Monday, December 8, 2014

Simple Things

It's that time of year when simplicity and extravagance seem to be fighting each other in every facet of our lives. At a time when we would love to keep things simple because there are so many "things" fighting for our attention that we can't possibly do them all extravagantly, we oftentimes wear ourselves out trying to do the impossible.

In the last few years, we've tried to keep Christmas simple. No mountains of gifts for every single person we know; no over-the-top 18-course gourmet dinner parties; no decorating every room in the house, even the bathroom, down to the holiday-themed toilet paper. We have learned that one simple gift that reflects what the recipient really likes can mean so much more than overwhelming them with a lot of expensive gifts that mean little to them. A simple pot of soup dinner can be just as enjoyable as a party with twelve different appetizers (even more enjoyable, since the hostess is probably more relaxed and in a more "party" frame of mind.) And while it's fun to tour a home decorated to the rafters for the holidays, staying in such a home, even for just an evening, can be uncomfortable ("I wasn't sure if I was supposed to use the candy-cane striped paper in the bathroom... or the Christmas cookie shaped hand soaps.")

The same goes for reading and writing. I remember a scene from one of my favorite books, "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" by Betty Smith. In it, Francie Nolan, a poor girl in Brooklyn, wants to be a writer, but her teacher continually gives low grades to her essays about her father (who, though a gentle and loving man, is an alcoholic and rarely supports his family) and her life in a tenement (where she and her brother pick through trash for junk to sell and her mother pays the rent by keeping the tenement clean.) So Francie decides to write a novel about a wealthy girl who lives a fabulously wealthy life and eats a dinner of exotic desserts because her usual gourmet dinner seems to be very dull to her. Before too long, Francie realizes that she doesn't believe a thing she's writing and that it's no different than what she wants to write, but she's doing it all wrong.

I think writers have a responsibility to their readers to keep it as simple as possible. Yes, there are certain writers who have made their name by writing about the rich and famous and fabulously glamorous, but most of us can't relate to those kinds of characters or stories. In the Black Horse Campground mystery series, Corrie lives a simple life of working day to day and trying to keep up with her bills. She loves her work and doesn't dream of a glamorous life. I recently finished a romance series by the late, great Aimee Thurlo. While some romances hint of glamour and exotic locales, hers are set near the Navajo reservation with characters who are hard-working people who value loyalty, family, love, and honor above anything material.

Many writers are given the advice to write what they know, but the best advice I've been given is to write the kind of book I want to read. It's extremely gratifying to see that the kind of books I write are also the kind of books others want to read as well.


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