Friday, August 26, 2005

In one of my novels--one of those that my former agent shopped to a small pool of publishers and did not sell--has a mother/daughter relationship at its core. The novel is at its heart about how people hold onto the past and why, and how forgiveness and amends can go a long way, especially as this mother is a former addict/alcoholic, who is long sober. Mother has done her part, and is the character I like best. Daughter, however, can't let go, but likes to pretend she has and then come to a slow boil and throw fits. All the scenes of flashback or memory for the daughter halt on the edge of intensity because I was paying credence to some dedication to silence. I thought somehow that the more bleak and ruined the character's life was revealed to be, the more she would seem like a whiner, a crybaby. But I've since come to see, after the rejections, and with some distance, that she comes off as a whiner after all, precisely because we DON'T see in full enough detail just how bad things were for her.

Then, recently I read Martha O'Connor's The Bitch Posse, which I very much enjoyed, and was completely thrown to realize that you could write as raw and painfully about sex and drugs as you wanted and still get the reader to keep reading. I felt almost stunned, like, "I didn't know you could DO that."

And as much as I will be the first person to say let's keep our personal history and our fiction separate, I know also that all writers work is indelibly shaped by their history/experience, and that experience oozes through whether in very abstract imagistic ways, or directly, in loosely-veiled fictional accounts. What I'm getting at is that I held back in my fiction in the same way I hold back in life. "No, it wasn't so bad." Because nobody suffers a complainer. When you tell about your childhood, people get prickly if it was a "bad" childhood. People aren't sure they know what you are asking of them when you admit the nature of things that happened.

And yet I see that if I ever hope to make that novel saleable, the darkness has to come through. And I suppose the same goes for my life, the darkness can't be kept at bay, and though I don't have to come running to my blog to shout the nature of family problems, I can at least no longer deny that stuff is going on, if only for my own sanity.

I'm happy to say that my latest latest novel, the one I'm scratching out notes for (after Strange but Familiar), is not a family saga, not in the usual sense, but a kind of dark, twisted love story. There's hope for me yet.



At 4:31 AM, Blogger Perfect Virgo said...

Your third paragraph is full of truth. Only the very closest of friends really means it when they ask "Are you alright?" An honest reply is almost always a cry for emotional support, so one is seldom expected nor given.

Every short story I write is drawn from personal experience. If I don't believe something I describe to sound real I can't expect a reader to... I have the same former addiction as the mother in your novel. 12th anniversary next month but I can still write with intensity and conviction on the subject.


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