Monday, February 18, 2013

Novel Verite

Once I had an idea for a book, my first novel, and I began to write it. It got high marks in a novel contest, and praise from readers.

But something stopped me from finishing, and that was my conscience.

You see, as the result of a chance conversation, I had figured out how to commit a crime. I learned from a nurse about the many-pocketed “disaster aprons” that hospital workers used to evacuate newborns. (That was before the invention of tracking devices and door alarms.) My fictional criminal used them to kidnap children – and halfway through writing the book, I realized I didn’t want to teach anyone how to do that.

I never finished that book because I didn’t want life to imitate my art.

But sometimes life imitates our art in a way that is far beyond our ability to control – or even predict.

My newest book, Discovering the City of Sodom, is being printed right now. Co-written with an archaeologist named Dr. Steven Collins, the book asserts that the “sin city” of the Bible was indeed a real place, and according to Dr. C., it was destroyed by an airburst of an asteroid that exploded with atomic-bomb force right over ancient Israel.

In other words, the bigger, badder brother of what exploded over Russia a few days ago.

(A fellow author, upon hearing about the recent airburst, said God was giving us pre-pub buzz. And I say, Thank You!)

I’d like to know from my fellow NovelMatters ladies, who have written on compelling and often controversial subjects and heart-wrenching scenarios, if and when and how did life imitate the art of your books? And how did that make you feel?

Thank goodness I can say life has not imitated my art, because I've discovered over the years I tend to write about the disappearance/death of little girls. I'm sure there's a psychologist or two out there who would love to get me in a counseling session. I'm forcing myself not to go there with that subject matter again, but I do have two novels that touch on that in one way or another. Once they're published, no more. But I have tried to psycho-analyze myself  regarding that. I've lost two babies and an identical twin sister, so maybe that's where it comes from. Because of that I pray life never imitates my art. The one story where my art imitated life was Every Good & Perfect Gift, which dealt with early onset Alzheimer's. I knew nothing about eoa until a close friend was diagnosed at the age of 41. She and I were only 3 months apart in age. Since Evie's death, I've had another close friend who died of eoa. What are the chances?

Like Sharon, my art more imitates life than the other way around. Both of my novels are about missing family members - the first about a missing mother. Strangely, while I wrote that first one, I never considered that my father, who dropped out of my life when I was seven, might have anything to do with the subject matter. When I did realize, after the book was scheduled for publication, I felt exposed, like I'd just written down all my secrets and handed them to the unknown public. It's turned out to be a blessing. The unknown public has been very kind, and of course, there were many who responded because I touched on their own secrets. I've found to my surprise and wonder that, once readers and authors touch under the table and say, "me too," then exposure turns to compassion. God's mysterious ways.

All of my books in some way deal with my fears and the questions that dog me. My sons say it's more than a little weird to see bits and pieces of our lives in my books. And my mother once asked if she was the mother in The Queen of Sleepy Eye. My answer? Heaven's no, Ma! My soon-to-be-released book does harvest the essence of our family history. My mother was left to tend to her 6 brothers and sisters after her parents had been deemed unfit. She was only 16, so the state stepped in and adopted out most of her siblings. Although several of my aunts and uncles have passed on, we are a family, all thanks to my mother's efforts to keep the tie that binds cinched tight. I love her for that. My main character bears her middle name, Lucy, and fights to keep her family together after the death of her parents, even when the mercy of God seems more of a hindrance than a help. While the story isn't my family's story, it's very personal.

Like Patti, my kids have also said it's a little weird to see pieces of their lives in print. It's inevitable that we use life as we see it. I think losing 3 babies to miscarriage has influenced my writing until now, although I didn't lose them in the way as my Raising Rain protagonist.  Writing about any kind of loss can be very therapeutic, if you're willing to be transparent or are just really, really good at disguise.

I'm late to the table as usual. Life imitating art. While I've only one novel published, and one non-fiction, I've written several more novels, and all of them are, in various ways, personal. Not playing coy, really, but those personal bits tucked between the words are tucked there because that is how I can talk about them, veiled inside a larger story that is not my life story. Writing fiction is the only way I can share the dark alleys. In the end, I suppose all novelists end up writing their emotional biographies, their souls scattered across the shelves.


Cherry Odelberg said...

Maybe it's just my age-a few years into the second half of my century, now; but what comes around goes around - and comes round again. As several have said, "my art imitates life." I change the names and setting and voila, I have a fiction piece. The thing that has totally amazed me is this: I write a story based on someone I knew 30 years ago, and have not seen since. I change the ending to please my fancy. Then, then, I run into that person, cross paths, renew acquaintance; all the while feeling a bit giddy and guilty that I know a secret, something intimate about this person, of which they are totally unaware.
Sometimes, these renewed acquaintances, rediscovered careers, revisited settings are undeniably God things where He is giving me back some years the cankerworn has eaten (to be very Old Testament). Sometimes, they are validation that what I have written is true to truth. Other times, I find I have been nearly prophetic in my writing.

