Tuesday, January 23, 2007

A Different Perspective

There are a lot of authors who, when they are writing a book, absolutely will not read anything remotely along the lines of what they are writing. If they write romance, they won't read it. If they write sci-fi, they won't look at that.

They don't want to be influenced, they say. Or they are afraid that the book will no longer be their own. If they read in the field, their book won't have the purity of vision that they would have if they had foregone all contact with books of the same genre.

I'm the opposite. I read voraciously all the time. It doesn't matter to me whether what I'm reading is romance or not. I read because all the time I'm reading I'm thinking about my own book. I'm looking for a different perspective.

I'm trying to see the world from this other point of view -- and then see not just the world, but my fictional world through that same lens.

Maybe it's just that I've always had such bad eyesight that I'm forever looking for new ways to look at things, to see them better. But very often the lens of another book brings my own story into sharper focus.

Just before I began writing fiction I did a master's degree in theology. And because I had three pre-school kids at the time and combining my "worlds" was a matter of necessity, I decided to write my thesis on growth of spiritual understanding and development through the reading of children's literature.

I used, as a "lens" for that, a book by John S. Dunne called The Way of all The Earth. In it Dunne discusses what he calls "passing over" -- or moving from one's own view of the world to another's view. While Dunne deals with the process in terms of religion -- where a person who passes over by sympathetic understanding from his own religion to other religions then comes back with new insights to his own -- the experience of "passing over" and coming back works in literature as well.

It's a growth out of the egocentric world of the child to greater understanding of "other." Such excursions out of oneself not only broaden and enrich the experience of the "other world," but upon return, of own's own.

It's the same thing that J. R. R. Tolkien wrote about in one of his essays (I forget which now because it's been so long ago) that was published in his book Tree and Leaf. If I had it to hand (and I need to get a copy because I really loved that book. It's the only book of Tolkien's I really connected with.) I could quote it for you, but sadly, I don't. In it, though, he talks about reading being a way of stepping outside one's own world, of gaining entrance to another's mind, of seeing the world through other eyes, other windows. And his own world is, ever after, richer because of it.

I take both Dunne and Tolkien to heart whenever I write.

My tale is my view, yes. But as I write, I seek to understand my characters, my story. I write to learn what happens. I write to learn what matters. I write to learn who my characters are.

And reading other writers while I do so enriches my tale. I look at Theo and Martha or Spence and Sadie or Flynn and Sara through other lenses. I look at them as I read another book and envision how they would react to the dilemmas that other writers pose for their characters.

How would Theo react? I wonder. Would he do what this character does? Why? Why not? What makes him different?

And, often -- why didn't I think of that before?

Reading keeps me fresh. It provides me with challenges. It makes me think about my characters in ways I might not have thought about them before. I read historicals, I read contemporaries. I read chick lit and regencies. I read mysteries and westerns and, every now and then, a bit of "literary" fiction.

Whenever I do, I "pass over" into another world; I live in it for a time. And just like when I come back to my own life and see it a little differently, so do I see my book, my characters. And they -- and I -- are richer for it.

# # #

I meant to tell you yesterday what Leena Hyat said in her review of Theo and Martha's book, The Santorini Bride. But I got distracted by turning off the music and trying to put together the things my webmistress needs for the redesign of the website.

So, here it is today from my Totebag which you might want to check out on a regular basis, as Leena tracks down interesting books and authors and always has something useful and insightful to say about them.

"Incredibly sexy and more engrossing with every chapter, Anne McAllister's newest novel is a very entertaining and delightful treat for all readers of Harlequin Presents. The story is peppered with intriguing characters who charm and delight with ease and I almost felt guilty about enjoying it so much. Notice, I said 'almost'! A compelling and fast-paced read, THE SANTORINI BRIDE proves McAllister's worth as a gifted storyteller and prolific writer. . . A wonderful story!

Thank you, Leena. I'm so glad you enjoyed it!


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