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The Reader-Writer Covenant

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What is the relationship between reader and writer? Lord knows that I know the reader side well -- I've been a reader for far more hours of my life than I've been a writer. Starting at age seven, I made twice-weekly trips to the Kensington branch of the Brooklyn library nearest my home, where I'd always check out the maximum number of books allowed. Writers were gods to me. Libraries were the purveyors of that which I needed for sustenance. Food. Shelter. Books. Those were my life's priorities.

Naturally, I liked some books more than others. Some of the books I read as a child etched themselves on my soul, such as A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I felt as if that book reached inside and wrenched out the secrets of my life. I read that book so many times that I can play it out chapter by chapter in my head.

As an adult reader I still look for that and I'm constantly foraging for books that offer glimpses into a character's psyche, that go deep enough to make me part of the choir, saying, "Oh yeah, me too, tell it, writer. True that, uh huh."

As a writer, I've learned that reaching so deep isn't always comfortable. Hey, my daughter's gonna read this! Hey, husband: this isn't you! It's far easier to skate on the surface. And perhaps there is a place on shelves for soothing books that ask little and offer nothing but mild worry and a guarantee of safe outcomes. Sometimes I want a comfort read, a total escape, a warm place to rest, but even those I want to have pulled passion, and hopefully some uncomfortable passion, from the writer.

I believe there should be a covenant between writer and reader. What it is that you, the writer, are offering to you, the reader? (Because I can't imagine a writer who is not also a reader.) Are you making a bargain with the reader and then keeping to it? Are you offering the reader the same qualities that you want when you're the reader? Are you offering them your very best?

Sometimes I worry, that in the rush of wanting to publish, I could forget the importance of writing the truthiest truth -- that I could turn away from the intense emotion that leaves me, as the writer, uncomfortable despite knowing that me, the reader, wants the writers I read to reach into the painful places.

My favorite books, the ones I return to time and again, are gritty enough to have affecting truth (which is very different than the truth of events.) I try to write with a knife held to my own throat, so that my work will hold as much disturbing reality as possible.

Books are precious to me. If I am going to ask people to spend time and money on a book I've written, it better be one that broke my own heart in the process of writing it. My time is also precious to me, and I want to read books that have the reader in mind. I want books that have dug deep, whatever the genre, and proffer those best hours of my day. Making the perfect metaphor and describing a mountain range well doesn't make that happen for me. Magic happens when writers tell their personal truth and dare to let their ugly out. That's when a writer has kept their covenant.

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