Starting a new novel

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?

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12 thoughts on “Starting a new novel

  1. Yes! It suddenly dawned on me this week (this has been a week of epiphanies!) that although I may not be able to get the past back – meaning I can’t redo childhood or adolescence (or even early adulthood), I *can* go back in my writing. I can use the PTSD stuff actually to my advantage because I remember vividly what it was like to be a little girl, for example.

    Best of luck to you 🙂

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    1. Oh, that’s wonderful: wonderful that you realized you can use those vivid memories of being a little girl to help in your writing, I mean. We can never undo or redo the past (even the good past), but we can glean many valuable things from it. There’s a verse somewhere in the prophets about restoring the years the locusts have eaten, and I think of that as a metaphor for God restoring us from those hard times and the damage that “locusts” (abusers, etc.) have made in our past. And I’m glad that you’re writing. 🙂

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  2. Aw…I’m so, so sorry to hear about your Grandfather’s passing, Laura. I’ve been a bit remiss in keeping up with my blogs and haven’t had a chance to “check in”…..I feel so sad when I read of your struggles to try to “succeed/accomplish” certain things that you see/feel need to be accomplished in a certain time period and then get discouraged/disappointed when you “don’t succeed”….Everything you do, Laura (even our failures) are successes. Does that make sense, Sweetie? I have found that God (and I) work on different “time schedules” and that when and what I want is not necessarily what God/the universe wants for us and that WITH TIME and PRAYER(getting quiet with myself), I ultimately discover what I’m “supposed to do”, etc. I find when I “force it”, nothing gets done and I end up frustrated and upset. Age (and life) has taught me that I’m a happier person when I turn my life over to “God’s Will”/ “the universe” (whatever you choose). I just complicate my life, at times, by wanting things done in MY WAY, in MY TIME. Sometimes I’m not ready for the lesson that God wants me to learn, so I need to be more patient……Where do you think my humor has come from????? God and I have had MANY a conversation that started in tears and ultimately ended in total laughter….. Big Hugs, Laura!!! 🙂

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    1. Thanks, Lucie! I like what you say here; this is a lesson that God is repeatedly teaching me . . . His timing isn’t mine, that’s for sure, and I can’t force him to work on my schedule. 🙂 I’m just glad that I’m getting the opportunity to work on these issues now and in a form that I understand (fiction). But, why, oh, why, did this protagonist have to insist on being a science geek?! And why does she insist that she LOVES dissection?! Science was my least favorite class in high school! (Is God prodding me to open my mind to the wonders of the scientific world? 🙂 )

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      1. A lesson, Laura, that I have had repeated to me on a REGULAR basis!!! I remember one time (in the Princess and my first home) struggling to put up a set of very heavy curtains in our living room….I meticulously measured and drilled the holes in the wall, put the hardware up, carefully arranged the curtains, stood back to admire my handy work and had the WHOLE rod (curtains and all!) rip outta the wall and come crashing down!!! I was teaching at the time and going to grad. school at SF State and was exhausted….I started swearing at Jesus and then started sobbing and crying and swearing some more and in walked the Princess who started LAUGHING like hell (despite the fact that there were huge holes in our wall!) and she calmly said, “Guess we weren’t meant to have living room curtains up for tonight…Looks to be a nice night tonight. Maybe God meant for us to be star-gazing, hun, Hun???? So, maybe, Laura you were meant to open “your mind to the wonders of the scientific world”, I don’t know…or maybe you just needed a “breather”, Sweatheart, to allow your mind to refresh and take a little break to “renew”, eh??? (Who knows? Maybe God wanted YOU to star gaze, too, Hun!!!) And maybe (just maybe) you needed to cry some more over your Grandfathe’s passing and this was a “conduit” that God used to “release the tears”…Who knows??? Hopefully, your week will go “smoother” for you. As always, Sweetie, I hold you close in my thoughts and close to my heart….. ❤

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  3. What an incredible post. Your experience really stayed with me, Laura – I read it a couple days ago while I was working out, and I was too wiped out to comment on that elliptical! 🙂 But I remembered what you wrote and I wanted to come back and let you know what I thought.

    Amazing.

    To answer your closing question, no, I haven’t had anything like what you experienced happen to me yet. As I’ve shared here before, I was born Jewish but I’m now agnostic, so I do believe in a High Power of some kind The tide might be turning for me as far as a Higher Power might be “giving me the opportunity to resolve my issues through writing”. I’ll keep you posted! Take good care, dear Laura – I know it is a sad time for you and your family,but I take comfort in knowing your writing is there for you.

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    1. Thanks, Dyane. I think writing can help many people–not just professional writers–resolve issues; I read about a study that followed people who had gone through traumatic experiences and were instructed to write about them and compared that group with a group who had also gone through traumatic experiences and were instructed to write about OTHER PEOPLE’S different traumatic experiences. Both groups reported significant benefits to writing about trauma, whether it was their own or another person’s. Odd, but true! So keep writing; you never know what good may come from it!

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  4. Wow. This hit me hard because I’ve had this happen and I know what it’s like.

    I was working on a fantasy and I knew I wanted to tackle issues of slavery and sexual abuse among some of the political tension in the novel. But I didn’t know how to do it while being respectful, realistic, and not over-the-top. (This wasn’t the main focus of the plot.) Then one of my POV protagonists got enslaved unexpectedly and suddenly he was living my story – the abuse, the fear, the breaking, and the horrible pain and inability to trust even after he was rescued. After starting to heal, he gets married, and his sex life with his spouse mirrored a lot of the issues I struggled with when I got married.

    I thought, no, I can’t do this. I can’t write about something so personal. Everyone will know I’m writing from my own experience. But I knew I had to. There are books about surviving abuse and books about sex, but there are no books about sex after sexual abuse. I had to figure all that stuff out alone with my husband by trial and error. Also, there are few fiction books that depict men dealing with abuse, and I knew that needed to change, because 16% of men in America have been sexually assaulted. And even though I’m afraid of writing about the sexual abuse, afraid of showing too much or too little, afraid that a book about magic and friendship will be demoted to an “abuse issue book,” I knew I have to write this.

    God has a reason for giving us these stories and characters. Someone out there needs them. Good books are always based in part on personal experience, but they also transcend that experience to speak into the individual stories of each reader.

    Sorry for the long comment :o) I got excited.

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    1. That’s a powerful story, Liz. I’m glad that you’re tackling sex after sexual abuse, and from the male viewpoint as well. I can’t recall any fiction books I’ve read recently that dealt with either subject. I haven’t run across too many sex manuals that help couples navigate the issues arising from past sexual abuse; there was one that had one chapter on it, and I’ve seen a title at the library for raped/abused women and their husbands. Nothing for assaulted men, that I know of. Considering the statistics, it would make sense for sex therapists to write on the subject!

      Thank you for being willing to share your story here, and be willing to deal with your emotions in your novel. That’s incredibly brave!

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