Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Writing From the Guts

I used to think Stephen King was some sort of psychopath for all the terrible things that happen to children in his books.

Then I had kids of my own and I realized: Like most of us, he's probably just writing his fears.

Back in 2001 I wrote a short horror story called "Obedient Child." The inspiration behind the story was simple: I thought back to my worst childhood fears, abandonment and the dark, and went from there. The writing itself is rough, but you can still read the story at Morbid Outlook here.

My first novel, BLOODSISTERS, is inspired partly by my obsession with Arthuriana and the entire "child of destiny" trope. It's also partly inspired by my own real-life female friendships. Over the years I've had too many women friends to count. Some are still around, most aren't. Some went away and came back via the magic of Facebook; some are gone for good. Some relationships ended with a whimper as we drifted further and further away from one another until one day we just...weren't, anymore; others ended with a bang, in tears and slammed phones and angry, emotionally charged emails. (One ended over matzoh ball soup at the original Second Avenue Deli location.) BLOODSISTERS is, first and foremost, about two women friends and what happens to their friendship as their circumstances change over hundreds of years. When you live forever, how does that affect your relationships? BLOODSISTERS is one way in which I ask myself the questions that have plagued me for decades as my friends come and go, and my way of wrestling with the answers.

I bring this up because my current WIP, THE HOLLOW QUEEN delves into my new(ish) role as a mother. All the major story conflicts are there: man vs himself, man vs nature, man vs man, man vs society. But the biggie conflict of THQ is man vs the supernatural, sometimes referred to as man vs the paranormal or man vs the Divine. However you phrase it, it boils down to Us versus Things Beyond Our Control.

The supernatural force in THQ kills children, kills them in a lingering and terrible way. The force, nicknamed The Hollow Queen because of the method of killing (based on this mythology), represents all my worst fears for my children: an incurable disease, a fatal accident, a school shooting, a kiddie perv. As the parents and other grown-ups on board my novel's ship race to find out what's killing the children and how to stop it, I inject all my deepest, darkest, most terrible nightmares into my writing. When I write them, I face them, I control them.

This was all brought back to me in stark relief just two days ago. The weather finally picked up, and so I let my kids play at the nearby playground after school. In one of those accidents that just happens at playgrounds, my 2-year old ran down an incline just as a much older kid of about 8 or 9 came running from the side. They collided so hard that my 2-year old was thrown off his feet into the air and landed on his head with a crunching noise. I scooped him up, gathered my 5-year old, and rushed to the nearby pediatric ER. Three hours, two nurses and two doctors later, we were discharged. The little one, thankfully, had no concussion or skull fracture and was, by then, running around the pediatric ward happily chasing a toy truck.

My poor baby

By the next day he seemed to have forgotten all about the massive boo-boo on his head. But I didn't. I couldn't, and I doubt I ever will. The sight of my little one being thrown off his feet, the sound of his tiny skull hitting the pavement, the pounding of my heart and churning of my stomach as I rushed to the hospital, will stay with me as long as I live. Two days later I still tremble just writing about what happened, how much worse it could have been.

Same playground the next day, clearly all better.

Some day, when you read a scene in one of my novels or short stories of a 2-year old being hit with such force that he's thrown off his feet and lands on his head, you'll know I'm finally wrestling with that particular demon.

Where does your writing come from? How do you write the things that scare you? Where do your own demons factor into your writing?

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