Such a powerful question for anyone who writes fiction.
Such a frightening question for anyone who battles anxiety.
I do both every day.
But I firmly believe that people who suffer from anxiety simply have wonderful, active imaginations that have jumped in error onto a difficult, twisty, unproductive path. How else could we anxious people dream up every possible thing that might go wrong, then visualize those things so vividly that our imagination has the power to give us stomach problems or heart palpitations?
If we can do that to ourselves, just think what we might do to readers! So many elements of a good story already exist in the minds of anxious people: suspense, pain, drama… clowns. All we need to do is channel those imaginative impulses in more productive ways—outward onto the page instead of inward at our own sanity.
Of course, sometimes simply being a writer can produce plenty of ‘what if’ angst as well:
“What if nobody likes what I’m spending hours . . . days . . . weeks . . . months . . . YEARS of my life working on?”
“What if my computer crashes, or I drop it, or a giant megabyte-eating lizard comes in the night and swallows everything I’ve written before I back up the six and a half words I managed to write today?”
“What if people stop buying books?”
“WAIT!… What if people stop buying books from INDEPENDENT BOOKSTORES?”
* Insert yogic breathing here. *
When I began writing Savvy a few years back, I wanted to create a story about a family filled with people who come into larger-than-life abilities on their 13th birthdays. I wanted it to be a book about magical children, but I did not want to use the word “magic.” I wanted it to be a book that blended tall-tale traditions, fairy-tale and pop culture allusions, super-powered fun, and a hefty helping of Americana, all to explore the challenges of growing up. And to redirect my over-anxious, what-if mind.
But, at the end of the day, when I write, it is my characters who matter most to me. Once I understand the people I write about, once I know their hopes, their fears, the things that matter most to them, the things that make them unique or universal . . . then I feel anchored in my story, grounded in my world.
Since Savvy and its recent companion, Scumble, have come out, I have had the opportunity to meet many brave and interesting people—a slew of real life characters. From children, to authors, to teachers, to librarians, to booksellers, I have learned that a book is a collaboration between me and the rest of the world.
I have also learned that, just like me, independent bookstores are character-driven, and this is why I love them. The big, corporate, plot-driven stores all look the same. Very formulaic. Very predictable. But every independent bookstore I have been in has had its own character: a beautiful uniqueness that reflects the people who own and operate it. Whether the shop is old, new, messy, pristine, playful, stacked to the ceiling with tilting, spiraling columns of books, painted with murals, or filled with toys and baubles, independent booksellers make their stores their own.
When it comes to selling books, these individuals—whether stouthearted or anxious or flamboyant or serious or silly—are the heroes of their own extraordinary stories. They have the heart, the individuality, the hope, the challenges, and the love that drives them to do what they do—to try to keep their own businesses alive and thriving, and to encourage reading to people young and old.
I write about fictional, magical children with larger-than-life talents called savvies. But independent booksellers have their own enchanting, savvy powers: They know how to put a book in the hands of another person and make it vibrate, make it glow, make it sing songs of promised adventures or fascinating ideas.
Just like any good book, I want the stories of independent bookstores stores to go on and on and on, with no THE END in sight. Sometimes I get anxious imagining a world with no bookstores in it. So, support your local indie store to keep its awesome story going. And ask yourself: “What if?” What if we could all support each other in our endeavors, just like one big, magical family? Who could ever be truly anxious then?
Newbery Honor winner Ingrid Law is the New York Times Bestselling author of Savvy and its new companion novel, Scumble. Law is a fan of words and stories, small towns and big ideas. Law was born in New York, and her family moved to Colorado when she was six years old. Now the mother of a teenage daughter, Law still lives in Colorado, where she is working on new projects and trying her hardest to keep at least one plant alive. Her favorite bookstore is her hometown store, The Boulder Bookstore, which she’s been going to since she was a kid.