Jonathan S. Foer: Vegetarianism

“I am a hypocrite,” he announced, explaining why he wasn’t a vegan as well, but being a hypocrite was fine, as long as he did something good. It would easier, he stated, to live without opinions, but then you’d be taking the easy way out. You would simply not care. He acknowledges right off that no, everyone can’t be vegetarians. It would be an insurmountable challenge to convert the world. Then what is there to do?

Every person cares about animals—there is no one who thinks it is outright okay to kick a dog. But not everyone is willing to stop eating meat. And that’s the problem, Foer says, that there seems to be only one choice. Either you are a moral vegetarian who cares or an omnivore who does not. Eating vegetarian seems to apply an absolutist policy. He also touched on some friends who had sworn vegetarianism only to have “one bad night” and quit.

In his book Eating Animals, Foer leaves room for people like me, omnivores. The word “vegetarian” seems too all-inclusive. Everyone has “baseline decency, a minimal goodness,” so why not apply that as well as absolutist ideas? One could simply eat vegetarian meals rather than live vegetarian. If there is something you can’t live without eating, eat that, but just because you may like sushi, don’t eat a hamburger just because.

College of Charleston promotional poster

This struck me as his strongest point: there is a spectrum of what we can do to combat factory farming. We don’t all have to convert, only consider the ugly subject in a clear and honest way. Today, it’s easier than ever to live a little more ethically. Even gas stations sell “free range” eggs.

Foer went on to talk about Charleston and its remnants of slavery. We look back at slavery as this great evil, and those who didn’t try to be a solution, they were the problem. One day, he explains, we will view factory farming in those same terms.

Many questions he received accused him of the hypocrisy he admitted to in the first minute of his speech. He has eaten meat, yes, he admits, by accident. But it’s not just one choice to stop, but a series of choices. Each time we sit down to eat, we are confronted with the choice to eat animals or not eat them. The meat industry has simply betted that people find that desire to know the truth so unappetizing, they remain ignorant on purpose.

Foer supports rational thought and direct conversation about controversy. Caring is something we should do more as we grow older, not less; we need not grow complacent with what we have done, but can continue effective change that may make us proud to look back at our lives.

The speeches and the book gave me a remarkable impression and while I don’t intend to swear off meat like so many of my Charleston comrades have done, I intend to significantly cut my meat consumption. Even if you’re adverse to something like vegetarianism, ignorance should not be your reasoning to ignore the problem; read Eating Animals if ever you get the chance.

At one point, Foer told the anecdote of eating lamb after this book was published. While eating dinner at his agent’s house, he realized too late a dish she served contained chopped up bits of lamb. Just because of that experience, he couldn’t just give up—it was really okay that one that. The point, he stresses, is not that he tries to just stop eating meat. The point is for him to not choose to eat meat. That choice matters, and everyone time he makes the choice, it matters, as it can for us.


Jonathan S. Foer: Storytelling

Photo Credit by Maria Mansfield Richardson of the CofC Honors College

Because he had to talk at lengths about his ideas concerning vegetarianism in his final session, Foer allowed in the first forum a more general discussion of his ideas concerning fiction. Readers of his fiction work pounced upon this opportunity to question him concerning Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and Everything is Illuminated.

He began by answering a girl’s question about Oscar, the protagonist of Extremely Loud, whether or not he based that character on himself or someone he knew. No, he said, not really. Characters have to be believable, but not in a journalistic sense. “If I wanted to write a book that accurately portrayed a nine year old, I would have interviewed a nine-year old.”

There is a difference, though, he contests, between journalistic and novelistic truth. We as readers may believe exaggerations and oddities through a story because it serves a greater truth. “Fiction isn’t about the facts,” Foer said, “just about what you know without someone telling you.” He made a point to emphasize that books that resonate the most with us simply “feel true.”

Next he told an anecdote about the first time he talked with a fan in public, over a radio broadcasting show. He sat wearing headphones, ready to discuss Illuminated, when the first caller phoned up. “Your story, that’s the story of my family, something that tells my story—” This man must be just like me, Foer thought: a young Jewish man, reaching back in time for his heritage. The man continued “—as a sixty year old black man from Trenton, I thought nobody would get it right.”

