Why I Write What I Write

“Where some might see ugliness, I see beauty, at least the potential of it.”

A question many writers and authors get asked is why they write what they write.

You have probably also heard it said that you should write what you know.

I’ll admit, much of the details of what I write isn’t what I know directly — that is, I haven’t experienced it firsthand.  But I can tell you that I know what it is to feel suffering, pain, pleasure, sadness, anger, or any number of emotions.  This is part of the human condition.

Someone once suggested I write about my experience of raising an autistic son.  While I write about this in my blogs, I do not do so in fiction.  Why?  Because it’s too close to home.  I live this reality every day.   When I write, that is my escape.  Why would I want to bring something that has caused me tremendous emotional pain at times into my fiction?  For some writers, this works.  This is therapeutic for them.  It’s not for me, so I’ll stop right here and not address that issue further.

However, what I can say is that I can take my anguish from my own experiences and pour it into my characters.  When I am describing a character whose sadness is so overwhelming that she cannot even find the words, I know this.  She has dropped to the floor like a rag doll, her head flopped forward as tears stream uncontrollably down her face.  Her nose drains.  Her throat is closed up.  She’s shaking, almost convulsing.  This pain runs so deep, her body shudders.

Or the opposite: such elation, such euphoria that she feels like she might very well burst out of her physical body.  The body can’t contain the soul!  It’s the closest thing to flying without feet actually leaving the ground.

The cool thing about writing my experiences with different emotions is that I can show, rather than simply tell, my readers what the character is feeling.  That alone is huge, so what I choose to write about translates into how I write and how I feel I am supposed to write…if that makes sense.

I write what I write mostly based on what I love to read.  Most of the books I read are based in reality.  They take place in this world, not in some fantasy world like Middle Earth or Narnia.  I have read The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia, and I love those stories, but it isn’t the fantasy aspect that spoke to me in them.  It was the hardships the characters went through.  Like anything I read, I am attracted to highly-flawed, even broken, protagonists.  The underdog or even the anti-hero is who I root for.

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I love seeing how these smashed vessels are made whole again, even with pieces missing.  If romance is involved, I adore seeing two such characters come together to create something beautiful by the end of the book.  Again, their love story isn’t perfect.  They won’t live happily ever after, but they will have each other.

I was never the popular girl growing up, although I wouldn’t make the assumption that just because someone is gorgeous, wealthy, and well-known that they are happy.  My experiences in my youth as someone who was ridiculed incessantly for any number of reasons (take your pick — I was too skinny; my parents wouldn’t buy me the “cool” clothes; my dad liked to garbage-pick; I was a nerd; I wore glasses; I didn’t stand up for myself and other reasons I won’t get into) made me drawn toward the characters who were ugly.  Maybe not physically ugly, but they could be.  And I don’t mean so ugly personality-wise that they have no redeeming qualities.  A male character who is simply a jerk and treats women like pieces of meat isn’t someone I am going to root for or write about.  A female character who is a bitch toward everyone just for the fact of being so isn’t someone I’d want to read about, let alone write about.

Where some might see ugliness, I see beauty, at least the potential of it.

I write for my characters.  My characters, in turn, drive the plot.  Flimsy characters that are as flat as a sheet of paper won’t stand up to the trials I will put them through in the story.  My characters need to be believable.  It’s like stepping into another body for a time, learning how that soul operates differently from mine, and listening to the voice that inhabits it.  I am merely a visitor who’s holding a notepad, writing down that character’s story.  The character’s voice is strong enough to tell me what to do, not the other way around.

The stories I love to read are character-driven.  My writing is character-driven.

A part of writing character-driven stories comes with having to do things to characters that hurt me deeply.  I have had to kill off several characters, for example.  It’s heartbreaking every time.  I think one of the saddest character deaths I wrote was a man who was a father-figure to the protagonist in the story.  This guy had given the protagonist, a young man who had made many foolish choices and was trying to rebuild his life, a leg up.  He loved this young man like his own son.  The protagonist adored this older man, and then I killed him.  It’s something that happens often in stories — the mentor figure must die so that the hero can rise to the occasion.

I kind of hated myself for a few days after doing that, but if I can convince my reader to feel the heartbreak of that character’s death, then I have done my job as a writer.

