Anyone who has ever published a book has probably had the opportunity to meet some of their readers. This can be a mixed experience. Sometimes the reader is like an old friend the writer is meeting again after years apart; sometimes the reader is like a classmate or coworker, perhaps not someone you’d have over your house very often, but perfectly nice and worth saying hello to on the street. And then there are The Needy. The Needy won’t leave the signing table; The Needy want the writer to read their manuscript or hear their story idea; The Needy must have a picture taken with the author; The Needy have named all seven of their cats after the author’s characters.
As a creature of flesh and blood, the author may wish for a bodyguard at such times. But there is a reason The Needy have arrived at the author’s table, and it has everything to do with the author himself. An writer's job is always to create fertile open spaces for the reader’s imagination. A word, or a phrase, or a scene are merely suggestions of a fuller reality the reader is ultimately responsible for completing. In this way, as the reader travels through this shadow world, casting light where the author’s torch was too dim, he or she gets to experience the joy of creation.
But like Dante being led through Hell by Virgil, the writer guides the reader. Creation is powerful, and you can create pain as easily as pleasure. Many of The Needy have too much experience creating pain. For some, it is virtually all they know. But in the author, for the duration of one story, they have found a guide for creating something of beauty and pleasure. And the more powerful the story, the more vivid the language and characters, the more the reader – no matter how long their own history with creating pain – is compelled toward what in their life they have so often resisted: understanding suffering as a route to surrender, as opposed to just more suffering.
Bless The Needy and wish them well. After all, for whom did you write if not them? Within the eyes of The Needy is that part of yourself you were guiding as you wrote your story. The strong are good company and make the best traveling companions, but they can guide themselves. The light of your story will always burn brightest for those who have wandered onto the darkest roads.