[Have you ever wondered why authors write? It’s not the easiest, stress-free, or stable and secure career choice yet it remains a dream/goal shared by so many. Throughout the next weeks, months, and onward, The Divining Wand will have authors explain their personal reasons.
Introducing this series is Kim Arbor, the pen name of an award winning, New York published novelist who has both an MFA in Creative Writing and a serious addiction to gummy bears. Kim is the author of the new women’s fiction novel, His Wife and Daughters, about a congressman’s political sex scandal of twenty years ago and the effect it still has on his wife and two daughters today. His Wife and Daughters is available as an e-book on both Amazon and Barnes and Noble.]
When I get asked the question, “Why do you write?” my first response is usually to say that I can’t not write. I’ve used the written word to express myself in some way or another since I learned to put pen to paper and fingers to keyboard. Letters, journals, songwriting, web content, tech writing, short fiction, novels, nonfiction—I’ve done it all and can’t get enough of it.
But although it’s some kind of addiction for sure and a never-ending drive to communicate (I am, after all, a Gemini—the great communicator of the Zodiac) if I continue to think about it, I suppose I write because I’m embarking on a constant journey to try to solve, understand and attempt to explain the puzzles and complexities of human behavior. Well, what else would you expect from a college psychology major?
Last fall a study conducted by psychological researchers at the University of Buffalo concluded that readers don’t read fiction for escape or fantasy, but to connect with others. The researchers asserted that reading novels provides “the opportunity for social connection and the blissful calm that comes from being a part of something larger than oneself for a precious, fleeting moment.”
The mention of social interaction brings us to the e-word: empathy. And why shouldn’t this fulfillment of a need for a social connection also be the impetus of the fiction writer? I know it is with me.
It can be said that empathy is one of the great powers of fiction. I find it fulfilling and challenging to try and identify with a character, enter her consciousness, and explore her motivations. That’s one of the things that turns me on about writing long fiction and having the time and space to build characters that live and breathe. In attempting to make sense out of the world and the people in it through my characters, I need to fall in love with them and understand them as deeply as I possibly can.
When I create a character like Trina Brath in my new novel, His Wife and Daughters, I’m not drawing from my own life. I’ve always been puzzled and, frankly baffled, by wives of politicians who stand by their men after being humiliated by their husbands’ sex scandals. But instead of taking an exterior view of these women, throwing my hands up and stating “they’re crazy,” and feeling how there’s now way I’d ever do that, I go deeper. I look into how I’ve perhaps misunderstood these women; I try to get into their skin. I find an empathy, even a love, for my characters, which I hope will make them complex and empathetic to my readers even if they’re not necessarily the type of person we’d want to emulate.
And being empathizers in the fictional world hopefully makes us better people in the real world. Understanding others is important to everyone—readers and writers alike. And that’s a big reason why I write.