Please welcome the lovely and talented Jenny Gardiner to our soiree. Jenny’s debut novel, Sleeping With Ward Cleaver, recently won the American Title III contest (and deservedly so) and will be published in February 2008 by Dorchester. Jenny writes, with sharp-edged humor and intelligence, about women on the brink. She’s married (20 years!) with three kids, and is an animal lover to boot, with two dogs and a bird that, despite its chaste lifestyle, has managed to have an egg.
So, Jenny, may we have this dance?
I’m thrilled to have been invited to guest-Deb for the day–thanks so much for welcoming me into your grog!
When Kristy told me the theme for this week was Earth and Sky, I couldn’t help but think about one of my favorite blast-from-the-past bands, Earth, Wind & Fire. EWF provided the musical backdrop to my coming-of-age, and when I flash back to some of my fondest high school and college memories, invariably I recall that soul-thumping beat of those EWF tunes.
Truth is I can’t hear the song “Fantasy” without seeing my college crush Dan Carey luring me (and every other girl I knew) into his force field with that sweep of sandy blonde hair across his magnetic blue eyes, his boyish grin the gauntlet thrown to every last one of us who yearned to see his girlfriend bite the dust so that we could have our chance with him.
Yeah, fantasy, all right.
It’s magical the way that music can release you from whatever mundane activity in which you might be engrossed–washing dishes, painting the porch, even awaiting surgery. A song comes on the radio and with no bidding, an old woman becomes a young deb again, vividly recalling the night she fell in love with her husband. A mother of grown children is once again in labor with her firstborn, that damned CD of Natalie Cole playing on an endless loop (won’t someone turn that miserable thing off?!). An aging veteran is back at the canteen, dancing with the cute WAC with the sexy gams and jet-black pincurls.
And in this same way books can provide us with such an indulgent escape. No longer stuck merely blow-drying my hair, with a good book on the sink (pages strategically weighted down with a can of hairspray and a tube of toothpaste), I am transported to 1960’s rural Wisconsin, befriending a young girl who carries her dead mother’s ashes around in a jar under her arm (Sandra Kring’s The Book of Bright Ideas). Instead of being stuck in a long check-out line at the grocery store, I find myself in strife-ridden India (The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy) or fending off deadly siafu ants on a turn-of-the-century East African coffee plantation (The Flame Trees of Thika by Elspeth Huxley).
Evocative music, literature, art, movies and writing stir up emotions in us, sentiments that may have been long-suppressed and in need of resurgence. Books give us the gift of passion and imagination, be it through the keyhole of the author’s mind’s eye, or a direct-transport from one’s own. However it works, literature offers us an opportunity to think beyond the boundaries of the everyday, to envision a world that may not exist but for the ripe imagination of the author.
And fiction has the glorious ability to fill in the blanks in life, provide answers to vexing problems, or just for a short while, let you think something is different than what it might well be. And this is what is so appealing to me as a writer of fiction. That through this medium, I can orchestrate outcomes however I wish them to be. I can screw up my characters heads–big time–and then I can help them to unscrew them again. I’m the puppet master, with so much control at my fingertips.
And yet still, ultimately, my characters surprise even me, and lead me down a path I may never have expected to be guided. And through which I might learn something new and unexpected–about myself, about my subjects, about the world in general. The first time I actually cried after reading a scene I’d written was startling to me. I suppose I figured just as you can’t really tickle yourself, you can’t evoke such intense emotion with your own words–the element of surprise is missing. But the power of the page allows this to happen, and it’s such a surprising thing to experience.
The truth is, the gift of fiction costs so little, but can provide such great rewards, you almost can’t put a price tag on it.
Not long ago, we attended an Earth Wind and Fire concert. The reality reflected in the audience wasn’t so encouraging. A good bit of gray–if any–hair. A lot of paunchy silhouettes. Tired, middle-aged eyes glancing back at me. But once the music started up, for an hour or so, everyone in the audience was again young, lithe, full-of-the-future. Imbued with the optimism of a life not yet lived. And when the music stopped, we all felt re-charged, reminded just a little bit about where we came from, what we were once about, happy to have dabbled in the past for even a short while, while looking ahead with a renewed sense optimism.
If a song or a book can hold such magical powers, how lucky are we to have such ready access to them?