Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

This Strange Arrangement (Part I)

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This Strange Arrangement (Part I)

This Strange Arrangement … (Part I)

It wasn’t until I published my first novel, The Weight of Stones, and received a few emails from readers, that I began to understand something about the strange arrangement between writer and reader, or sender and receiver.

The author can never read his or her own work with the fresh eyes of an objective reader; conversely, a reader can never fully step inside the mind of the creator to appreciate the genesis or evolution of a work of fiction, especially in terms of what was left in and what was taken out. They get the finished gem all polished and sparkling.

Jean-Paul Sartre, in his book 'Literature and Existentialism', wrote: “… the operation of writing involves an implicit quasi-reading which makes ‘real’ reading impossible. When the words form under his pen, the author doubtless sees them, but he does not see them as the reader does, since he knows them before writing them down.”

The writer can miss things an astute reader might point out in terms of symbolism, just as a reader can miss subtleties and nuances that a writer has taken great pains to draw. This is what makes it so interesting to be a featured author at a book club: the sender gets to hear back from the receiver in person. You’ve got nowhere to run, all eyes are on you, and not everyone loved your novel the way your lying-for-your-own-good grandmother did.

In other words, sometimes those signals and waves make it through with perfect clarity and other times they seem to get lost somewhere in translation. It was particularly engaging, for example, to sit back while members of one club carried on a debate as to whether my protagonist is merely abusing prescription drugs or whether he is a full-blown addict.

Two letters from readers reminded me of an experiment of sorts that I had undertaken a decade earlier that involved contacting authors with specific questions or requests - just to see what I'd get back (sender to receiver). The first letter-writer shared with me a whole bunch of personal experiences that seemed coincidental to my story line and settings, all to say she appreciated the characters and the situations in which they found a great deal of themselves.

The second letter was much more … odd. The reader asked me how I had chosen the name of the protagonist because it just happened to be the exact name of his best friend who had been missing for twenty years. What do you say to that, except “my fictional character is not your friend, but good luck with the search and any incidental therapy that you might seek in the interim”.

Anyway, about this experiment I conducted ...
Tune in to Part II Monday.

CB

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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C.B. Forrest

C.B. Forrest is the author of the literary crime novels The Weight of Stones and Slow Recoil.

Go to C.B. Forrest’s Author Page