My first story evolved around my late grandma’s life.  I told the story of Hannah, a character loosely based off my grandma, from her birth to her death.  Writing her death was the most realistic thing I’ve written, as that part of the story was based very much on my experience.  From that story, I branched out to exploring other tough topics, like alcoholism, car accidents, illnesses, miscarriages, and simply the inner conflict of the character struggling to figure out who they are.

When someone reads one of my stories and says it made them cry, I know I’m doing an effective job at creating believable characters.  When I read a story, if I don’t care about the characters, I don’t care about the story.

Sometimes I still take a step back and wonder how I can create characters and the worlds they inhabit.  I guess it’s just practice, time, effort, and perseverance.  And listening to what others tell me.  The feedback I get, especially the constructive criticism that tells me what I’m screwing up, is invaluable.  This sort of criticism only serves to improve my writing, so long as I am willing to listen and put it into practice.  And I am.  I do.  I take my writing seriously.

For me, writing is part of my soul, as much a part of me as my children or my husband.  It’s like breathing.  To not write, to me, would be to die a little every day.

At the end of the day, I write because I must.  As for why I write what I write, I will show you rather than tell you with this excerpt from one of my stories:

“We were, neither one of us, one persona or the other, but rather some beautiful, messy, complicated version splattered on a canvas, but a masterpiece painting nonetheless.”


 

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Also, check out my novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful, available for only $2.99 on Amazon: Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful

Poetry Tuesday

My Beauty – Red, White, and Blue

My beauty, she flies for everyone,
In times of rain, in times of sun.
I close my eyes and try
To see beyond each lie,
For falsehood is mud
That longs to cover up the blood —
Blood spilled with each life given
For us and the land we live in.
It’s not a party, but a time to remember,
Every hour, every day, January to December.
Their battle cries in some foreign land
Pierce straight to the heart, begging we understand
That each heartbeat, every breath
Is protected by their death.
Red for the blood poured out with each life,
Blue for the tears wept during the strife,
White for the good they swore to protect,
Billowing proud, though tattered — but without defect.
Her stars spell out victory that came with a price.
This beauty shines of sacrifice.
Millions died, brave and true,
Fighting to honor Red, White, and Blue.

05/29/17
In honor of those who gave all, this Memorial Day and every one.

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Also, check out my novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful, now available for only $2.99 on Amazon: Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful

 

Character Friday – Meet Arianna Banks

Every Friday, I will feature a character from one of my books, both published and unpublished.  The character will be presented as if he/she is writing about themselves in a journal entry.

My name is Arianna Banks.  I was born July 23, 1992 in Cleveland, Ohio.  Most of my life, I haven’t stuck with anything long.  I was the kid who grew up an only child, whose parents gave her pretty much anything she wanted.  I tried ballet, tap, sports, martial arts, art classes, horseback riding, you name it, but none of those ever lasted for more than a season.  The same was true with my friends.  I don’t know if it was just bad luck, but every year in school, I had a different best friend.  I was lucky if I kept one for a couple of years.  We’d get in a fight about something, although now that I’m grown up, I forget what most of the fights were about.  I remember thinking my friends were just jealous of me because my parents had a nice enough house, and I had tons of toys and all the latest gadgets.  Most of my “friends” were interested in coming over for what I had as far as things went, but truth be told, I wasn’t that nice of a person.

At school, I became more and more of a loner the older I got.  By middle school, I was one of the losers of the school.  My stuff didn’t seem to matter anymore.  I was bitter and cut myself off from others, but that was when I began writing.  I kept journals, writing my feelings down every moment.  I neglected my homework and my grades in favor of writing my own stories and poetry.  I never thought any of it was any good.  It was dark and angsty.

My parents encouraged me to make friends, but I stopped trying.  I had one friend in high school — Lori Miller.  She was in marching band with me, the only extracurricular I’d stuck with.  I didn’t enjoy playing the clarinet, except that it was the one thing my mom insisted I keep doing because she had also played the clarinet when she was growing up.  She told me time and again that music had been her life — that playing the clarinet in band had gained her lots of great friends, and they’d bonded and joked together while in marching band.  Lori and I were always the last and second last chairs.  We dyed our hair black, dressed in black, and wore thick dark eyeliner.  I guess we were Goth or Emo or something.

When I finally graduated, I enrolled in the community college.  I had no clue what I wanted to do.  I worked at various fast food restaurants and chain stores.  I changed my major every semester.  After four years of what should’ve taken two years, I got my associate’s degree.  Lori and I had lost touch in this time, as she’d gone off to college after high school and hadn’t looked back.  Being Facebook friends hardly seemed to matter.

