Empathy, Validation, and Vocabulary

I was contacted last week by a good friend of mine from High School. Abi does short interviews with all kinds of people on all kinds of topics using SpareMin. This week she wanted to interview different people about the value of literature and she asked if I’d have a couple minutes to talk with her. Of course, I said, “Yes!”

As I thought about the topic, there was no lack of ideas that came to mind, but the three that made their way to the top of my list were these:

  1. Books teach empathy.
  2. Books can validate our own experience.
  3. Books give us an emotional vocabulary.

In the interview with Abi, we only spoke about the first, so I wanted to expound here.

Let me explain.


Books Teach Empathy

When we read books, we usually get inside the head of one or more characters. We get a detailed view of their situation and their reaction to it. Good books will make us sympathize with the character. Great books will make us empathize with them. A well-written book will immerse us so fully in the character’s plight, that we can’t help but feel what they feel. And because the situation and emotional responses that can be contained and explained in books are unlimited in their diversity, it gives readers a chance to experience, in some small way, the life struggles of a vast number of people.

Books Can Validate Our Own Experience

When we find a character that we can relate to, someone who has experienced what we’ve experienced, or felt what we’ve felt, it can make us feel less alone. I’m thinking especially of middle school and high school aged kids and young adults. Kids who are experiencing huge emotions for the first time and who might feel like they are completely alone in what they’re feeling can find validation and camaraderie with fictional characters. It can give them a chance to realize, “Hey, this character feels the same way I do; maybe I’m not crazy. Maybe I’m not wrong to feel this way. Maybe other people feel this way too.”

Books Give Us Emotional Vocabulary

Yes, they teach us just plain old vocabulary as well. However, I think the more important aspect is being able to learn how to speak coherently about our own emotions. If a reader can identify with and relate to a certain character, there is a good chance that the way that character discovers, identifies, and labels their emotions with in turn teach the reader how to identify and label their emotions. Books give words to feelings. Words that people, especially kids, will be able to use when communicating their feelings to others. Has that ever happened to you? You’re reading a book and the character suddenly drops this perfectly worded truth bomb that describes what you’ve been feeling, but haven’t been able to identify for who knows how long? That’s a powerful thing. It’s a gift.

Books are a powerful tool. They can teach us a lot about ourselves. And they’re cheaper than therapy. :)

Check out the interview here.

And be sure to check out my GIVEAWAY that’s happening right now.

Finally! A scene from James’ point of view

Now that Saving Marilee has been out for more than a year, I finally got around to writing a scene from James’ point of view. It’s the scene of their first meeting, and if you’d like to see it, please go sign up for my newsletter. That will give you access to all of my extra content. Those of you who have already signed up should have an email in your inbox with the link.

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Year End Wrap-up

Painting Rain

PR PromoOriginally I had planned on releasing Painting Rain by mid-December. However, with the rewrites required, and other unforeseeable issues, I gave up on that deadline and allowed myself to focus on Christmas and family. I haven’t done much with it for the past several weeks, but now that out-of-town family is gone and the festivities are finished, I’ll be able to get back to work. I need to complete my final read-through before sending it off to copy editors. Once that’s done, I’ll finalize the cover and make it available for pre-order. I expect copies will land it reader hands in 4-6 weeks.
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Writing Retreat and my Next Project

I spent the second half of last week in Bear Lake with five other writers. It was our second annual writing retreat. The point is to get away from our usual days of work, family and kids, and focus just on our craft.


Took this during one of only two times that I bothered enjoying the view.

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