 1954: 3-18.

[2] Brier, Bob. The History of Ancient Egypt. The Great Courses: Ancient History. The Great Courses: 2013. Audiobook.

[1] Joyce, James. Ulysses. Ed. Hans Gabler. New York: Random House, 1986. 474.

[2] 1 Corinthians 13:7


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