I think that all artists have an ideal reader (or listener, or viewer). That person that you want to understand what you're doing. The person whose opinion is the most important one because he or she gets your art like no one else does. And sometimes, that person, that ideal reader, begins to influence your art as well.
The extraordinary new book, The Song is You, by Arthur Phillips, considers, among other things, the relationship between an artist and the man who, for a moment, becomes, perhaps, her ideal listener. I don't want to say too much about what happens in the book, because I want you to read it, and discover that for yourself. But it is wonderful. Phillips' prose is scintillating and clever, and, as one might expect, full of musical references. (I quite desperately want to borrow his iPod.)
But for me, the thing that turned this from a good book, one I was glad I bought, and would happily loan to a friend and not worry about getting back, into a book that I will buy copies of for my friends and read over and again, was the ending. Endings are tricky. They must be earned and are difficult to do properly. One of the things that has resonated with me most since Clarion is the idea that an ending must be the right one for the characters. Not the one you want to give them, or the one that they want. Not the happy ending or resonating tragedy you think will please or impress your readers. But the ending must be what is right. And oh, does Phillips get this ending right. He gets it in a way that reverberates back through the entirety of the book, and means I will be going back and rereading as a writer, to see the places in the novel where the pieces fell into place, where the perspectives were changed, and the choices were made that led up to the absolute rightness of what happened. It was amazingly well done.
A number of you have indicated an interest in writers who fence. (Fencers who write? Some sort of pen/ sword connection, anyway.) For those of you with such an interest, Arthur Phillips is a former competitive fencer. And yes, there is a very quick fencing reference in the book. Go find a copy.