Also during college, I began hanging out with Brad.  He’d worked at the movie theater with me.  His parents were disgustingly rich, but he didn’t care about that.  Most of the time, he didn’t even have a job.  He’d worked at the theater to get free movies, but that had lasted all of a summer.  I’m not sure what I saw in Brad except that he actually talked to me.  He told me he found me interesting, that I wasn’t like other girls.  Whatever that meant.  We didn’t really date in the usual sense.  He hardly took me out anywhere, but we hung around his house and sometimes mine.  And yeah, we had sex.  Whenever Brad called, I came.  Maybe it was finally feeling useful, like I belonged to someone and had a purpose.  It was stupid, but I was caught up in that messy relationship for two years.

I should mention that I kept writing all through high school and college, but I never shared it with my parents or Brad or anyone.

I finally got it in my head to go to beauty school.  It was one option I hadn’t tried yet, and my fascination with hair color and alternative beauty (think body piercings) made me want to give it a shot.  I began working at the receptionist desk at a salon and spa and got into beauty school.  Things seemed to be going fine.  I was interested in beauty school enough to stick with it for a few months.

But then my parents died in a plane crash while flying to Europe to celebrate their anniversary.  It was for their twenty-fifth, but they didn’t go until a year later due to my dad’s crazy travel schedule for his job.  He was a national salesman for the construction industry.  If they’d gone last year, none of this would’ve happened, right?  They’d still be alive.  The shock of it all took me over the edge.  I was already pretty used to being alone, so what was the loss of two of the people who loved me the most?  I got more piercings and dyed my hair bright red.  (My hair hadn’t been its natural color of a drab brown in years.) I moved in with my nana.  I was in denial, afraid to confront the pain.

I should take a moment to mention my dear, awesome nana.  I can’t believe I haven’t yet!  Anyway, she was always close to our little family when I was growing up.  She’s a spitfire.  She seems younger than she is, and she’s health-conscious, sharp, but sweet and totally devoted.  So, rather than live on my own, she invited me to live with her.  Although I wouldn’t have had a problem living on my own due the compensation received from the airline and the inheritance left to me, I affected her offer.  Deep down, I was tired of being so alone.

A month after their deaths, their loss finally hit me full force.  I broke down in front of Nana.  She told me about her own mother, Lorna Blake, and how she’d also lost her parents.  I guess my great-grandma had lived in isolation with a severe cause of depression for years until she’d met and married my great-grandpa.  I knew I didn’t want to be like that.

I had some choices to make.  I knew I’d always been a disappointment to my parents because I couldn’t settle on anything.  On a whim, I quit my job and beauty school.  It wasn’t what I really wanted.  Losing my parents, I knew how life was short.  I needed my life to start having some meaning instead of just wandering from job to job or friend to friend.  I left Brad, finally fed up with his crap.  I’d become a shell, doing whatever he wished.  I wasn’t really living.  That needed to change.

Nana tried to warn me that I was making too many changes too quickly, but I wouldn’t hear of it. One good thing during this time was my friendship with Kelly from the salon.  She turned out to be the real deal.  Somehow, she’d seen something worthwhile in me, and we became steadfast friends.

Another crazy, spontaneous change: I called a number I’d found in the McDonald’s parking lot on a fence about a job opportunity.  That’s how I found out about a company called Affection for the Afflicted.  They were a telemarketing company that claimed to raise money to help those in Africa who were suffering.  Finally, a purpose, I thought!  This seemed like an amazing opportunity, so I took the job and began training.

Turns out I was very good at telemarketing.  The more calls I made in a certain amount of time and the more money I raised for the charity, the bigger my paycheck was.  I had money rolling in in buckets.  Money wasn’t the problem.

I also met Marc Arnold at work.  Unlike Brad, he was very different.  He was blonde-haired and blue-eyed, trendy, and was into theatre.  He sought me out right away, claiming to be fascinated by me.  He was outgoing, brutally honest, and deep.  But as much as I wanted to be open with Marc, my self-consciousness held me back.  We were like oil and water more often than not, but imagine this: The water is dyed blue, and the oil is dyed red.  When you shake up the container holding them, they do mix (sort of) for a while. They create beautiful patterns, complementing each other.

