Stories as low-tech GPS

Between kind reviews given freely and lots of other favors, I’ve been the object of quite a bit of charity lately. My heroine Mary in The Awful Mess: A Love Story is not at all graceful at accepting help from others, but she’s gotten better at it by the end of the novel.

Which is good. Because we all need help sometimes.

I got some this week from Jenny Milchman, the talented and persistent author of the debut suspense novel Cover of Snow. She featured me in one of her “Made It Moment” blog posts this weekend (at Fellow indie author Lisa Arrington did this for me, too, earlier this month.

It’s been really nice hearing back from some other authors who also devote a portion of their book earnings to good causes. But I also believe that most people who read and write fiction find ways to help others, somehow … if only because reading fiction builds empathy for others (while also providing some of the health advantages of feeling part of a social group).

I was reading a book yesterday (okay, skimming it — it was overdue at the library!) called Wired for Story that uses pop neurology to review the rules of good fiction writing. And one of the rules was that a protagonist’s life has to get messed up — by the protagonist.  And then it needs to keep getting even more messed up before any resolution is reached. And that is indeed the basic plot of just about any good novel you pick up.

Audrey Hepburn, 'Perils of Pauline' - Imgur

Audrey Hepburn, ‘Perils of Pauline’ – Imgur

Don’t you wish you could just jump into the book and save your favorite characters? You want to shake them when they’re being stupid, tell them not to go through that door, beg them not to trust that shady character, suggest they finally bare their hearts instead of hiding their feelings … whatever it is that’s keeping them from happiness. You also want to reassure them when they’re at their lowest that it will all work out in the end.

Of course, in some books it doesn’t all work out in the end, and I find that those cautionary tales often stay with me the longest — House of Mirth kept me up for hours just brooding about how it had ended.1984 was another one. If I’m remembering correctly, Wired for Story said that’s part of why we humans share stories, too: we’re teaching each other how to avoid disaster … literally, we’re teaching each other how to survive.

In other words, literature is a kind of high-level mutual GPS that we developed centuries before we got any satellites into the atmosphere.

(Of course, sometimes even a high-tech GPS can lead you wrong. And I wouldn’t suggest you read Fifty Shades of Grey for relationship advice.)

Anyway, it’s all food for thought on a day when we’re coming to the end of Hunger Action Month. I have in no way made enough in royalties to reach my goal of $1,000 for Feeding America. (Talk about sheer hubris!) I haven’t even made enough to cover my advertising costs. However, the $100 I put in at the beginning will do for now, and I’ll keep adding 10% month by month (plus whatever I have to add in order to not be embarrassed). So one of these decades it will get there.

I think about this failure as I consider that I was included in a “Made It Moment” when I so obviously haven’t yet made it as an author. But that was Jenny helping me, as she has helped so many other authors, and as others have helped her. Sometimes we just need to accept that hand up, and then remember to pay it forward.

Safe travels!



2 thoughts on “Stories as low-tech GPS

  1. Why this breaks weirdly on the front page but not on THIS page is beyond me. And why is that little word “image” at the top? It’s invisible in my edits. (Any WordPress gurus out there?)


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.