I recently critiqued a manuscript for a friend, then started reading the latest novel of another friend. It was ironic that they both dealt with life journeys, with taking hard knocks and overcoming them to become the best person you could become.
In my friend’s manuscript, she kept trying to grab happiness but circumstances kept stealing it away from her. She wrote a good book, even though it was heart wrenching. C.S. Boyack’s Serang dealt with the same things, but his made the journey more of a quest, an adventure. Both books made me think.
I always considered myself lucky that I was born wanting and needing goals. I’m by no means a perfectionist, but I knew I wanted top grades in school, and I wanted to teach elementary kids. So many of my friends struggled with what they wanted to be “when they grew up,” with finding a sense of direction. My goals might not have come easily, but I also got lucky that I had loving parents who believed in me.
My friend who wrote the manuscript wasn’t so lucky. She married to escape her home, and then, after she was pregnant, discovered that her new loving husband already had a wife. I truly hope her book finds a home someday. In C.S. Boyack’s novel, Serang’s father died, and her mother couldn’t support her, so dragged her to the nearby temple for the monks to raise. Serang felt cast-off, betrayed.
A romance writer I knew once said, “When you develop a character, always remember, none of us can escape our families. They shape who we are.” And I’ve always kept that in mind. Both women in the stories had to rise above their circumstances to leave their pasts behind. The monks helped Serang find her true self. It took a lot more bumps and bruises before my friend’s protagonist finally rose above her past to find a new tomorrow. But in her manuscript, the character kept asking, “What brings happiness?”
My daughter asked me that once when she was a teenager. Not such an easy question to answer. I tried with, “Finding a purpose in life.” “But how do you do that?” she asked. “Find what’s important to you, what brings you fulfillment.” But that’s not really an answer either, is it, when you’re adrift? I finally said, “I don’t honestly have a for sure answer. But I know this. You can’t say ‘I want to be happy’ and make it happen. And you can’t count on other people to make you happy. They can’t. They can comfort you, love you, and be there for you, but they can’t give you happiness. I’m a bit of a grump, and the more I tried to make myself happy, the less happy I became. But when I looked outside of myself, at other people, other things, I stopped worrying about it. But everything in life is balance, and being a martyr or door mat doesn’t make you happy either.” And somehow, eventually, she found her balance, and she found what made her happy.
In both books I read, the protagonists found happiness by achieving hard won goals. But for each person, those goals are different, what’s meaningful is different. We all have our own life lessons that we need to overcome, our own hardships. I’m no philosopher, but I enjoy finding books that make me think while following someone else’s journey. Serang had a wonderful humor that made the lessons entertaining and fun. My friend’s manuscript pulled me in so deep, I didn’t want to give up on her protagonist, even though I was sure she was going to hit bottom.
I was on a writing panel recently where an author stated that cozy mysteries lately didn’t get much respect. Let’s face it. Comediennes hardly ever get nominated for Oscars. But I enjoy fluffy books as much as I do serious ones. They both have their own truths. So for this week, whatever you’re writing or reading, I not only wish you happy writing, but I also wish you happy reading!