All this while, my writing slowly came alive in the uncertainty of my career choice and romance (or lack of it).  I was trying to build my future, but the question was: What was I building it on? What role, if any, did Marc play in that? Was my job really the answer to my need to find fulfillment?

And in the midst of all this, Brad wasn’t gone yet.

Like my great-grandfather who was a writer and an author, I felt the tug to put the pen to the page, that incessant discomfort and thrill that pulled at my heartstrings.

Where does my story go? I’m a writer.  I should know these things, but one thing any writer will tell you is that their characters dictate the story more than the writer. What does that mean for me?

Arianna is the protagonist of my unpublished and current work-in-progress story, Arianna. 

Like what you’ve read?  Please subscribe to my blog, where I will post a new character bio every Friday!

Also, check out my novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful, now available for only $2.99 on Amazon: Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful

 

 

Poetry Tuesday

Tuesday is the day I share one of my poems with you.

Beyond Words, written 03/14/15

Words, perhaps preformed, fall from lips before their time,
The truth in them still hidden in cracks,
Where fall the lies away;
In the fullness of time, truth forms itself to completion,
Its transcendent quality grasping,
Then holding firmly beyond words.

Like what you’ve read?  Please subscribe to my blog, where I will post a new poem every Tuesday!

Also, check out my novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful, now available for only $2.99 on Amazon: Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful

Character Friday: Meet Lorna Ashford

Every Friday, I will feature a character from one of my books, both published and unpublished.  The character will be presented as if he/she is writing about themselves in a journal entry.

If you looked at my birth certificate, you’d read that my name is Laura Elaine Ashford and that I was born on February 29, 1916 to Elaine Miller Ashford and Charles Ashford. So, why do I go by Lorna? Few people know that my name is actually Laura. Only my best friend since I was a child, Macy Grace Wells, knows my real name. Well, that’s not entirely true now. My parents died in a car accident on June 21, 1937 as they were going out to celebrate their 25th anniversary. I was left to raise my younger brother, Chucky. He was only 13. Chucky knew my real name, but he’s gone now, too, so I guess I don’t really count him anymore. You see, he was drafted in 1942 to serve in the war.

1943 was a crazy year in my life. I’d finally sold my childhood home after Chucky was drafted, getting rid of most of the furniture and other possessions inside it. I burned all the old photographs except the one from my parents’ wedding. I remember looking at that picture, seeing how happy my mom and dad were, as I was helping Mom get ready for her special date with Dad on the night they died. I told myself I was starting over and moved into a new house.

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I’d been so used to having only myself as company for years that I was in serious denial about the depth of my grief. I’m not unattractive with my heart-shaped face, dark eyes, and brown, wavy hair, even though I’m not that tall at only 5 feet, 4 inches. But personality-wise, I was ugly. I still don’t know how Macy didn’t give up on me. Thank God she didn’t. Speaking of God, I was angry at him for a long time, blaming him for my parents’ death, thinking he could’ve stopped it if he wanted to.
I had a decent job as a first grade teacher. I had a new house. Surely I could move on and put the past behind me.

I immediately was drawn to my strange neighbor because he had only rocks in his yard and seemed a hermit who was crazy (he talked to himself outside). With Macy’s help, I managed to pull myself out of my depression some after my move. I started painting, although it looked more like splatters of paint on a canvas than anything. I have no artistic ability. I do love to read, however. My favorite books are by B.R. Stevenson. I made a new friend at work, Angela Sunshine. Yes, that really was her name.
All this new positivity gave me the courage to confront my neighbor, Tristan Blake. He was so confusing. He didn’t talk much at first and seemed to have a short temper. He was no doubt hiding more than just his face behind his beard, long hair, and large glasses, but what stood out to me the most was his sadness. He was a widower. His house was stuck in time from when his wife died, like his own tomb.  It was like he was the only living thing among death, including his rocks. But before I knew it, I was falling for him.  He helped me in many ways, yet he denied his kindness and generosity.  He was an enigma.

So, how does our story end?  Well, that would be spoiling it.  Tristan and I are two of a kind in many ways, both struggling with our grief and afraid to let it go and embrace a new life of love.

Lorna is the protagonist of my unpublished story, Lorna versus Laura.  Look for it later this year.

Like what you’ve read?  Please subscribe to my blog, where I will post a new character bio every Friday!

Also, check out my novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful, now available for only $2.99 on Amazon: Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful