The topic this month is Writing Struggles. That really hits home with me when I finish one novel and have to start another.
I just finished two novels. The first one will be released January 2011 by Sourcebooks: ALL THAT’S TRUE. It follows Andrea St. James (Andi for short), during the first Desert Storm war, who discovers her father is having an affair with her best friend’s step-mother. Sourcebooks calls it “an authentic coming-of-age tale with a terrific takeaway.”
The second novel, HEART, has yet to be sold. It was inspired by an actual CBS news program where a man received his daughter’s heart. The tagline of the book is: After a fatal accident sixteen-year-old Lorelei Goodroe follows the lives of five people who receive her organs, including that of her father who receives her heart.
Okay, two books down, a new one to go. But what to write? After several days of contemplating, I get an idea when a character comes to me, a twelve-year-old girl who has a problem. (I tend to write in young voices—I can’t seem to help myself.) The protagonist’s voice is very strong. I hear her words in my head:
“When I was very little my mother told 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 healing from the wounds in his head that made him forget us. Later she said he was on assignment for the secret service.”
I used those lines for my opening of SUMMER RIDGE and wrote a tagline: 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.
On to the novel and that’s where the real struggle begins. What to write? What will this girl’s problems be? What will stand in her way? What can you say that will keep your reader riveted for three hundred pages? That’s a tall order, but that’s what books ask of us. And your reader expects some good answers.
Early on, Mary Alice states that her household is not a happy one:
There’s me, my mother, Granny Ruth and Aunt Josie, whose husband, my Uncle Earnest, fell under a combine when I was five so I never got to know him good. The day he died, I climbed on Aunt Josie’s lap and wouldn’t leave even when it was time to go to bed. Mama tried to pick me up.
“You been sitting there all day, sweet thing.”
“Leave me lone, Mama,” I said. “I’m helping Aunt Josie cry.”
I loved this protagonist immediately and started to write, regardless of the struggle.
I’m now two hundred pages into the manuscript. Mary Alice is at a fair with her father, who she still calls Hank, seeing as she can’t think of him as a real Daddy. He has picked up a gal from the local café, Wanda Lou, and the two of them are off having a very good time on their own. Mary Alice is busy pitching pennies and is not doing too well when a man comes up next to her and says, “What are you shootin’ for little miss?”
Mary Alice says he is acting like he really cares. She shows him the two little dogs she has won and points to the large one hanging down from the rafters with a big red bow around its neck.
If I get one more, I can trade it for that big one,” she explains.
That’ll be right nice,” he says and hands her another quarter. “Give her another try.”
She takes the three pennies the attendant hands her and tries again, but one by one the pennies bounce off the plates. The man who gave her the quarter takes hold of her elbow and says, “They got a booth across the way. They use bowls instead of plates. It’s easy to win. Come on, I’ll show you.”
Mary Alice eagerly follows the man who says she can win. He takes her behind all of the tents that are set up in back of the booths. Eventually, he spins around and says, “Sorry girlie, I can’t quite remember where that booth is.”
That’s when he grabs her. Mary Alice heart sinks. She realizes now it was not a good idea to follow him, but it’s too late. He already has his arm around her neck.
That’s as far as I’ve gotten. I’m still struggling and still writing. Please write back to me and tell me what you think. Your responses count!!
Jackie Lee Miles is the author of Roseflower Creek, Cold Rock River, Divorcing Dwayne and the soon to be released All That’s True. Visit the author’s website at http://www.jlmiles.com. Write to the author at Jackie@jlmiles.com.