I just read Gary Schmidt’s Okay for Now—a party I know I am late to, but one I am so glad to have joined. I loved this book like I haven’t loved a book in a long time, by which I mean I was entirely immersed in the world of the book, entirely invested in its characters, and entirely in love with the author’s writing. And, most importantly, in awe of the book’s loving heart.
And, indeed, in doing a mental rummage of books-I-love, books I adore so much I’d sleep with them tucked under my pillow, I realized that, for me, this loving heart is almost always the thing that sets apart a book I love and ache for and think about over and over again from the books I love or admire in a regular sort of way. Alison McGhee’s Rainlight, for example, a novel told from the points of view of multiple characters who are dealing with the death of a man each of them loved, is a book so full of sadness and depth it could only have been written because McGhee was willing to love her way into the heart of each character and make their feelings come alive in ours.
Similarly, Jane Gardam’s A Long Way from Verona—her whole oeuvre, actually—is deepened by the same intense compassion and understanding of her characters. We feel the anguish and lovesickness and grief of teenaged Jessica Vye as deeply as she feels it, simply because Gardam must have been willing to love her, too, all the way from the inside out.
What’s to be learned from this? A lot, it turns out. For me, it’s been the key to what is the hardest part of writing for me—coming up with a plot. And the only way that works for me to figure out what can actually happen in a book in is to try to live up to the example of writers like McGhee and Gardam and Schmidt by working very hard to have a loving heart that understands my characters and feels what they feel, loving them wholly from the inside. Because how they feel drives what they do, and what they do is what turns into a plot. So, loving hearts ahoy! And thank you, Gary Schmidt, for such a gorgeous example.