Right now I’m revelling in the pleasure of having “Shepherd in Residence” out in the world, and in my hands. It’s a great pleasure, believe me! One of the best parts of it is hearing what others have to say about the book.
I’m not hearing, “I enjoyed your book” – which would, believe me, be enough to make me happy. I’m hearing, “I tried to read only a few chapters a day to make it last, and I failed” and “I wish there was more” and “It made me laugh out loud.” People have been so generous with their praise!
The “laugh out loud” thing is particularly wonderful for me as a humour writer, because people don’t usually laugh out loud while they’re reading to themselves. We laugh more in company than we do alone. We laugh at speech more than at the printed word. If someone sitting alone in a room reading my words laughs out loud, that’s an incredible compliment!
I originally wrote the shepherd letters to be heard on air. They were written for my voice, my vocabulary, my turns of speech and sense of timing. I didn’t know how they’d translate to the page, whether the reader would find those things in the written word and hear them with their inner ear. Over the years I’ve often heard, “Oh, I listened to you on the Roundup – I loved your letters!” I wondered if my letters would be as good without my audible voice.
I don’t know if they are, of course, because life doesn’t come with a control group. What I do know is that my first feedback shows something, some mysterious connection, has been translated from voice to page. That’s what I wanted, what I hoped for, and what, apparently, Laurence saw when he offered to publish the manuscript.
Theoretically, and ideally, writing allows us to speak in absentia. The voice is a living and ephemeral thing. We all know people who can’t, for example, tell jokes. The comic monologue often doesn’t translate well to paper; who would laugh at “I don’t get no respect!” without Rodney Dangerfield’s voice and timing?
Knowing the craft of writing is one thing, and having a story to tell is another. Put them together and sometimes, if you’re lucky and the Muse is with you, the story comes alive and something of the storyteller’s voice lingers on the page.
When someone tells me he or she laughed out loud, I know I’ve captured something wild and mysterious. For a writer, it doesn’t get any better than that.