This illustrates the innate universalism of personal stories. Even emotions we think that we exclusively express, the feelings we believe alienate, those are the things that unite us to other people from a myriad of backgrounds. Books connect us in a beautiful way. Foer learned, we are not always closest to the people who look most like us, not just people with the same skin color or ideas, but instead with people who share similar stories.

“Does it get any easier?” asks the next spectator, a fledgling writer. Foer shook his head. It doesn’t get easier, never does. In fact, he asserted, it gets harder with each book he attempts to write. You have to choose a story you’re willing to stick with for a very long time. He put it quite simply: “People who continue to write become writers. The others just stop.”

He addressed also the critical analyses of his work, at first calling BS on the whole trope. But he admitted that once a book leaves an author’s desk, it’s no longer only his. Once a book goes out into the world, it gets better because each reader breathes life into it.

Foer sets up this contrast: either “interpretation of literature” is nonsense, authors subconsciously place info into stories, or maybe books are flexible. Maybe books can mean more than what they’re meant to mean. This was a fresh insight—that just because authors don’t intend a theme doesn’t mean the book can’t have it. Readers are people who like to be provoked, challenged—they make a story more full by comparing it to their own stories. They add in bits until the story sprawls and is out of the author’s control; this is not a bad thing.

Books, Foer explained, are not the party—they’re the invitation to the party. Where you go and what you do once you reach the party is the choice of the reader.

Breathing Room

When life begins to roar, deafening who you are, it helps to seek solitude, retreat into yourself. Remind yourself beauty exists all around you– there are reasons for the things you do, reasons bigger than you. Poems clang around in your head like men with pinball hammers, ice picks, and dynamite trying to break out.

I am happy to report I have been writing regularly, though disjointedly to fit my schedules into schedules– school has recently swollen to consume much of my time. Between trying to write fiction and trying to complete school work and trying to have a semblance of a social life, I haven’t written many blog posts. I will try to remedy that this weekend, as I have been working on a multi-part post which may interest many of you.

In the meantime, I am producing fiction I might actually get paid for, which I’ll attempt to publish. While editing “In Lickskillet,” I have also written two short stories– one is not done yet. I have, however, for both a supreme confidence that you will either find them enlightening or comical or both. When (yes, I mean WHEN, not IF) I publish these somewhere, Word Salad will be the first place I post up links and information. All of this, of course, is quite exciting. I’ll report more after my Fall Break begins.

Idiots, Hamlet, Calculus, and a Guillotine

Life, I have found, makes more sense with a pen in my hand. Words, not so much the infinite gestures, expressions, and human niceties, I understand. I am the idiot savant of a less poetic age, a philosopher barbarian writing words as if in code, trying to make sense of a senseless society who long ago gave up the ghost of reality.

Stories, they make sense to me. In fact, I’ve devoted much of the past week to reworking, rewriting, revising one such story—the novel I wrote. Maybe in the vain hope that when all is finished, you will like it. You will hold the pages to the sky and say, “My, this beauty overwhelms.”

Until then, I’ll keep getting pelted with the slings and arrows of life, as Hamlet would say—more of less, calculus. Ah, math, you tricky slave to logic and consistency. Just being in the presence of numbers, equations, those foreign mysteries—I feel as fresh as a smoker’s lung.

Tuesday, we received back our exams. I passed, and the fear is over, but before an exam, a fear creeps up. On the cusp of that exam, I felt as if I faced a tragic, untimely death. What will happen? I had to begin, put the pencil to paper. Though I felt as if my very act of taking this exam would kill me. A shotgun poised at my chest.

While words—even German—have a beauty that enlighten and inspire, math has become a high level foreign language class in which I don’t belong, having missed out on the essential vocabulary. This is not merely due to the fact my instructor is Russian, botching every other word with wonky vowels. Instead, math itself has transformed from something simple and concrete into the intense codification of some alien race.

More or less, I would rather play Peek-a-boo with a guillotine than take a math exam ever again. But the weekend begins tomorrow, and I can return to words and only words, quite a solace they be.

