December 30, 2014
Book Launch: The Bishop's Wife by Mette Ivie Harrison
I attended her book launch tonight because in the last couple of weeks, I've read about her book in the NY Times, LA Times, Kirkus Reviews, and listened to an interview on NPR. That's a lot of buzz for a Jessica Fletcher-esque Mormon housewife, so I was intrigued enough to attend before having read the book.
It was a different type of book launch than I'm used to--the focus was definitely on spirituality and organized religion, as opposed to the author's experience of writing, or a reading from the novel, or any of that kind of thing. It had a very somber feel to it, in fact, when Harrison launched into the discussion by telling the story of her stillborn child--the impetus for her loss in faith and subsequent exploration of the questioning character in The Bishop's Wife. There was a lot of emotion, both from Harrison and her audience, and a lot of people seemed to identify with her struggle to maintain her religious convictions. It felt almost like a church meeting or self-help group.
While I couldn't identify with Harrison in many ways, what stood out to me as a writer was the way that she incorporated her own experience into the novel. Writers are always being advised to "write what you know," which is sometimes confusing when you're trying to write about house elves or sparkling vampires or whatever else. Of course Harrison has never helped solve a murder in her church congregation (at least not that I know of), but the MC's personality was based on Harrison's own struggle with religion, while the character's strengths--according to Harrison--were based on a real-life friend whose faith and dedication she admires. She used what she did know to give life to the parts that were fabricated.
So, the two things that I took from the launch for my own writing were: First, write what you know--insofar as it helps make completely bizarre and fictional events more real and relatable.
And second, a lot of people commented on the MC's complex, layered personality, so I found it helpful to think of my own characters in ways that I can channel traits based on different people with conflicting personalities to make a more interesting whole.
Harrison did a great job, and I'm glad I was able to attend.