I always think of reading and writing as solitary activities. I’ve spent many Sunday afternoons sprawled on the sofa reading a book, completely unaware of my surroundings but alive to the adventure taking place in the pages. Writing—especially the first draft—is a similar experience. Stuff is happening in my head as fast as I can type, and I’m oblivious to everything else. Once, in a coffee shop, and my husband took a video of me writing. He shot the video for several minutes, and I never noticed. (It’s not a very exciting video. I type, reach for my coffee cup, and type some more. Repeat, repeat, repeat. My eyes never once left my laptop. But it was a great writing session!)
This past weekend reminded me of the social side of these essentially solitary activities. On Saturday, I went to the inaugural meeting of a new science fiction and fantasy book club that’s starting up in my town. The group was small, but you never know who’s going to show up for something like that, especially on a Saturday in June. We discussed Jon Armstrong’s cyberpunk novel Grey and had a video chat with the author.
I’ve never belonged to a book club. Maybe that’s because I used to teach English and devoted many hours every week to discussing books and literature. But it’s been a while since I was in the classroom, and it was really fun to spend an hour talking with other readers about a book we’d all read. It was also refreshing to approach the book as a reader, not a writer. What do I mean by that? Focusing on meaning. On the ideas that the book brings up for me, how the characters and their actions affect me. Reading as a writer is different. It’s noticing what works and doesn’t work for me in terms of how the author constructs the narrative.
Then yesterday was the monthly meeting of my writers’ group. Last time, we discussed an excerpt from Deadtown #4. This month, we read the opening of a historical mystery set in 1880s New York. It was fun, with a lively, vivacious, and utterly believable heroine. It made me think about some of the similarities of writng fantasy and writing historical fiction—in a word, world-building. In both genres, the author must open by plunging readers into a world that’s different from the here-and-now, making that world vivid and believable. At the same time, the author can’t risk overwhelming (or boring!) the reader with long passages of exposition and description. It has to be “Let me show you around this world we’re in,” NOT “Let me explain this world we’re about to visit.” Huge difference. So it was interesting for me as a writer to see how an author of a different genre accomplished the same feat.
And it’s always fun to talk shop with other writers. My group meets monthly, so everyone always has news. Yesterday we heard about a week-long writing workshop one of us had attended and the book signing another had just held. I talked about the steadily increasing sales for the ebook version of Peace, Love, and Murder, which have been encouraging enough that I’m planning to finish the sequel after I’ve turned in Deadtown #4. (If you’ve given that book a try, thank you!)
As a writer, I spend a lot of time sitting alone at my computer. And I love that time. But it’s good for me to come out of my writing cave once in a while and talk to other people who love books and writing. They’re good company.