The last stop on loop two of the book tour was Charlotte, North Carolina, where the Women’s National Book Association held a Bibliofeast in honor of Book Month.
I didn’t know much about the place before we got here, but Helen, a friend from college, is a member of the corporate culture and explained that Charlotte ranks only behind New York City and San Francisco as the leading financial district in America. Catching up with Helen—who in the intervening 20 years has risen in her field and raised two teenagers—was grand fun; we used to tease each other mercilessly, me the journalism major bent on “uncovering truth,” she the logistics and transport businesswoman who always won arguments by pointing out I could write all the truth I wanted, but if her trucks didn’t deliver it, it affected diddly. We agreed that the Internet had changed both our professions considerably since those earnest and robust exchanges.
(Helen also generously got us a hotel room with her “points” at Hampton Suites, where a flat screen TV embedded in the bathroom mirror faced a garden tub 3 feet around. Oh, that was fun. Thanks, Helen!)
But the bulk of the night was given to the Bibliofeast; eight writers, from mystery to memoir, gathered to spend 15 minutes per table with aspiring authors and bibliophiles from the region, talking about writing in general and our books specifically, then fielding questions.
One person asked, “When did you know you were going to be an author?” and I answered, “When my agent called me.” The women laughed, but it sparked a discussion that continued at the other tables. Most of the participants were shaping books in their minds. They wanted to know what had sparked mine, and I echoed Joan Didion, that we write to organize our thoughts, to find out what we know.
And we write because it’s fun. Musicians create music, sculptures fashion substances, cooks craft food. Everybody’s got a medium. If yours is writing, you write because it’s there. I’m not kidding, and I’m not waxing eloquent. To paraphrase a whole lot of authors over the years, the best way to tell if you’re a writer is to look down and see if you’re writing. Writers write the way runners run; it happens because you protect the time, give up other things to do it, without really thinking you’re making a decision. Even if you never publish, you write when you’re thinking the same the way you drink water when you’re thirsty or call a friend when you’re lonely. You write because you need to, want to, like to; it doesn’t feel so much like a choice as a way of life.
However, you publish because you want other people to read and like what you wrote—or because you can, or because you hope for money or recognition. (Oh, honey, let me buy you a cup of coffee and let’s chat about that last bit.) That’s different than writing; for one thing, there’s a helluva lotta marketing lurking below the surface, which most of us are not innately good at.
That was the biggest common theme at the tables of the Bibliofeast, an intimate night with lovely women–to a man, we were women, with the exception of one author who looked more and more uncomfortable as the night wore on–who had a lot of thoughts but not a lot of time to get them on paper: that the urge, the internal nudge to write is the biggest signal that one should, and its own justification.
Just write it down. Get started. Have fun. Go.
Jack and Wendy will be Malaprop’s in Asheville, NC this Sunday at 3 and in The Country Bookshop in Southern Pines, NC Monday at 6, if you or your friends and relations would like to come say hi. Jack brought his homemade shortbread.