Late yesterday afternoon, the kids and I walked around our property. The daffodils are blooming. Their yellow heads, like cheerful bonnets, fringe the house, dot the meadow out front, and form bright clumps along the thicket. In the woods, I spied my first trout-lily of the season. The hyacinths are also opening, but that’s pretty much it. It’s too early for the tulips, forsythia, and violets and too late for the pussy willows. Thinking I might cut some willow branches for the house, I trudged over to the ditch where the scrubby trees grow, but their silvery catkins had already puffed into yellow balls.
Springtime brings work—weeding, raking, composting, planting—but I like it. Now that the winter’s behind us, friends and family will start visiting, and I enjoy this, as well. Before someone comes to stay, I’ll tuck sweet peas, lilacs, roses, lavender (whatever’s flowering!) into little vases around the guestroom. My husband will put fresh sheets on the bed and make sure we’ve got good wine and beer on hand. I’ll bake bread and prepare supper. After our guests arrive, we’ll light candles, play music, and dine out on the screened-in porch. The kids will grow bored with the grownups’ conversations. They’ll run into the night and chase after lightning bugs…
Our visitors usually make special requests for dishes and desserts—and activities, too, like treasure hunts at the antique barn on the Ridge, long walks down country roads; picnics at Hamlin Beach, berry picking, even throwing on the wheel in my pottery studio. It makes me happy that they bring their wish-lists. I want them to feel at home.
Seeing to a visitor’s comfort is a host’s responsibility and pleasure.
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about comfort—in particular, a reader’s comfort. And I’ve been thinking about writing. About my responsibility as a writer.
I’m keenly aware that my second novel, forthcoming from Feiwel & Friends in March of 2019, might make readers, at times, uncomfortable. My main character’s name is Maggie. Her story deals with difficult subjects—sexual assault, betrayal, trauma.
The novel isn’t all dark. It also celebrates friendship, community, survival, and healing. I’d argue that the story is ultimately hopeful. But there’s no getting around the likelihood that parts of the novel will make readers sad and anxious. Uncomfortable.
I’m no different than them. I just finished reviewing the copyedits, and though I’ve probably read the manuscript now a good dozen times, not once have I made it through a round of revisions without crying. Sad tears. Happy tears, too.
I realize that a few people dear to me, when they start reading my second novel, will be thinking:
Why did Melissa want to write about such a depressing topic?
Couldn’t she have come up with a lighthearted, funny story?
Holy moly, her characters are dropping the f-bomb left and right. Do they have to swear so much? Do they have to fight?
I wrote about this subject because it’s important. It is important to me.
Life is sometimes funny, but it can be sad, scary, and terrible, too. This novel might make some readers uncomfortable, but I hope it also offers comfort—to those who are hurt and troubled and who need to read stories that reflect their own experiences.
And yes, my characters curse. And fight. And weep. Just like people in real life do.
I guess this blog post is a preemptive strike. I’m anticipating criticism. Criticism is okay. A reader, after finishing a novel, will form an opinion. Cast a judgment. That’s his or her prerogative.
But I’m claiming my prerogative, too—an author’s prerogative to write honestly.
According to Anton Chekhov, “The task of a writer is not to solve the problem but to state the problem correctly.” I’m sure Chekhov would agree that it’s certainly not a writer’s task to ignore the problem.
I wrote this novel with societal problems heavy on my mind. I worked hard to handle these problems realistically, fairly, and compassionately. I tried to recognize the problems’ formidable complexity. If I sufficiently met these objectives, I accomplished what I set out to do.