7 Reasons to Do Something for the First Time

1. The first and only time I ever painted my chest was for a Volleyball game, the state game at the White Knoll high school gymnasium. The year before, our team won the championship, and this year, we would fall barely short. During halftime, we stood in the bitter wind smearing white paint onto our stomachs and chest.

The way the paint mixed with my hair, I could only think of how terrible it would be to wipe off. Then we wrote letters on us; I’m not sure, but I believe I was the exclamation point.

We still lost, but I don’t foresee any game I will ever feel strongly enough about again to spend three hours scraping paint from my wind-scarred nipples.

2. Because the first time I ever kissed a girl, it was a dare at a Valentine’s Dance. I’m not sure that’s how first kisses should happen.

3. Because the first time I tried to ride down the huge hill in our neighborhood without once applying the breaks, I veered into the grass and crashed into a tree.

I had been selling Joe Corbi’s Pizza door-to-door for a school fundraiser in the second grade. I was bored. Perched at the top of the hill, I allowed myself to roll down, picking up momentum until I could no longer control the bike, careening toward a short tree. The trunk halted the bike, but not me; I flipped over the handlebars, busting my head open on someone’s driveway. It was very cool that my forehead squirted blood like a water pistol until I nearly passed out.

Not two days ago, biking down Calhoun to visit the library, I experienced this unique event again. A car braked suddenly. My bicycle’s brakes work only when you pedal backwards, and to do so quickly requires me to stand up. I did this to avoid ramming the car’s bumper, but the sudden stop forced me to again tumble over the handlebars, which this time turned downwards, my body flailing, smashing against the road.

Fortunately, the vehicle behind me did not crush my head and allowed me to push my pathetic bike out of the rode. Once I made sure my head had not again become a gory fountain, I rode all the way to the library, scraped, bruised, bleeding. The only real causality was the button of my favorite red shorts, which had popped off quite violently upon force of impact.

4. Because the first time I ever tried to write a novel, my fifth grade teacher read it to my class, even the parts that seemed a little gory. Even the entire chapter about the main characters being taken in by this couple that resembled Mr. and Mrs. Claus– they are executed at the end of the chapter, tied to a wooden stake and burned alive.

Despite all of the strangely disturbing events in the book I wrote (it was only about 50,000 words long), she read it. Other kids seemed to like it. It was the first time I felt like people might one day read books I could write.

5. Because the first time I read the short story “Guts” by Chuck Palahniuk, I was riding a train. An hour-long ride to Stuttgart from Heilbronn, just the right amount of time needed to read short stories. I nearly passed out or threw up or a combination of the two. Instead, I sweated and worried about the words.

This was maybe the first time a book affected me in a physical sense as much as it did in a mental, philosophical sense.

6. The first time I ever went to a concert, the ticket cost me only $17. I arrived five hours early in Asheville and stood for three hours in front of the venue to watch The Tallest Man on Earth. But I got to stand on the front row, basically feeling his spit rain down on me as he sang.

Some people have never stood at the front row of a concert before.

7. When I opened my eyes for the first time today, I thought about the beauty of doing things for the first time. Listening to new songs. Listening to your stupid friends and trying stupid things with them. Reading recently published books. Going to places you’ve never been before, just to try their offerings of the grilled cheese sandwich.

There is a sprawling, grand adventure awaiting us all, and each day, we embark upon it anew.


A Question Of Identity and Morality

For fictional characters, identity must be decided by the authors in much the same way identity must be deduced by each individual. We learn about both people and characters through their actions; we cannot look inside others’ heads, therefore taking their expressions of their thoughts as the truth. But in fiction, we can literally show a character’s thoughts. The question is: should we?

A story told from a first-person point-of-view must be approached with caution. How much of what a character says is truthful? From the third-person POV, we have another problem. How much of a character’s inner thoughts should the author reveal? He can tell you directly what each person is thinking if he wants, but if you want art to mirror life, we must reveal characters through their actions, should we not?

