Not Yet

For the record, I am not an 80-year-old woman. Not yet.

The Silence of Trees is not an autobiography. It is fiction set in a historical context.

Last night I paid my first visit to a couples bookclub for The Silence of Trees. I am most often invited to speak at bookclubs comprised predominently of women. If there are men present, it’s for a mixed-gender bookclub, but they do not usually attend as couples.

This group met when they had been seated together for the wedding of one of their children. They hit it off so well that they decided to continue to start this bookclub.

The hosts and guests were gracious and enthusiastic, their discussion lively and a lot of fun, but the hostess was slightly disappointed that I was not an 80-year-old woman.

She was sure that the novel was actually an autobiography, and she was prepared to welcome Nadya to her home. She had decorated the dining room table with a tablecloth and china that she thought would befit an elderly Eastern European guest.

When I walked in the door, she was completely thrown off. She couldn’t shake the image she had constructed in her mind of the author and narrator as the same person. What followed was an interesting conversation about how I could put myself into the mindset and create the voice of an older woman.

I’m thrilled that the character of Nadya was believable, that’s so important, but I couldn’t stop thinking about our discussion all the way home. I wonder if other writers get asked variations of that question, “How did you write this character (who is unlike you in some way: be it gender, race, age, etc.) with such authenticity?”

Clearly, when writing science fiction, horror, or fantasy, the author is creating characters who are magicians, clones, werewolves, monsters, and aliens. There’s an inherent suspension of disbelief when you open a genre book. I wonder if the genre audience is better prepared to accept a character who is unlike the writer in some way?

Can I explain the magic that happens when I sit down and slip into a character to write his or her story? Not really. It’s like trying to explain the terrain of the imagination.

When I sit down to to write, sometimes five hours will pass by in a flash. When I look up from my writing, it will be some ungodly hour in the morning, and I’ll have written thousands of words and feel as if I’ve been out of ordinary time and space for a while.

That’s the magic of writing.

After that comes the hard work of craft: shaping and revising to make sure I’ve told the story in the best way possible.

That’s the work of writing.

I love what I do. I’m so grateful that people want to read my words.

I thank you for reading–wholeheartedly.

Now back to the work.

Another First: My First Book Club Visit

“Did Nadya really love, Pavlo?”

“No, she loved Andrij. She never loved Pavlo.”

“But what about Stephan?”

“Oh, she didn’t love him–”

“Yes, she did! He was her first love!”

It’s a surreal experience to sit among a group of well-read women passionately discussing a book that I wrote. It’s flattering, humbling, exciting, and a little scary.

Last week I was invited into the beautiful home of Olena Pryma, who was hostess to her book club’s monthly gathering in March. Generous appetizers and cocktails were served as the ladies arrived, introducing themselves and catching up with one another.

I didn’t know most of the women in attendance, but I recognized their names and faces. Several of them knew my parents or members of my mother or father’s families. On the flip-side, I knew (or knew of) several of their children.

I sipped my red wine, a little nervous about what these women would think of The Silence of Trees. Like my protagonist, Nadya, many of their mothers had lived through WWII and emigrated to the United States. These women were part of the Ukrainian community in Chicago, most of them grew up in the Ukrainian Village, and their opinions would carry a great deal of weight with me.

We sat down for a delicious meal prepared and served by our hostess (and her husband). I briefly introduced myself and talked about my background, motivation, and process of writing. Olena then began the formal discussion of The Silence of Trees, touching upon such issues as Nadya’s character and her issues of regret and guilt, authenticity and acceptance.

Their discussion was thoughtful and lively. They asked provocative questions and spoke about how parts of the book resonated with them. (Part of me wished that I had my little notebook beside me to jot down notes from the evening’s discussion, but I focused instead on their impressions.)

We remember our firsts: first love, first job, first best friend. Though others many follow, the first creates an impression.

The ladies of Olena Pryma’s book club and their generosity and thoughtfulness will forever be remembered as my first book club as a visiting author. They will be reading their 100th book in May. The Silence of Trees was their 98th book. From what I heard, my novel was in some good company. I know that I certainly was in excellent company.

Thank you, ladies. Dyakuyu!

Back row (from left to right): Bohdanna Domino, Marijka Trushevych, Marijka Kovalsky, Shiania Jackiw, Luba Skubiak, Ira Skirnyk, Roma Wowchuk, Xrystia Sobol, Halya Lytwynyshyn. Front row: Olena Pryma, Valya Dudycz Lupescu