Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Shock, awe, and the creative impulse

Barbara here. (Thanks to Rick for posting this for me.) I am not going to write my usual blog today, because for some reason I haven't been able to drum up much excitement for my latest plot twist, or the newest and scariest merger of book publishers, or the hijacking of the book business by Amazon. Last week millions of Cubans, Haitians and Americans on the eastern seaboard were without power or transportation; their possessions, homes, even their towns were washed away by a storm so huge it covered a swath of Canada from the Manitoba border to Newfoundland.

Eastern Canada got off comparatively lightly, but even here, people lost cars and roofs, and majestic old trees were ripped up by their roots. Two people lost their lives. It is difficult to get riled up over megamergers and dirty tricks when others are facing such horrific struggles. The natural human impulse is to reach out to friends, to hold loved ones close and to try to help. Although far less traumatic and devastating in scope, it reminded me of the aftermath of Sept. 11, when I attended my very first Bouchercon mystery conference down in Washington DC. I was a rookie writer then with my first book under my belt, and I had no idea what to expect. What I found was not a gathering of crime writers hustling their latest books but a shocked and emotional community united in their need to connect and share. Some found they couldn't write at all, others wrote poetry for the very first time, some wondered if they could ever again invent fiction about murder and mayhem.

It was a tender, touching experience.

Horrific acts of destruction, both natural or manmade, are not new, of course. Since Sept. 11, most of us have been touched by the human cost of earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis and wars in New Orleans, Asia, Haiti, Pakistan, Japan... In the face of this endless list, it's easy to feel overwhelmed and powerless, to become numbed by the sheer size of the suffering. As in the case of Hurricane Sandy, the news coverage is always unrelenting, the flood of images graphic. It's a testament to human compassion that we can still feel others' pain and still care about others beyond the threat to ourselves.

New York, Atlantic City, and the other cities will pick up the pieces of their lives and rebuild their neighbourhoods, just as they did after Sept 11. Just as other countries around the world have had to do. People will find courage and fortitude they never knew they had. Life will return to some sort of normal, we writers will return to our fictional traumas, and we will once again start complaining about publishers, royalties, closing bookstores and the other looming disasters in our business.

But if each of us carries with us a little more sensitivity and compassion, a little more humility and awe, and if that compassion colours the stories we write and the characters we create, then one could argue some small good has come of all this.

At least that's a hope worth hanging onto amid the struggles.

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