In that same vain, we should consider how we judge humanity in general. Can we judge someone based on their thoughts or actions? Obviously, since their actions openly apparent, clear, we can judge them by those, but by what motive they commit certain acts, we cannot say for sure. In fiction, this gives an awfully alluring enigma to characters. We watch them but are not privy to their private musings.

All of this interests me as a human being as well as a writer.

Because the implications are this: Do motives ever justify actions? Can we judge people based solely on their actions? I don’t mean legally, of course, which would be absurd, but in the sense of judging their moral character. Here is a quick excerpt from second part of “In Lickskillet” which I am currently editing that sparked this thought in me:

“You—bastard. You’re Satan, you know that?”

“I’m Lucifer, now, eh? Yeah, I am. I am the Devil. One and only, prince of Hell.” Blaine laughed at that and crossed to the broken window pane, staring out wistfully. “Only, I’m a good guy to me.”

Standing, I crossed to him, blowing my nose on my sleeve, hoping the sand would come out. “You can’t be a good guy. You’re Satan. That’s the whole point of Satan. He’s not supposed to be a good guy. I mean, he’s the Devil. He’s supposed to be evil.”

“Everyone is the good guy in his own story.” Blaine shrugged. “I’m sure if Satan rewrote the Bible, it would have gone a lot differently. Ended differently, too.”

Of course, in this passage Blaine alludes to the general theme of the entire novel, that everyone thinks himself or herself “a good guy.” Our personal narratives cast us as our own heroes, our own saviors. The entire plot centers on the hate crime trial Matthew Pepper faces as chief suspect of a murder; when I first began doing research for the book, it was on the Ku Klux Klan.

Why them, you ask. Well, why not?

I like to learn about things and people I know nothing about and the values and actions of the KKK paint them as monsters in my mind. Then I read an interesting story about the group doing community outreach, and I began to explore how groups as well as people share the dichotomy: we do terrible things, sometimes, but in our own minds, they are moral and just. How does my perception of reality differ from others’, and does this differentiation make anyone else less human? Can we truly label anyone as “un-lovable” because we disagree with them.

Here is a small disclaimer for the book that may explain it a little better:

I began writing the novel when a simple idea crossed my mind. People are not so bad; in fact, most are pretty good. Though it seems like a simple idea, we often forget that. We divide ourselves into groups, cliques, and war zones. We raise up fences between those who are richer or poorer than us, those of a different race, those who do not speak our language, those we perceive as close-minded while by not listening to their opinions we become small-minded. For that reason, I wanted to write about one of the most universally despised groups: Ku Klux Klan.

I think it’s important to realize that despite preconceptions we may have about any certain group of people, all should be treated equally under the law and in our hearts. It is exquisitely painful to accept people who might actually hate you, but that is the price of love.

So, that was my mission. Explore the family dynamics of the Pepper clan, explore how this issue drives a community apart and ultimately unites it. Each story is told from a different point of view, each trying to explain his or her actions. The protagonists, the self-proclaimed “heroes,” they do terrible, selfish things just as we all do. But they also do things we might find redeemable, honorable, and by letting each tell his or her own story, you break the walls of a versus-style plot.

As one character tells Declin (the main protagonist) in the book:

“There are no good or bad people, Mr. Ostrander. Only people.”

Reacting to the Critical Feedback

A day after arriving in Charleston (Yes, I’m in college now. I may not write about it too much at first, and yes, I finally solved the Roommate Mystery), I met up with the valedictorian from my old high school. Blog readers might know him best as the guy who wrote the treatise on the Chick-fil-A affair. We met in Marion Square a block from campus where they held a lovely Farmer’s Market.

Perhaps the word “lovely” serves too quaintly for what I saw downtown. In Aiken, we have a Farmer’s Market which consists of five tables filled with tomatoes, maybe heads of lettuce and watermelon when they’re in season. In Charleston, this same name is given to a row of booths stretched thousands of yards, scents from each tent intermingling to create a scent-solid fist that punches you in the taste buds. You wander over and must delight in the endless options, whether Vietnamese or French. I had a fine cappuccino and a Nutella crepe (Wait, am I in Germany again?)

