Late last night I had a moment of cognitive dissonance.
We’d stopped in Thessalon to hook up to the library’s wireless connection so I could check my email. I have this friend, you see, who is reading the current draft of The Swan Harp, and who had found an error he felt was important. We’d planned to talk, and I was checking to see if we’d been able to set up a phone date. I work weird hours – four in the afternoon to twelve-thirty in the morning – so a little negotiation was in order.
Turns out we didn’t need to talk, because Larry emailed me his comments. He had indeed found a big error that I needed to fix. I’m grateful for that; it’s precisely the reason writers have readers to look at their drafts. He said something else, however, that would have made me turn cartwheels, if I’d ever been the sort of person who could turn a cartwheel.
In the new draft I added a little bit about a cave. Larry wrote: “I will be having more than a few nightmares – do you have any idea how claustrophobic I am? I had to drink a shot to get through that episode.”
I’m really, really sorry to be giving someone nightmares, especially someone who is a friend, and who has also kindly read and commented on two drafts of this novel. “Here ya go, Larry. Just read this for me, wouldja? Oh, and by the way, I’d like to thank you by giving you the cold sweats and the screaming horrors for a few nights.” Yeah, that’s gratitude for ya.
But at the same time, I am chuffed, absolutely chuffed, to have written something powerful enough to give someone the willies. Larry is the second person to comment that this scene had had a physical effect.
This is high praise. I had no whizz-bang special effects, no big screen, no action-hero stars jumping out of airplanes, no mechanical sharks or CGI dinosaurs. I gave someone nightmares, with nothing but words on the paper. I made someone feel squeezed and scared and short of breath. To be able to seize the imagination so firmly that it affects someone physically is – well, it’s a gift.
The thing is, it’s not a gift from me. It’s a gift to me. It’s that numinous thing, that spirit of creation, that sometimes touches an artist. You prepare for it with work and diligence and care and discipline, but you can’t command it. When it hits, it’s amazing.
So while I’m honestly sorry to give my friend Larry nightmares, I’m also deeply happy about it. Hence my cognitive dissonance. I think I can live with it.