I shared on Monday how my grandfather died last week and that the burial was that morning. (Thank you for all the sympathy, by the way. I really appreciate it.) There’s a bit of a strange story tied to all of this.
Recently, I had started a new novel. Last Monday, I stopped work. It was horrible. Everything was going wrong, nothing was going right, and every attempt to correct the improbable parts of the plot (and there were many) made things worse. I wrote in my writer’s journal, “Is this like that 2nd novel, pointless & pathetic?” Yes.
I was in despair. More journal angst: I can’t do this, I told God, I can’t do this, it’s the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do, the only thing I have—I should just give up. . . . (Who, me? Melodramatic? No way.)
I knew I wanted to write about race, specifically a mixed race romantic relationship. But how?
I sat on my sofa, clutching a pillow and sobbing, and an image came to mind. It was a childhood memory, one of my first. Out of concern for family privacy and not wanting to hurt those involved, I’ve never discussed it online. Nor will I now.
But my grandfather was a pivotal figure in the situation. And the situation, even though I was not directly involved, impacted my life and how I viewed relationships, and led me to believe that I could destroy my family by making one wrong choice. Or even a choice that others perceived as wrong, even if it was morally neutral or good.
From that childhood memory, a story formed in my mind. A people-pleasing girl who fears destroying her family, a bigoted grandfather who is overly-involved in her life, a budding romance with a boy of a different race . . .
This story scared me. It was too autobiographical, even if no one else realized it (but family would realize, I knew.) Still, what did I have to lose? I started writing.
The next morning, while I was working on the new novel, my mother called: my grandfather had died the previous night.
There’s still much that was unresolved from the childhood situation, things that carried over through my teens and college years. Especially college. In the past few months, all my college issues have come crashing down over me. I spent my twenties dealing with misdiagnosed and then newly diagnosed mental illness.
Now I get to deal with the rest of it: finding my voice, realizing that I’m equal to men, knowing how to be assertive and handle conflict, things like that.
All the things my young protagonist wrestles with in my novel.
As I drove to pick up my daughters, I was thinking about the novel. Suddenly, I could hear my protagonist. Not audibly. In my head, I heard my character and knew her, knew how she would tell her story, knew how to frame her story. I stopped in the carpool line, grabbed my writer’s journal, and wrote the first few hundred words before they disappeared amidst the chaos of kids’ homework and school information and everything that accompanies my daughters’ arrival home.
This book is writing itself.
In some strange way, I think that God is giving me the opportunity to resolve my issues through writing this novel. Maybe. We’ll see.
Other writers, have you ever had anything like this happen to you?