With these delectable munchies, I sat down to talk with Will Victor who recently finished reading my novel “In Lickskillet.” If I am to learn anything about how to improve, I have to ask really smart people their honest opinions. Then apply those opinions to the work as a whole to understand how to better the story, the writing, the presentation.

But getting back feedback, even from friends, can be nerve-wracking. After all, you have placed a delicate porcelain doll in their hands, a doll so valuable to you that you’ve kept it under wraps for months, painting the face with care, and now this person has consummate permission to shatter the doll’s head against the ground. Writing opens you up in ways much grosser than emotions; rather, your skin gets split in dissection, your ribs pried apart in the same gruesome manner you once used on rats during biology class. You place your guts on display. You crack open your cranium to display all the dreams hiding within.

Because writing is personal, both personal and public. That’s one strange contradiction that words can flow from some inner fount only to be flaunted to the masses. You the poet writing poetry, sincere and true, but you do so in some coffeehouse where any stranger could peek over your shoulder. Writing a novel, it may not be specifically about you, but every story is a memoir and contains flecks of truth that could shock or amaze. You spend months creating something with so many parts of yourself that by the end, you find yourself missing organs.

Then you place this strange literary effigy in the town square for scrutiny.

And there’s your novel, your book, your story, your words. Like a middle school girl on her first day, applying make up for the first time, smudging the eyeliner on her forehead. You become a pinata braced for the beating, a flimsy piece of paper, shouting “Go ahead. Poke holes in me.”

Because feedback isn’t just feedback. It’s personal. Fortunately, Will had a lot of great things to say about the book. The small things he disliked, I understand why he disliked them. Actually, I was astonished at the scenes that he liked the most.

If you would like to form your own opinion and maybe even share that opinion with me, check out the super-short excerpt I posted yesterday on Word Salad!

When I Decided To Become “A Writer”

I had always been a storyteller, ever since I could talk, though when I was young, I could say very little due to a speech impediment. Maybe I told stories to only myself before I ever learned to give the stories to others, like ghetto-wrapped gifts, the corners of loose leaf paper sticking out the edges of the package.

Maybe the lack of speaking much or the lack of friends not speaking resulted in propelled me to read constantly, almost ferociously, as if I were in contest with every other six year old. I remember being incredibly proud in first grade of having read Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone when most kids my age could not read at all. So maybe it was only natural that by age eleven, I finally announced I would be a writer.

While my parents sat watching some sitcom on TV, I marched into the room and announced my plan. I would write a book, I said, and then I would publish it. At the age of eleven, I possessed very little actual knowledge of the publishing industry. I believed that once I wrote the book, I needed only send it to “The Publisher” so he could sell it for millions of dollars. Then I would drop out of school and never have to deal with stupid long division again or memorize the capitals of all the states or write in cursive (why did we do that again? I still can’t write in cursive.)

At the time, the family shared a desktop computer in my parents’ room, and any time they were not paying taxes or my brother wasn’t loading extremely long movies, I would write. I was not just going to be another kid who liked to write, either. I’d be a WRITER, which would mean I was published. Now, as you get older, the level of publishing changes. For example, I have now published some short stories, poems, and numerous journalistic articles, but that makes me a WRITER, not an AUTHOR. And maybe, I also would like to be an AUTHOR soon. Still, I charged on ahead with unbridled optimism that I could write better than at least most eighth graders.

By now, I had already given up on “kid novels.” If anyone was to take me seriously as a writer, I needed to read the great classics. I’m not sure I read anything else until maybe ninth grade. In a way, this helped immensely, immersing myself in such great works of literature so young. Now, however, I often return to comic books and YA novels because they are really fantastic, and why didn’t I read these while it was socially acceptable to do so? Oh well, I’ll make up for it now.

Also, when I began writing this novel which had something to do with a guy named Mr. Capri and a guy name Mr. Paradox collecting jewels to become magical and evil, I used 24-point font. Obviously, by using such large font, I could write more pages and therefore be seen as more intelligent and impressive.

“Derek, you wrote a 300 page novel?”

“Yes, I actually wrote ten novels.”

