How I feel about choosing my next read.

How I feel about choosing my next read.

Lately, I’ve felt traumatized by books. Two of the books I was able to stop reading when they upset me. I didn’t care enough about the characters to make myself read any more about teenagers doing drugs and blowing up their lives or risk running into another scene like the botched horse euthanasia that I long to unread.

Two more recent books have had me fully bought into what happens. I care about those characters about as much as I care about my high school or Sunday school students. I need to know what happened to those kids and that they are okay.

I’ve been listening to their stories on audio (iPhones and libraries make great partners for my morning commute – I can’t even get late fines). So I have had to get the printed books to let me skim those scenes about parental abuse of the character kids I want to scoop up and rescue from their writers’ words.

All of these authors are skilled. Very skilled. Even the ones who wrote characters I didn’t connect to have an amazing writerly superpower: they make me see in my head what they experienced or imagined in their own heads.

When I first took a class on fiction writing, I couldn’t get past the idea of conflict in writing. I didn’t want to believe I needed it to make a good story. Even more, I didn’t want to create stories to fill people with more feelings of conflict. I used this excuse for a long time to stop myself from writing.

Recently I scared one of my critique group members with the opening scene to my book with too much conflict. So I try not to hold my readerly stress against authors, and I know I’ve accepted that fiction needs conflict to pull the story forward.

But I am shopping for books with a tad fewer chest tightening scenes for my next reads. I crave great stories that pull me through without ripping my heart out over imaginary people. If you’ve got a minute, I’d love suggestions. Bring on the Pollyanna. My reading heart needs mending. Maybe this makes me a wimp. I’m okay with that.

What Richard Sherman and Harry Potter Have in Common



The Seahawks and the words in a story. The two don’t seem to have much in common, but experiencing the buildup to the Superbowl within a few miles of Seattle’s epicenter has me thinking of crazy connections.

Many years ago I took a fiction writing class through the University of Washington. The instructor and the text informed me that, in order to write good fiction, I had to use conflict. And the higher the stakes, the better the tale. If the character fought death itself, this would be the best story of all.

I decided then and there that fiction was not for me. Secretly, I still loved reading it and tried to ignore that conflict pulled me into and through all of my most favorite tales from THE UGLY DUCKLING and IS THIS THE HOUSE OF MISTRESS MOUSE  to THE HOBBIT, the Harry Potter series and THE DAVINCI CODE.

But I would not be a part of writing such things, thank you very much. I needed to keep myself above all of that. I needed to focus on compassion and altruism and things like that there.

I squeezed my eyes shut to my need to write and look at fiction in the face until my life hit me full on with it’s own conflict. Until I could no longer avoid the conflict deep within all that is around me. I could be a vegetarian, sure. But the animals I refused to eat still ate each other. Plants have feelings to some degree or another, and I must eat something.

On top of that, I lost babies in miscarriages and in other ways too difficult to explain in this post.  After life brought me so low I could not get off the couch, a novel saved me. A story with life and death stakes. A story where the main characters discover things about themselves while running from bad guys attempting to kill them in unspeakable ways.

Saying a story saved me sounds exaggerated but it’s not. I remember that couch and that book holding me in this world when nothing else would. And then I remember picking up my pen to save myself once more by writing words I needed to hear.

That escape from the prison of my own mind Neil Gaiman described in my last post let me find light. And the only way for me to get to that light was to sink into a story while the thing that pulled me through that story was – you guessed it – conflict. Shooting and stabbings and burnings and other such dreck.

Like Greg Garrett, I feel deeply torn about cheering for my team to bash the other. But another part of me knows that the conflict drawing us in holds blessings in the shape of good deeds and a wonder that is a community.

So as I watch the Seahawks move to this battle full of hits and tackles like the one that took out my sweet husband’s knee umpteen years ago, I step back and see, too, the joy that it’s bringing the people around me: The kids in their green and blue. My friends Ginny and Robin in their a Capella singing group on MSNBC. The happiness that is a sporting event that pulls people together in parties with nachos and laughter.

Only a blend of bookworm and sometime football fan could pull this up but, for what it’s worth, here are five things football players and story characters have in common: 

1. The stakes are high. Both Harry Potter and Richard Sherman could die in the fight. Really. This, I know, is not the best reason we watch or read but it is a driving force that we cannot deny. I think admitting it helps us work through it.

2. They are fighting to win. Maybe the characters will not get what they want or the players will not catch the ball but, in trying, they win my heart as long as they do it with some semblance of grace and chutzpah.

3. The antagonists of a story and the other team (those Broncos this time) also have my sympathy on some level. It’s part of the conflict to be able to identify with the other side and be able imagine what it feels like to be on the other side.

4. The football game, just like a story, has a beginning, a middle and an end with a climax and even an epilogue. If the Seahawks win, it will be hard to get enough of the play by plays afterward. If my team loses, I will shut off the TV and make a bigger plate of nachos while listening to my brother-in-law grouse about officials. (In stories, I shut the book and complain to my family about how I hated THAT ending).

5. Players and characters become better through the effort. This is something I think draws us all into the games and stories. We love to see others grow and cross our fingers that we are doing the same in the stories and games of our own lives.

Yes, I’ll be watching on Sunday. I’ll see the giant young men slam into each other while the better part of me cringes when the players are injured as I know they will be. But I’ll also celebrate that we have something to cheer for. Something that gets us talking and pulls us from our lows to find yet another story. This one happens to play out on a screen rather than between the pages of a book.

Go Hawks! And may we all find the best in ourselves whether we win or lose the conflict that brought us to the game or story in the first place.