Readers. Gotta love ’em

Got a nice note from an old friend reconnecting the other day. He’d bought both books, read the first, and was halfway through the second. He vowed that he was enjoying them and couldn’t wait for me to write the third (third draft coming), and oh by the way, he’d found the easter egg I’d hidden in the first one, the one line that gave away the fact that Elder was sitting in a nursing home remembering the entire story. Mic drop.

Believe me, I went looking for it, though trust me that I never had any intention of treating all of Solo Act as some kind of massive flashback of Elder Darrow’s life from the perspective of his senior citizen years. Couldn’t find it. Nope. And only momentarily considered writing back and asking which line EXACTLY it was that gave this reader the impression that Elder was nodding out in a wheelchair and remembering the sweet lubricities of his youth and his drinking years. And I stopped myself.

Because as writers, we talk a lot about inviting the reader into the worlds of our books, of not overexplaining or overdescribing to the point that a reader cannot participate in his or her own vision of what a character or a place looks, feels, smells, sounds like. And I didn’t want to get into an argument with someone who was enjoying the book about whether he or she was correct. Ask any published writer about arguing details with a reader, whether they are guns, street names, luggage brands, or military ranks. Or ask me about the Uffizi some time.

I quit because I didn’t want to diminish an iota of his pleasure someone that he’d outsmarted me, finding something so subtle in the text that other people would not. Or that he’d solved a puzzle. Even if the puzzle was unintended. Or even not there at all. I also quit because I didn’t want to argue about which of us knew my characters better, even though I was sure I did.

I did feel sheepish. Because I do, as most writers do, want to maintain complete control over my craft. I don’t want readers to see things I didn’t mean, believe things that are happening in my stories that I didn’t intend. At the bottom, I suppose I felt as if I failed at perfection of the art.

Which is not to say an imperfection like that is not an interesting one. If you decide Elder Darrow is looking back at his life from the nursing home (excuse me, continuing care facility), you might see or feel an extra layer in his emotional states, read his regrets and his annoyances in a different way. Which, to come full circle on the whole thing, might mean my reader has decided I’m smarter than I am. And who could complain about that?

About Richard Cass

Dick is the author of the Elder Darrow Jazz Mystery series, the story of an alcoholic who walks into a dive bar in Boston . . . and buys it. Solo Act was a Finalist for the Maine Literary Award in Crime Fiction in 2017 and In Solo Time won the award in 2018. The third book in the series, Burton's Solo, came out in 2018 and Last Call at the Esposito in 2019. Sweetie Bogan's Sorrow was published in 2020, to thunderous pandemic acclaim. The sixth book in the series, Mickey's Mayhem, will come out in 2021. Dick lives and writes in Cape Elizabeth.
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1 Response to Readers. Gotta love ’em

  1. This is fascinating. When I started reading your post I thought “wow, how did I miss that!” So glad to know I didn’t (or at least, if I did, you did, too.) Readers are fascinating, all right.

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