Meeting an author

I met Sarah Vowell years ago, when she visited the university where I got my undergraduate degree. This will always be a special memory because she took the time to mock my brother at the book signing after the reading. I’ve met Brandon Sanderson a couple of times, once at a speaking event and once at my local Barnes and Noble at a surprise signing. Yesterday, I got to meet Paul Harding, who spoke at the university where I am a librarian. Each time, I had to strive to not disgrace myself by gushing at the people who create my drug of choice: books.

I won a copy of Tinkers

Even though I’m not a great reader of literary fiction, I think I enjoyed meeting Harding the best of the three. He kept the reading short (though he has a very good reading voice) and gave over the rest of the time to answering questions. He would answer at length, sharing his philosophy of writing, his process, and his suggestions for the fledgling writers in the audience. Several of his answers resonated with my despite my status as a confirmed reader, rather than a writer:

  1. Writing is different from publishing. If you write solely to be published, your books will have a short shelf life. (Sorry about the pun.)
  2. You should be able to describe your books in terms of its characters, rather than being about abstract concepts. Always start with a character.
  3. Genre fiction and literary fiction are not diametrically opposed. Writers should find a place somewhere on the spectrum, not at the poles.
  4. Writing is a conversation with what’s gone before. Writers have families of influence and by reading the classics, writers can set down deep roots.
It was a wonderful conversation between all of us. It’s clear that Harding has devoted a lot of time to thinking about what he wants his writing to be and what makes writing art. I hated to see the conversation end—partly because I wanted to argue (gently) with him about genre writing. There was so much more to be said and its rare to meet someone who thinks so deeply about literature and loves to talk about it as much as I do.

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