Thursday, October 04, 2007

Songs and the Mountain

Posted by Lynne

She's petite and soft spoken for a woman with such power behind her words. Her name is Ann Packer and I was privileged to attend a reading she gave to introduce her latest novel, Songs Without Words.

At the historic Harvard Bookstore, I browsed, I shopped and then I took my seat. The staff whisked Ms. Packer in to a room out back like she was a movie star. I could imagine her back there shedding her jacket, opening her book to her marked pages, reviewing her chosen paragraphs.

Out she came, taking her place at a podium far too big for her slight frame. And she read. She shared bits that introduced Liz, a woman who identifies herself first and foremost as a mother. Then Sarabeth, Liz's childhood friend, who struggles to find her way, and has since the trauma she experienced as a teen; her mother committed suicide. And finally Lauren, the character who makes a terrible choice, one that will be the catalyst for the chasm that forms in the women's friendship.

While I listened, I observed. I will get to do readings of my novel soon, and I wanted to see what worked for the crowd and what didn't. When she finished reading, it was time for questions. My favorite part is listening to readers questions--I have to contain myself, only asking one or two. I love knowing what readers think and what authors share about the writing process.

As you probably know, Ann Packer is also the author of the wildly successful The Dive from Clausen's Pier, a favorite book of mine. She told the crowd that Dive took her ten years to write, Songs, five. The audience, as if well practiced, let out a soft sigh. A studious man, with his leather bound journal and fountain pen asked what sustained her over the ten years. How did she hold on to her identity as a writer, when it took that long and she had no contract or agent for Dive?

She paused. Her pause was longer than was comfortable for me. Did she even know what sustained her? Does any writer really know?

"I chose to write," she began. "I created the mountain, so I needed to climb it. And as for my identity as a writer." She looked right at the man. "If I stopped writing, then my identity as a writer would really be in jeopardy."

With that the program was over. Ending on an inspirational note, I took my books--Dive and Songs--and I made my way toward her. She signed the books and we exchanged pleasantries. Like a student who takes the first test of the semester and celebrates her A, I told her my debut novel would be published by St Martin's soon. Her face lit up and she said, "What's your name, I'll watch for your success."

I told her my name, she'd watch for me. I practically skipped back to my car. And all I can say to other writers struggling to hold on to their identity is this. Every writer--no matter how successful-- has a mountain to climb. Keep climbing your mountain. The view is prettier with every step.

9 comments:

Judy Merrill Larsen said...

What a fabulous analogy--choosing to climb the mountain. I'll remember that when I head out to my porch in a few minutes to write a scene that's got me flummoxed. One step at a time. And what a wonderful moment for you, Lynne, hearing her say she'll watch for you.

Thanks for sharing this.

Carleen Brice said...

This is why I like going to readings.

The Writers' Group said...

Hi Judy,

I've loved the mountain analogy for so long; when she used it at her event, it really resonated with me. You, too, I see. Keep climbing, but don't forget to enjoy the view!

Carleen,

I adore going to readings. They are inspirational and educational. You're working and taking a break at the same time!

Lynne

Jess Riley said...

This was wonderful! I'm also a fan of Ann Packer; her talent is enormous. And as Judy said, how thrilling to know she'll be watching for your success!

Larramie said...

Dive is one of my five all-time favorite novels and now it means even more after learning about those ten years of climbing a mountain.

Although we couldn't attend the reading, thank you for sharing your experience, Lynne. Also, I'm so glad you mentioned Summer.

The Writers' Group said...

Hi Jess,

Don't you love when you find an author that consistently nails the plot and characters--in short, makes the read worthwhile?

Hi Larramie,

Dive makes it to my favorites list too. And knowing Ann Packer has mountains to climb is very reassuring. Thanks for bringing your thoughts and daisies by today.

Lynne

Lisa said...

I love her choice of words -- that she created the mountain. Creating it is different than choosing it. I wonder what it looked like? Was it dark, dangerous and forbidding or was it a vast, beautiful wonder like the Himalayas or like the alps in The Sound of Music? They are all awe inspiring and despite outward appearances, there's always potential peril. What a great metaphor.

reality said...

Ten years.
Is there a message in there for all us unpublished writers.
Inspirational, yes. Worrying, yes. Before I think too much I'd better join Judy and work on the MS.
Ten Years.

The Writers' Group said...

Lisa,
Isn't it a wonderful metaphor? The only problem with it is that sometimes the climb is arduous. But even great writers have to climb it.

Reality,
Arthur Golden took ten years for Memoirs of a Geisha too. Lesson one: It takes as long as it takes.

Thanks for stopping by,

Lynne