Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Write On Target

Last night my mom mentioned that my aunt asked how my writing was coming along. I decided to post the answer here, so she could see it. Aunt Kathy, this post is for you. :)

My writing is going quite well, if I do say so myself. Although I can't always write daily, I do make time to write weekly. I try to post one flash fiction piece per week in the flash fiction group I belong to. I also try to go in to work a little early, or stay a little late, to work on my novel whenever I can. How often I can do that varies depending on what else I have going on. I prefer to write on the work computer because my net book at home is too unreliable. It has a tendency to suddenly delete large blocks of text, or open and close windows whenever it feels like it. Not to mention, at work nobody is screaming or fighting over toys. Not usually, anyway.

I don't expect to be done with my novel anytime soon. In fact, I think I will probably still be working on it come National Novel Writing Month in November.

When I started the novel I planned it out, chapter by chapter. I flew through NaNo 2013 and had a complete manuscript by the end of it. It was good, but not great. The thing is, I want it to be great. Or at least have the potential to be great.

When I think about the authors who inspire me the most several come to mind. Diana Wynn Jones is at the top of my list. She is a children's author, but her plots and story lines are both incredibly complex and incredibly fluid. Carlos Ruiz Azafon is another writer I greatly admire. He writes beautiful prose, full of color and light, laced with humor, despite his plots being dark and menacing. Kate Atkinson is another favorite. I was blown away by her novel Life after Life, which followed a single character and her family through, literally, lifetime after lifetime during the second world war. Her characters leap off the page and her plots are incredibly complex with intertwined story lines following impressive numbers of characters.

I've been studying what I like about these author's, how they do what they do, which rules they break and why, and how it works for them when they do.  My writing style is not at all like theirs, and I certainly don't see myself having anywhere near their talent, but analyzing novels I especially like helps me understand how I want to shape my own stories.

While my favorite reading material is magic realism, or science fiction (time travel is a favorite topic), it is not what I write myself. I did try, early on, but I've found I can't seem to do it justice. I suspect part of the reason I like it so much is because I admire that the author can do things I cannot. My own writing best writing is almost always about the complexities of family life. Not too long ago I pulled out my high school creative writing journal and realized that, even back then, I seemed to know that this was my thing.

After a great deal of genre hopping, trying to find where I fit, I finally realized it didn't matter what my topic was. I could tell a story about anything, as long as it featured some sort of complex family relationship. The psychology of how families bond, what ties them together, and pushes them apart, seems to be where the stories lie for me.

The novel I'm working on now features foster care, which has consumed my life for the past two years. The foster care system didn't treat my kids or my family all that well. We had a rough and tumble experience, to say the least. Blogging about it helped me process it, but there was always more I couldn't say without violating confidentiality. Through creative writing about fictional characters, I am able to raise some of the issues that I came up against and explore them in more depth. If I can shed some light on what I perceive to be a broken system that does little to serve the interests of kids along the way, more's the better.

My current protagonist and I are still getting to know one another, so, it may be awhile longer before my novel is ready to share with others outside my writing group. Hopefully you will all hang in there with me, but to break the waiting up a bit, here is a short excerpt:

I had a headache already when I got off the bus after school. The neighbor mowing his lawn and the kids screaming on the sidewalk didn’t help it any. As the bus chugged away in a cloud of diesel fumes, the awful stench was like a hand tightening around my throat. As I crossed the street I felt like I might need to puke.

I dodged a passel of kids on bikes and made my way across the lawn and up the short flight of concrete steps to the front door of our split level colonial. Mom ambushed me as soon as I walked in. “How was your day, honey?” As usual, she was all cheery and perky. Toby, our elderly Eskimo Spitz, wagged his tail and laughed up at me from behind mom’s legs.

“It was a barrel of laughs as usual, Mom.” I dropped down on one knee to fondle Toby’s ears and let him lick my chin. I buried my face in his thick white fur. “Hi Toby. Did you miss me, buddy?”

“Would you like a snack, honey?” Mom’s sing-song voice sliced into my throbbing head as I stood up. The pain made me want to punch her in the mouth just to get her to stop talking. I didn’t, of course. I just shook my head, dropped my backpack by the door, and sidled around her. I breathed a sigh of relief as the phone ringing in the kitchen stopped her from following me.

Toby trailed after me down the hallway, the click of his toenails on the parquet floor and his wheezy breath telling me he was struggling to keep up. I slowed down to accommodate his pace as we made our way past the long row of my framed school pictures to the sanctuary of my room. Quietly, I closed the door, grateful to finally have some peace. I hoped that whoever was on the phone would keep mom busy for awhile.

To my Aunt Kathy, and all of you who support my writing and follow my journey here on the blog, thank you. It means more than you know to have your support.

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