Saturday, July 10, 2010


Sometimes, one word can mean infinity.
Sometimes, you’re not even aware of the depth of a word until you experience a bit of that infinity.

I was closing up my lunch bag and my novel one afternoon at the day job, closing up the umbrella over the outdoor lunch table, and reluctantly preparing to go back to my desk and resume my day’s work, when the sensation came over me that I was returning from a lot more than a half hour’s lunch break.
I had been rereading, leisurely and with enjoyment, over my lunch. Rereading one of the Mitford books by Jan Karon—spending time in a place I’ve spent much time in before. Dipping back in for another visit…

…and away, for just those few minutes, from everything else.

When immersed in a truly good book, we do go away. Sometimes, we can be so transported that when someone taps us on the shoulder to bring us “back,” we react with a start. Or resentment. Or weariness…because it’s hard to come back from that place to which we’ve escaped.

Chances are if we find books like that, we keep them…and we go back to them. We remember that pleasant, relaxing place, that virtual vacation, and we want to have the chance to go to that place again if need be. Just like a real geographic location that we love, books that we can “lose ourselves” in become a quick route to refreshment and restoration.

And what better way to write—or reason to write—than to give ourselves, and others, those kinds of books?

Many of us, I suspect, have been led astray. We’ve been taught about character arcs and plot structures and Acts I-III, and climax and denouement…but how many of us every get taught about away? Far too few, if the truth be known.

And some of us who do know about “away”—but who may not be the most polished writers in the world—get ridiculed for that. We may be able to take readers to another world, another place, another time, and immerse them thoroughly—but that, we’re told, is not what contemporary fiction is all about. Contemporary blockbuster fiction nowadays is supposed to grab a reader by the throat, shake her a few times until she begs for mercy, and slap her around a little bit before we drop her to the floor, just to make sure she gets our point. After all, we only have milliseconds to hook a reader and draw her in, and…and…!

And…over time, reading some blockbuster fiction has become, if not an exhausting experience, certainly not a refreshing one. A reader who’s whipped around, shown the seedy and frenetic and fast-paced—but little else—cannot come out of that book much refreshed. She might enjoy the ride, much as some of us enjoy rollercoasters, but exhilaration—or sheer terror!—is not always what we want when we need a break from reality, a bit of respite, time for ourselves.

Sometimes, we just want to get away.
So I’d suggest we try thinking about away when we write.

Getting “away” is what we try to do when we need to recharge. Coming “away” is what the Lord asks us to do to get closer to Him. And a real trip “away” takes time. It shouldn’t be a road race but a Sunday drive in the country.

It’s worth thinking about. It’s worth working to get to. And it’s what I, truth be told, want to give my readers. I don’t care about grabbing them by the throat and shaking them. I would much, much rather they be so immersed in my book that they only reluctantly fold the umbrella over the outdoor table, only reluctantly close up their lunch bags and gather their trash, only reluctantly come back to the “real world”—because then they will not only look forward to going back to my book, they’ll keep it. They’ll want to go back to that lovely place where they feel so at home, a place of refreshment and comfort and relaxation. Even if I’m tingling their spines with a deliciously suspenseful story, I don’t intend to do it at 120 miles per hour; I want to enjoy the trip…and I want them to as well.

Away. It’s where I want you to be when reading my books. Away where you can breathe…where the Lord can whisper in your ear if He needs to…where for just a few moments, life’s hassles recede and you amble through a world that welcomes you, entertains you, uplifts you, and leaves you feeling more able to come back to reality when you need to.

AWAY. It’s a great place to be. I want to write much, much more of it. I hope you will, too.


  1. Oh, such good advice, Millie! Have you read the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith? They are sort of the Mitford of Botswana, Africa--warmhearted, slow-paced but comfortably so, characters you want to hug or kick in the kabooty but always eliciting a chuckle. I like throat-gripping action stories a lot, but you're right--those aren't the books I pick up again to get... away.

  2. Oops! I meant Janny! Sorry about that!

  3. Hi Steph -- this is Millie, and yes, I've read ALL that series and LOVE it! I lived in South Africa for 3 years and can assure anyone who's not lived in that area that his books are "right on" and, indeed, do take us readers AWAY, and while we're away, REFRESH us. . . :-)

  4. Yes I love certain author's characters and settings and want to return there often.

  5. Yes, yes, yes! This is exactly the ONLY reason I read fiction! I want a book to take me where I can't go otherwise. I read fiction to be entertained. Thanks so much for the reminder!

  6. Away value has always been important,but as I age I realize that my favorites and those stories which stay with me are the ones with the hightest away value. Good post!

    I too love Alexander McCall Smith's books they are so gentle and yet compelling. Many are catergorized as mystery yet the hidden is merely a part of an ordinary life. How then am I compelled to check the new release list monthly seeking a new book that will help me visit those characters in Scotland or in Botswana? Other authors with high "away" value for me are Kristin Hannah, Rosemunde Pilcher, and Maeve Binchy, Nancy E. Turner, Francine Rivers, Jan Karon. I enjoy thinking about this today.