June Guest Author Dorothy Love: The Meaning of Story
Lately I’ve been busy visiting local booksellers, talking about my new Southern historical novel, Beyond All Measure, which launches the Hickory Ridge series. A few of the booksellers had read advance copies of the book but most hadn’t, and they asked some version of “What’s your book about?”
The first thing many aspiring writers are taught is to be able to summarize a story in sixty seconds, the so-called “elevator speech.” Finding herself in an elevator with a potential editor or agent, the writer should be able to articulate what the book is about before the little bell dings and the elevator doors slide open.
But this is a more complex and more important question than one might think, and it deserves more than a sixty-second response. Readers bring their own experiences and expectations to each book. Some will read Beyond All Measure simply for the love story between Wyatt and Ada and that’s fine with me. During the writing of this book, I fell in love with Wyatt myself. More than once I woke up in the morning wondering where he was and what he was doing. Who can resist a long-legged, blue- eyed, Stetson-wearing Texan who brings you candy and calls you “darlin’”? Even if he does have a stubborn streak.
Fans of historical fiction will read Beyond All Measure for a glimpse of a long-vanished way of life. Some readers might experience it as a story about forgiveness and trust, or about one woman’s struggle for economic and emotional survival, while others perceive it as a novel about faith lost and found, and the quest for social justice.
This is the beauty and the purpose of literature: the ability of each reader to make her own meaning from a story. It’s one reason I love writing novels, and the reason I hesitated to answer the booksellers’ question. When the author defines for the reader what the book is about, either in conversation or through a heavy-handed, didactic writing style, it’s then difficult for the book to mean anything else. The connections between the book, the reader’s individual life journey, and her personal interpretation of the story become muted and the richness of the reading experience itself is lost.
So here’s to books, to their rich and varied interpretations of the human experience, and to readers whose responses to my work have helped me uncover deeper meanings of my own.