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May 20, 2009

Anna Elliott: The Novelist's First Duty

Posted by carol
What is a novelist's first duty? Today's guest blogger, Anna Elliott, offers her view on the subject, along with answering a recent question she was asked by a reader and sharing why she believes her grandfather would have been proud of her literary endeavors. Anna is the author of Twilight of Avalon, the first book in a trilogy imaging the life of Queen Isolde of the Arthurian legends.

One of my favorite aspects of having Twilight of Avalon come out has been the wonderful questions I've been asked by readers. And one of my favorite recent questions was: "Isolde is a healer but is, herself, in need of healing from a traumatic past. Do you see a connection?"

My Isolde is the daughter of Modred, the great villain of the cycle of King Arthur tales, and the story of Twilight of Avalon takes place seven years after the catastrophic battle of Camlann, in which both King Arthur and Modred fell. As her story begins, I do think that Isolde is very much in need of healing from a traumatic past, and I certainly believe that need plays a huge part in her passion for being a healer and her skill at the healer's craft. She needs to believe that recovery from trauma is possible, but doesn't yet know how she herself can find the healing she offers others every day. One of the joys of writing Twilight of Avalon and the forthcoming sequels Dark Moon of Avalon and Sunrise of Avalon, has been watching her work towards making true peace with her past and finding lasting internal healing.

But the real reason I loved the question so much was that for me, it touched not only on the heart of Isolde's story, but on the reason I wrote the Twilight of Avalon trilogy at all. My grandfather spent his last few years in a nursing home, dying of Parkinson's disease. He couldn't walk or stand or even feed himself; for the last two or three years he could barely talk. What he could still do, though, was read --- and read he did, voraciously, day and night, through every one of the stacks and stacks of books my parents and I would bring. And though he would read nearly anything, he loved the romances --- the books with a guaranteed happy ending --- most of all.

One of my favorite quotes on writing is from Donna Tartt, who wrote, "The first duty of the novelist is to entertain. It is a moral duty. People who read your books are sick, sad, traveling, in the hospital waiting room while someone is dying. Books are written by the alone for the alone." And though I write for my own internal reader, first and foremost telling the stories that I myself would most want to read, I do think of my grandpa every day, every time my fingers touch the computer keys. And if I have an external reader looking over my shoulder while I work, it's him --- my grandpa, who as he lay in his bed at the nursing home needed stories of hope, stories to remind him of the human spirit's infinite capacity to triumph over even the most extreme hardship, the most bitter sorrow.

My grandpa died six years ago, now. Years before the Twilight of Avalon trilogy sold, years before I could even tell him about the dream that inspired me to write about Isolde and her journey towards true healing in the first place. Somewhere, somehow, I like to think he knows, though. And I know --- I absolutely know --- how happy he'd be.

---Anna Elliott