This month’s assignment is to write about my process as a writer. Oh, boy—that’s a hard one. I’m sort of an organic writer in that I first hear my protagonist’s voice in my head and it’s always very loud so I listen closely to it. My family thinks I’m totally crazy because I’m hearing voices and they don’t pay me any attention other than to inquire now and then if I am seeking therapy. I pay them no attention, either. I keep listening to my voices.
When my protagonist first speaks, I listen carefully to what she is saying and try to determine where she’s at in her life. From there I hit the keyboard and keep going until I come to a complete stop and then I usually say, “Oh, shi—now what? That’s when I start a sort of outline. By sort of, I mean I think of events that would naturally occur in this particular protagonist’s life and then try to think of ways to expound upon them that will have relevance to the story arc, which I have yet to determine, but am working on. Basically, I’m a total mess and get depressed and walk around the house in circles until I come up with something. Then I sit back down to the keyboard and pound out some more words and low and behold some days it’s pretty good, which gets me going and then I keep going until I hit another pothole and then I start walking around in circles again.
Once I get to the halfway mark I start thinking about what the climax to this story should be and why, and then I take a hammer and kill myself if I can’t come up with something really good. If I am still alive in the morning I continue on and write down what the climax should definitely be and head to the resolution. Sometimes it works out pretty good. Then I discard the hammer and open a bottle of wine and sort of celebrate because I’m almost there.
Right now I am NOT almost there. I’m just beginning. I have started a new novel, SUMMER CREEK. In this novel, twelve-year-old Mary Alice Munford struggles with the knowledge that her mother plans to marry her father, a man who abandoned them before she was born. I love the opening:
When I was very little my mother would tell me stories about why my father wasn’t with us. First she said he was away in the war going on in Asia. Vietnam. Then she said he was trying to heal from the wounds in his head that made him forget us. Later she said he was on assignment with the Secret Service. “Hogwash,” Granny Ruth said. “She’s filling your head with garbage.”
Granny never agrees with my mother. She is also convinced she has a bad heart and is busy planning her funeral. Ours is not a happy household. There is me, my mother, Granny Ruth, and Aunt Josie, whose husband, my Uncle Earnest fell under a combine so I never met him. Aunt Josie believes in reincarnation and thinks Uncle Earnest could turn up in any form. “You never know,” she says.
So, mostly my family is crazy. My mother thinks marrying my father, even though he abandoned her when she was pregnant with me and never looked back, is the answer to her prayers; my grandmother thinks she’s dying every other hour, and my Aunt Josie is convinced Uncle Earnest could come back as a frog or some stranger who will bring home a paycheck. I’m right in the middle of this. You tell me how I am to survive this and be okay.
So now I have the opening and am walking in circles with the hammer close by. Hopefully I will get some ideas before I have to use it.
In the interim I have some good news to celebrate. Sourcebooks has bought my latest project: ALL THAT’S TRUE. They call it “an authentic coming-of-age novel with a terrific takeaway.” It follows Andrea St. James, Andi for short, whose privileged life is interrupted in the summer of 1991 during the first Desert Storm, when she discovers her father is having an affair with her best friend’s sexy new step-mother. With an equal mix of joy and sorrow, it follows Andi’s poignant and sometime laughable journey to young adulthood where she struggles with the elusive nature of truth and the devastating consequences of deception. Look for it in 2010.
In the meantime I’m back at the keyboard. I have an idea on how to continue SUMMER CREEK, so for today I’ve set the hammer aside. This is good news. I have enough dents in my head.
Jackie Lee Miles is the author of Roseflower Creek, Cold Rock River and Divorcing Dwayne. Look for the release of ALL THAT’S TRUE in 2010. Visit the website at http://www.jlmiles.com/. Write to the author at Jackie@jlmiles.com.