Sometimes, the near exposé is not exhilarating enough and I just blog about it and confess all (see my post of February 8 of this year).

Jennifer Major said...

While writing my MS, a good friend of ours came to my aid. I needed to burn down a Victorian mansion in less that 5 minutes and do away with an entire family, BUT the bad guy and his mistress needed to get out in time. So, my friend, who was a fireman and the senior arson investigator for my province, spent hours teaching me how to destroy property and kill countless people. Now, I can go into any house, and with a few simple goodies that fit into the palm of my hand, bring down everything and leave no trace whatsoever of my involvement and leave the crime scene in such a manner that NO ONE , even him, could tell the origin of the fire.

I will not be using this information in a book, EVER.

It's one thing to know how to kill fake people, but if I put the exact instructions in a book and some unstable individual used that skill to commit arson? Holy cow, I'd be an accessory to murder.
Some things are best left unsaid.

Michelle Ule said...

I've written enough now to see themes that turn up and have wondered, too, what that's all about. I also recognize that in several of my novels, I'm trying to sort out something in my own heart and mind.

One novel, Getting to Theo's Wedding, is about getting to a wedding, but it's also an explanation to my family of what my life was like all those years my husband was contintually out to sea. It explains the intricate plotting about the use of money and why.

Waking Dreams of Hope explore the struggle for a high-IQued young woman to come to terms with an unexpected twist in her planned life and how she worked through that.

And loss and missing family members are all through my stories. There's always a pregnancy (somehow!), foreign languages, music and a wise older person. Chaotic family members and friends abound

I know exactly where all that comes from! :-)

And yes, Latayne, I understand the temptation that just because I could write about something, doesn't mean that's what God wants me to do!

Blessings to you all!

Latayne C Scott said...

Cherry, I went back to your post of February 8, and something important you said: "We must each, as fearlessly and honestly as possible be the person we are meant to be and do what our heart says to do." I agree wholeheartedly.

Jennifer, I never thought about the legal implications. Accessory to murder-- or in my case, kidnapping? Wow!

Michelle, we welcome your comments here. In fact, for those who don't know Michelle, her debut novella was on the best-seller list of the New York Times. Michelle, I am wondering how you work pregnancy into all your novels. Hmm... maybe that's what I'm missing. . . (not a pregnancy, unless you want to see a star in the East and wise men bringing gifts) -- maybe I'm missing the power that a pregnancy brings to a novel.

Debbie Fuller Thomas said...

I've added my contribution to the post (sorry - it was a late night). Latayne, I applaud you for not writing the hospital story. I recently heard an officer say on the news that he couldn't explain their investigating procedures because felons were watching. We are responsible for what we write and not every idea is appropriate.

Sharon K. Souza said...

Michelle, it's so good to hear from you. Congratulations. Where can I find the titles you named?

Megan Sayer said...

It took me a couple of decades of short story writing to actually realise that there were two recurrent themes that cropped up again and again in my stories - and it took me even longer to figure out why. The day I realised it I packed up the novel I was writing and put it all in a box in the top shelf of my cupboard, where it is still, and where it will stay (and I'm bored with it now too). Being "dobbed on" by your own hand like that is a horrible feeling!
The day, some ten years later, that I realised my second novel was heading in the same direction was equally confronting. That time though, after much prayer and some wise advice, I chose to push through and confront it. I'm glad I did. A lot of resolution took place because of - as a direct result of - that decision.
Hopefully...HOPEFULLY...this also means it won't turn up again in my next book, and that that theme will be relegated to one among many themes of many books.

Daniel said...

I'm currently writing a novel about a girl who had been kidnapped as a child and was now trying to overcome the trauma of discovering that fact. I had written the first 20k words when Lifetime aired a TV movie about a real woman in a similar situation.

At first I was kind of annoyed. Then I realized that my character could be inspired by watching the movie. So I incorporated that idea into my novel. I think it made my novel stronger.

Latayne C Scott said...

Megan, never consider writing as wasted time. In your case, the previous projects made you confront issues in the present one. Yay!

Mesmer7, I've had a similar experience. Watching a show with a similar theme made me think even harder of creative ways to make mine different. But your solution is truly, shall we say, novel!

Henrietta Frankensee said...

Definitely my writing is therapeutic. Holding my character's hand through her awakening has given me courage to walk through mine.
There are many waking souls out there.

Latayne C Scott said...

Henrietta, I believe it can be therapeutic, too. Tell me what you mean by "waking souls?"

Sharon K. Souza said...

" ... their souls scattered across the shelves." What a great line, Bonnie. What a riveting visual.

Cherry Odelberg said...

Thank you to all the authors at Novel Matters and all the writers who appear in this post. This is the type of soul searching conversation I need every once in awhile. While life in general, and writing life in particular, is pretty solitary, I need to know I am not alone. As usual, why waste my words when Bonnie wraps it up so tidily, "because that is how I can talk about them, veiled inside a larger story that is not my life story. Writing fiction is the only way I can share the dark alleys."