How authors touch our lives

On Saturday night my husband and I went to see Neil Gaiman talk at The Carpenter Performing Arts center in Long Beach. It was our fourth time seeing Neil speak and, as has been the case every time, it was a hugely inspiring night.

It was his penultimate public appearance before he disappears for a year so to write a new novel. He told hilarious anecdotes about Terry Pratchett and Harlan Ellison, which were a joy to hear. He read a story he wrote for Ray Bradbury, The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury, which is in his new book of short stories, Trigger Warning. He told a poignant story about December which brought tears to my eyes, about a young girl, homeless on the streets in the coldest month of the year. He read a poem about the night before his wedding, The Rhyme Maidens. He answered many audience questions, and he spoke about the awful terror attacks in Paris which had happened the night before with wisdom - that eye for an eye leaves everyone blind, that finding a way to help the people involved can help us cope with these atrocities, and that those responsible are in the minority and the majority of people just want to live their lives and take care of their families. The two hours he spent on stage sped by with rounds and rounds of applause and much laughter amidst moments so silent you could have heard a pin drop.

I was grateful that one of the questions asked by the audience covered writer's block, and Neil's response was hilarious, saying writers got there first and claimed "block". No other professions have "block", and it just means we're stuck - but to admit that means we can fix it. He said something that helped me with my own story at the moment when he mentioned it sometimes happens when your story is changing from it's original thread, and I think that is what's happening with my novel. I have stalled at 37,000 words because something new is coming into the story. I already knew this, I just haven’t admitted it until now, and someone who I thought was a minor character is going to have a bigger part. He also said if you're blocked, make sure to have other things to work on, other stories, or emails, or Twitter, and to write on the good days and on the bad days.

So today I am writing this blog. It is something I have wanted to do since Terry Pratchett's death earlier this year. His Discworld series were the first adult books I read in my early teens. I had long been intrigued by their colorful covers with caricatured characters, and it was my dad who loaned them to me and suggested I try them. He had been a Pratchett fan for years, and at night I would hear him laugh through our shared bedroom wall and wonder what he was reading that was so funny. So when he suggested I try one, I wanted to like it so much because he did. I adored my father and his wicked sense of humor, and as much as Monty Python will always remind me of him, so will Terry Pratchett. When I started my first Pratchett book, Witches Abroad, I was thrilled that I truly enjoyed it and could connect with my dad even more and share the jokes with him. I still have that very well-worn copy, and reread it often. It is fantastical, hilarious and human and I LOVE the characters of the three witches. It felt good to understand the humor in books which were for intended for adults, but I think for the most part it is universal. And something that has always stayed with me that was written in the very beginning of each Terry Pratchett book was his claim that "writing is the most fun anyone can have by themselves." And I thought, "That does sound like fun, I wish I was smart enough to spend my life writing." It wasn't until my mid-twenties that I had the courage to just get on with it and start writing.

After reading many of the Discworld books I then read Good Omens, which had also been on my dad's nightstand, and was introduced to Neil Gaiman and the wonderful dark humor that he and Terry shared and, together, magnified. Unfortunately my dad passed away when I was twenty. We loved many of the same things - movies, TV shows and books - and when I watch those films and reread those books I feel connected to him again. For as much as these creations can make us feel a connection to the minds of the artists and the authors who created them, when we share them with the people we care about and then re-experience them they can be as evocative a jolt as certain scents can be in bringing back memories and moments. And when those cherished authors pass, even though we didn’t know them personally, we feel an extra sadness that we are unprepared for, because of the connections they created for us with our loved ones. But all the stories they wrote still sit on shelves, are still filled with humor and emotion that we can continue to share with the people we care about, and can create new connections and memories for new generations in our families and with friends. 

TP

More soon,

C.C.

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