Sometimes I get asked what it takes to be a writer. The answer is: Write!
I also get asked when I decided to become a writer. I never did. It decided me. Before I could write, I told stories to my kid brother. As soon as I was able to spell, I borrowed my parents’ mechanical typewriter and hacked out stories. I became a professional writer after finishing university. I wrote and published my first book at age 25. Today, I’m a columnist and a novelist … something I had dreamed of becoming. Something I had never thought I could become. And I’m doing it all in a foreign language.
Germany has a rich tradition of writing. I was taught to read medieval German and fought myself through Hartmut von Aue, Walter von der Vogelweide, and Wolfram von Eschenbach. I have to admit I liked Chaucer’s witty Canterbury Tales better. I prefer Shakespeare over Goethe and Schiller. And I like modern British and American literature way better than most of what my mother country has to offer. So, where is the difference in writing?
I don’t think it is the language in which a text is written that determines the lightness of the tone. Though, obviously, the English language lends itself marvelously for double entendres with all its homophones and even homonyms, i.e. words that sound the same or are spelled the same, but have different meanings. Over decades of reading I rather seemed to detect a different mindset. German authors of renown are almost always dead-serious and often pessimistic. Few exceptions like Theodor Fontane come to my mind. And if they are funny or light-hearted, they are often not considered as worthwhile reading. It’s almost like a binary class system of literature. I do not find the same in the English language.
Literature is something that is entertaining and educating. Once you apply this definition, I find a lot falling into this category, with manuals of my kitchen utensils, sheet music, and the telephone book outside the category. And I keep thinking of all these people writing away, day after day, for a living. To tell stories. To share facts or messages. To incite kindred spirits. I for myself have decided to carry a positive voice. This is why you won’t find any huge controversial topics in my column “Home from Home”. This is why my everyday-life Wycliff novels paint normal people struggling, but always reaching a happy ending.
Writing is a tough bread. When I started out, I received 10 cents per line and about ten dollars per appointment. I worked like crazy. I could have found myself a job that would have paid better for less engagement. But it had to be writing. In the end I had a well-paying job – and I had a hard time making my texts in a trade magazine educating and entertaining. Today, … well, I’m not one of the big authors, and I’m none of the famous ones either… So, you get the picture. I keep writing. I am happy about kind responses and one or the other praising Amazon review.
It’s passion that churns me and all of my fellow writers. This weekend, you will be able to encounter over 40 authors at the Shirley McGavick Center of Clover Park Technical College (yes, I will be there, too). You will find that quite a few fit several genres, some with one and the same book, others by producing for different genres. Ask them what makes them write. And ask yourself – why are you reading?
In the end, a book is the magic world where the mind of one writer meets the minds of many readers. A book will survive the writer, but its potential to reach readers will be there as long as it exists. Maybe that is part of the fascination.