How do I even dare to refer to myself as a writer when I am still figuring out what genre is calling my name? Six years ago I started in my writing group assuming that I’d write contemporary fiction, or chick lit as the worst case scenario, and when I got really good I’d advance to literary fiction. I needed a writing project so I took the easiest route and continued where I had started over twenty years earlier with my novel, “Anne” (genre to be determined). I was able to produce about 140 pages of a draft so rough you could rip the skin off your fingers just turning the pages.
After reading and critiquing the murder mysteries/cozies created by fellow group members, I decided to write murder mysteries, of which I have accumulated a number of first drafts, partial drafts, and rough outlines. I’m beginning to wonder if I haven’t just fallen under the influence of those members who love to write murder mysteries/cozies and are pretty darn good at it. They get excited over how much of a drug it will take to kill a character and whether his weight and how much he just ate should be manipulated to make it work within the allotted time frame.
Am I that same writer? It’s not looking that way.
What my characters are thinking about is more to my liking. My approach in real life (there is such a thing and it’s always getting in the way of my writing time) is to analyze why people around me do what they do. Or don’t do. Psychological thrillers, maybe?
This week at the first writing group meeting I attended in weeks I floated the idea of writing historical fiction. It’s the genre I currently gravitate to for reading pleasure, particularly World War II and the Revolutionary War novels. (I did mention in an earlier post that I was Betsy Ross in a previous life, right?) I already have a setting for my first attempt at this genre!
Historical fiction requires research and getting the details correct while you’re making up some of the characters, dialogue, and events. Epiphany: that’s control. And I like being in control. Duh. That’s what writing fiction is all about: creating and manipulating characters and action any way your heart desires. And any fiction genre lets you do that. Except with historical fiction you take control of events that have actually taken place. That’s power.
Meanwhile, I’ve committed to submitting an outline of the murder mystery I’ve started recently, “Patsy’s Posse”. Why? To prove I can complete an outline. To give a murder mystery one more try before I move on. (To what?) Also, I’m attending the New England Crime Bake 2016 in November so I might as well hang in there with murder mysteries until then. I signed up for the Agent & Editor roundtable and I need to produce a decent first page of a manuscript. Let’s hope I can get that far in three months.
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.
Inspiration…..waiting…..waiting…..when are you going to swoop down and write my blog post for me? That is what usually happens when it’s my turn but this time not so much. Oh, yesterday I wrote enough words to comprise a post. But they weren’t anything I would reread in a few months and wonder if I had actually written them or if my name were mistakenly attached to someone else’s writing.
Yet it’s been hammered into my head that I shouldn’t wait for inspiration. I need to be disciplined, sit down at the same time every day and write. Treat it as though it were a job–unpaid, but a job nevertheless. And some of the members of my writing group do that. They are the ones who produce, who eagerly volunteer to submit their writings for next week’s critiquing by the group.
Where would I be without my writing group? We celebrated our sixth anniversary at last week’s meeting. Six years!! Of the seven attendees, five are charter members and two are “newcomers” We toasted with port, indulged in a multitude of desserts and snacks, and reminisced. I left feeling reinvigorated, ready to tackle (and finish!!) “Claire.” Again.
The next day the four ladies of the group met for our usual Friday lunch. Heidi provided me with an idea for “Claire” that I absolutely will use. It’s a tweak to the story line that started the wheels in my mind turning and whirring.
Three full days later and I haven’t written a word. But I will.
In addition, the three ladies listened patiently as I outlined, off the cuff, my concept for the upcoming NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) in November. I know what you’re thinking: 1) it’s only September and she’s already started her plot for NaNoWriMo? and 2) she’s going to attempt NaNoWriMo again? She doesn’t need a new writing project, she needs to finish something she’s already started. What is she thinking??
The answer is, for me writing isn’t about thinking. It’s about feeling. That’s what makes me a better pantser than a plotter.
Also, I mentioned in a previous post that without agreeing to submit to my writing group and posting to this blog, I wouldn’t write. I neglected to include committing to NaNoWriMo. It’s potentially 50,000 words that I otherwise would not write.
My proposed story for NaNoWriMo has a personal foundation going back to my grandmother in Germany. Unfortunately, she’s not alive so I will have to rely on the memory of my eighty-seven year old mother to provide the background for my NaNoWriMo novel. In addition, it will involve research about World War II, something I can do in advance of November 1. “Can” doesn’t necessarily translate into “will” I have found.
Linda, Heidi, and Eleanor were supportive of my concept. And of my writing ability. What a wonderful feeling to enjoy a cup of clam chowder with people who have become good friends, talk about writing–and leave with my ego pumped up just a bit.
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.