With just 13 days—yikes!—until NaNoWriMo starts, I should be well on my way to an outline, character list and setting. At a minimum. And that has been my plan since my failed attempt to win Camp NaNoWriMo in July. It’s a sad story, a common refrain (for me). My July project is floundering and I am unprepared for November.
I thought I had it under control. I knew what my plot was going to be. Sort of. (It’s those “sort of’s” that seem to be my downfall.) All I needed was some additional information from my mother and I’d be ready to outline like a madwoman.
Last night I met with her (my mother, not the madwoman) for what I was certain would be the details that would weave the story together. Alas, all she could tell me was all that she’s already told me.
You may wonder why I need information from my mother to write this story. It’s complicated. But when isn’t it? Back to my resource, my mother. Several years ago, she gave me what I assume is a pewter or silver plated wall frieze of the Roman goddess, Diana the Huntress, and the stag.
She’s 88 (my mother, not Diana), from Germany, and lived there during World War II. The wall frieze was given to her by her mother in 1953 when my mother moved to the US with my father, who was in the US Air Force.
My grandmother found the wall frieze in 1952 in a trunk that her son-in-law (not my father) bought at an auction. Assuming it only contained a bunch of old newspapers, he stored it in the basement. But my grandmother thought otherwise and trudged down to the basement to paw through the newspapers. She was rewarded for her effort with Diana and my uncle let her keep it. She passed it on to my mother, who gave it to me.
I believe that the trunk was property confiscated by the Nazis from a Jewish family. The twist is that a few years ago I found out that the mother of my German grandmother was a Jew who married a Christian. That means I am 1/8 Jewish. Ties with the Jewish part of the family were severed, which may have been what saved my immediate German family from the Holocaust. (I can’t allow myself to think about the fate of the Jewish part of my family.)
Sounds like a lot of potential material for an historical novel. Or would it be creative nonfiction? A memoir? I could incorporate my Jewish and my German ancestry and my American upbringing. And I do want to write that book. But 13 days just isn’t enough time to do the necessary research and develop the plot, outline, setting, characters…..
So I’ll stick to the story of Diana. If I can come up with 50,000 words about a trunk, a Roman goddess, a stag, and a wall frieze.
Advice for writers: write about what you are afraid of. I’ve never been very good at that. In fact, when things have happened to me that nightmares are made of (hitting a pedestrian with my company car, getting adrenal cancer, to name a few) I can’t write. I won’t write. I avoid recording my thoughts and emotions, even just the facts. Maybe that’s why I took two memoir writing classes, to find a way to break through that wall. Yet I still have no desire to write about what I fear. Possibly that will develop as I grow as a writer.
This week I read Laura Moriarty’s book, “The Rest of Her Life,” about a teenage girl who hits and kills a pedestrian in a crosswalk. I was interested in how another author would approach this topic, especially from the driver’s perspective. Moriarty focused more on the relationships among the family members and how they all dealt differently with the accident. I didn’t get what I wanted from the novel. But that’s what happens when you read a book, especially fiction. You get what the author wants to give you.
Cancer. If I wanted to write about my experience with adrenal cancer I’d be competing with a multitude of other cancer books. I doubt if I have anything new to contribute. Even if I did, I still have no desire to write about it.
I want to write about people who don’t exist. Whose lives I have made up and control. Whose lives do not resemble mine. In other words, books and stories I would want to read, characters I could engage with, who entertain me but don’t mimic me. I can’t engage with myself. Do other writers?
Yet there is one story that I play a minor role in that both piques my interest and frightens me, the story of my German heritage through my mother. We have both Nazis and Jews for relatives; anyone who knew about the Jews is long gone. My mother, though Christian, lost two brothers during World War II. They got on a train and my mother’s family never saw them again. Watching the movie “Woman in Gold” this morning not only brought me to tears, it also resurrected my need to know more about the German history of my family. I must hurry—my mother is 87. This is a story I want to write although it has been written before. But this one would be for me.