Sunday, July 14, 2013

No tears in the writer...

There is a quote from Robert Frost that says "No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader." While I have read from other writers about the agony of putting one of your beloved characters into hard situations, I had never experienced feeling that pain for an imaginary person until I wrote "Cradle and All."
This short story is being released today as part of the anthology "Summer Burn" from Elephant's Bookshelf Press. You can buy it here!

When I read the call for submissions, stories about love that didn't last, I didn't initially have a story idea. However, throughout the next day or two, one slowly came into my mind. It wasn't a fleeting thought, it was a nagging, obsessive barrage of thoughts. All of a sudden I had this character who was talking to me and I could feel what she was feeling and I could see her going about her day and I knew her story.

It might sound strange to say, "I knew her story." Because, obviously I knew her story. I wrote it. But when a character becomes real to you as a writer, sometimes you discover their story along with them as you go along for the journey, get to know them better and understand how they will act and react. And yet at the same time, I knew what I was going to do to this character. I knew the pain and the hell I was going to put her through.

I sat down and typed. 1000 words every night and finished the story within five days. Without any rereading, I sent the story off to my critique group, expecting to have lots to fix. Instead I got comments back that said, 

"Wow! This is haunting. I don't know if I'll be able to sleep tonight."
"This brings back a lot of painful memories for me."
"Your ending is heartbreaking and yet inevitable at the same time."

I was floored by their reactions and so I went back and read it and found myself crying along with my character. Not necessarily because I am such an amazing, powerful writer (Because I'm not. I'm still learning the ropes of this thing). But because I knew this character, I'd created her, and I could feel everything she was feeling.

I wanted a more thorough critique though, so I sent it off to a critique partner who I knew would be harder on it. She too loved it, but offered very thought provoking questions that I had to ponder for a few days while I got to know my characters and their history. I know it sounds crazy, but that's exactly what it was. Getting to know my characters, even the antagonist.

So pretty much, writers live in an imaginary world, where they hear voices drawn out in complete conversation with other voices and they "get to know" characters that don't really exist and that they can basically control. 

I, of course, would love everyone to read this story. But before you do, I want to make a few important clarifications. First, this story is about domestic abuse. It is not based on anything that I have experienced personally, especially not at the hands of my own, tender husband. Writing this was purely an exercise in imaginative empathy.

Second. because of the nature of this story, it is rough around the edges. There is some swearing. Nothing awful, but it's just pretty much impossible to make an abuser come off as genuine when he's saying "heck" and "darn". I do not apologize for the language, I just thought some of my friends might want to know.

Of all my acceptances so far, this story is the one closest to my heart. I truly felt inspired to write it. It is hard to put something like that out there for the world. What if no one likes it? What if my friends judge me by it? Oh well, I guess. That's part of being a writer. Putting your heart on the line. I hope you'll read it and I hope you enjoy it.

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