Fifth grade: the year of a ten novel series, each maybe ten thousand words each. Then again, combine all these, and at least I wrote something truly novel-length. Of course I would go on to try to write many more novels over the year, roughly a different project each year. I learned to query and all about publishing, and I began building credentials from shorter things I had written. Eventually, I started this blog and wrote a new novel that I’m quite excited about and may actually be worth publishing.

Back to fifth grade…

Most of the names did not stick, although Mr. Paradox was probably the best villain name ever. My main character, I named Declin. I asked my mom what a good name would be. She was reading a book by an author named Declan, so she simply told me that. I misspelled the name, of course, and that spelling stuck with me. I vowed back in the fifth grade to use “Declin” as a character name in whatever novel I published first. I held myself true to my word at eleven. Go check yourself: new novel, same name.

But I am still proud of myself for that feat. Fifth grade ain’t easy for anyone, especially someone just then learning to speak properly and socialize with, you know, “other people.” This story does not signify anything, only it tells a story. Sometimes stories must be told, though. Sometimes, I am arrested by the need to tell a story, say something, so I sit down and write it, even if it might not mean something. Perhaps that even more than wanting to be taken seriously, that caused me to transcribe that first battle of good and evil between Declin and Mr. Paradox.

Maybe even today, I’m still telling stories just to tell them, not because they might mean something, the themes bold and life-changing. But simply because they are stories, and when you’re a writer and have a story to tell, you can’t not tell it.

How to Create Your Own Book Universe: Reoccurring Characters


At age eleven, I began writing my first ever novel and somewhere in the back of my mind, I wondered whether I’d ever get it published. I worked nearly two years on the first draft and seemed this 300,000 word monstrosity “The next Harry Potter.” Not only to friends, teachers, and pedestrians who would listen, but to literary agents too. Yes, at age thirteen, I confidently typed “How to write a query letter” into Google and began to look for representation for this fantasy book which I intended, which the smugness only a preteen intellectual can have, that the agent would sing me a multi-book deal that would earn me millions.

If you’re interested in such past projects of which there have been several, feel free to read a post I wrote more than a year ago about my writing history.


Part 1

Part 2

I spent nearly a year revising the draft (which was obviously already perfect) while simultaneously querying every single agent out there, regardless of what genres they preferred. Five years later, I’m not at all embarrassed by these attempts, but actually a tad impressed with my ambition. At least through this long process of writing “soon-to-be bestsellers” and querying them, I learned a lot about the publishing process. I have even been able to publish a few short stories and poems.

I began writing poetry at age 16 as a means of making fast cash through contests; though I think my strength lies in storytelling, I found


quicker success in the world of poetry. I began juggling a lot of different projects, some of them to do with writing, some with history, some with photography. I am a multi-tasker stretched to his limits.

But as I finish writing the second draft of my newest novel-in-progress In Lickskillet, I feel that familiar pride and unwarranted smugness. I feel that this is by far my proudest, best work, which is how I feel about every single project I can complete. With only a few thousand words to go before completion, I feel satisfied that this will be not only a good story that deserves telling, but also a marketable, publish-able book.

So, the question arises: I plan to publish this as my first novel, now that I have nonfiction articles and short story creds under my belt. But once that ends, what’s next? That’s when my mind goes into serious overdrive.

Obviously, I have plenty ideas for future stories. Maybe one day I will blog about all the crazy ideas I’ve had for novels which I think would actually work (like a retired boxer who tries to time travel to escape a Mexican cartel) (or maybe that idea about a political conspiracy theory set in the inside of a single plant cell.) But most of all, I am wondering whether I will continue the stories of the characters in this particular novel In Lickskillet.

Having written about them for over a year, I have formed an attachment with them; they are teenagers, so when the story ends, their stories do not. Not really. They will grow to become adults and maybe have families and jobs. Each heads in a different direction, markedly changed from who they were at the beginning of the story, but of course, they are still only high school graduates. They will grow up further and do other things beyond what I write.


If you have ever read the works of either William Faulkner or David Mitchell, they both employ this idea of all of their novels existing within the same universe. Characters who appear minor-ly in one work may re-appear as major characters in another. Sometimes, even characters only mentioned or simple waiters will come back with their own books, their characters fully-fledged. I would like to perhaps do this, showing glimpses of characters from past (already published) or future (planned) books I intend to write.

It lends a certain dramatic irony for those who have already read your work and for those who have not, they don’t miss out on anything. Instead, the inclusion acts as a nod to more fervid fans. For example, while reading Cloud Atlas (about which a new movie is coming out starring Tom Hanks and which I’m still unsure about) when a certain character finds himself trying to escape a nursing home by calling his brother, any reader of David Mitchell who has previously read Ghostwritten knows that the character’s rich brother has died and cannot help him at all.

Of course this sort of thing exists within a series, like George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire when different, previously inconsequential characters take center stage. But these books will be more self-contained and will not in any way act as a series. The idea exists quite commonly within comic book canons as well.

So maybe that is overly ambitious, to create a network of stories which in fact interact. But I think this is a grand idea, though implementing the idea might take years and would require me to first publish my novel. If you’d like to check it out, you can read about In Lickskillet here or here!

How do you feel about world-building between non-series books?

Living Vicariously Through Books

Sometimes, just because something never happened doesn’t mean it wasn’t real. Even if the persons in a book are fictional, they may live just as real lives as the rest of us. When we read books, we accept the stories as our own. Though we can learn from experience, we learn from others’ experiences too. Books gives us those foreign experiences like memories implanted into our brains overnight. We share emotions: terror, joy, grief, fear. Characters live through traumatic lows and ecstatic highs, and we experience some of these things– many of which we will never be able to experience.

Here is a quote from George R.R. Martin’s newest addition to the Song of Ice and Fire Series:

“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies,” said Jojen. “The man who never reads lives only one.”

It is an interesting concept, that by reading we see lives we may have never before seen. There are obvious examples of this such as fighting dragons and driving spacecrafts through asteroid fields. We have neither magic or the technology required for casual space travel, so some of the things we experience are in fact impossible.

Otherwise, we might experience something we could hypothetically do but choose not to. Murder, for example, is not something many people readily admit to having on their bucket list. Fiction about gruesome killings, psychotic serial killers, and the hardened detectives that track them down sell extremely well because people are fascinated by these things. While they may not want to kill anyone, perhaps they want to imagine how it would feel. Books offer that possibility.

Not long ago I blogged about books concerning madness and drugs and their links. Well, not every person will readily try drugs, but sure, there is a fascination with what drugs will do to a person. What madness might do. Books offer people the choice to delve into the gritty regions of life they dare not go within the confines of their personal reality; in books, however, we can live life without regrets.

Writers as well as readers live through their stories. I once went to see Sue Monk Kidd (author of The Secret Life of Bees) talk at USCA. During the talk, she mentioned a book she had written  (The Mermaid Chair) about a middle-aged woman who had a secret relationship with a priest. She mentioned that as a writer she could live in a book as she never could in real life. I feel exactly the same way sometimes.

If you have been reading this blog a long time, you will know that I wrote another novel (several, actually) before the one I’m working on now. I scrapped it because it wasn’t selling; agents and publishers found it too gory, too long, and too complicated. It was about a serial killer named Sebastian Martinelli, and I wrote it because I was immensely interested in the Psychotic mind. Check out my newest project, and you’ll find the subject material is a bit closer to my heart. But even in that, I get to write from perspectives I’ve never had.

Also, I’m not all too worried about starting over. I’ll blog about that decision another day. It became very difficult to let something go I felt wasn’t good enough to be my first published full-volume novel. That agents and publishers obviously didn’t feel was good, either. So of course I am going to try again because I want to do better.

Whether it is as simple as writing from a female POV or writing from the POV of a heroin addict, we experience many different things when we write. We lend these stories to the people who read them. Who feel bullets tear through their flesh, feel the pain of a friend’s death, who feel triumphant when good trumps evil.

How do you feel about books? Do you think those who do read books live more fulfilling lives than those who don’t? Or are we just pale recluse losers?