Why Do We Do This Writing Thing?

It’s easy for a writer to get isolated from what’s going on around you. When you spend a good percentage of your time wrapped up in your imaginary places and people, sometimes it’s easy to forget that there is a world beyond yourself and your fiction. Actually, it’s preferable for me.

However, we can’t do that. You’ve gotta live in order to write something people will want to read. You need to experience life, people and places and you have to be aware of how others are thinking, feeling or reacting to what’s going on in the world. Otherwise, how do you write from a point of view that may not reflect your own opinions? You don’t? Well, how boring for your readers. But great for you, I suppose.

For these reasons, I try to spend time each day watching the news, watching people, and reading blogs and various articles from all over the Internet. Part of my “surfing” is marketing based and meant to build my author platform and reach out to authors or industry folks that I find interesting or (in the interest of honesty) that might be useful to me.

My reason for writing this post is that I’ve been asking myself why I write. Aside from the obvious reason: publication, why is it that I write what I do? This has occupied my thoughts morning and night for weeks. As I struggle with letting go of old dreams so that I can forge a new path toward bigger and better dreams, slightly modified to suit today’s publishing industry, I can’t help but wonder what it is that keeps me going. I mean, honestly folks, this is fucking retarded. The stress, the uncertainty, the shit and abuse that comes our way is becoming quite deep. So why do I keep doing this?

First, I love to entertain. I’m sure some of you might have noticed that. I like the idea that someone might lose themselves in a world I created. I hate that I haven’t been able to share those worlds beyond beta readers just yet, but the idea that I might have actual “readers” makes me giddy.

Second, and probably most important, is that I am passionate about it. I need to write. It’s not a matter of want, but necessity. I feel…sick if I don’t do it.
Last, no matter how silly the story, I also want to tempt my reader to consider something from another point of view. I don’t care if the reader agrees, and I don’t care if I change their mind. I simply want them to view something they haven’t considered before.

This need to broaden someone else’s understanding or experience is what sparked the real passion for writing inside me. I didn’t really have that passion until I wrote “I Do…And Other Lies We Tell”. Before that I was dabbling because I just couldn’t help myself. I enjoyed it and I had so many ideas that I couldn’t’ NOT write them down. When I embarked on writing “I Do,” it was like an epiphany. I had to dig really deep to put some of those words down on paper. I’m a blunt person, but this story required not only that I lay it all out, but I do it in such a way that I didn’t take sides. I had to let the reader experience it and come to their own conclusions. I couldn’t go with cliches either. I had to get inside the characters’ heads, both good and bad, to show their actions and their reactions from a place that was real, a place that was believable. Writing took on an intensity and a meaning that it never had for me before and if I thought writing was fun before, well shit, I had no idea.

This is the only novel I’ve written that had me bawling as I typed. It’s the only one that affected me emotionally long after I shut the computer off and left my characters for the day. Why? Because it forced me to touch a place inside of me that most of us like to keep hidden away. It also made me examine the motivation for both good acts, and those that seem so heinous and cruel that we believe they can only come from a place of darkness. To think that society shares the blame in these acts is something we’d rather not face. I Do is not a story for the meek or for the easily offended. It is not a story you can read while lying on a beach somewhere catching some rays. It’s (hopefully) a story that makes you reconsider the words “it’s none of my business”. Of course, it might be 500 pages of crap. I won’t know until it’s out there with readers.

So, I want to share with you a few scenes from “the novel that sealed my fate” as writer and the novel that taught me that I can write. Before that, I really didn’t believe I had any ability. The writing is far different in I Do than it is in most of my other work. I’m not sure if that is because I felt so strongly about its message or because it was such a long and involved story to write, but it is definitely different, IMO. Can you still hear my voice in it? You be the judge.

Excerpt #1

Grandpa patted the bench. “Come on, it’s time we got to know each other. Don’t be so damn shy.”

Hayley shuffled to the bench, a voice in her head screamed at her to get away from him, but she didn’t want him mad at her, so she sat as far away from him as the little bench would allow.

“I don’t know.” Hayley just wanted to be out of the garage. The smell of oil and wood gave her a headache and it was cold.

He slid closer, so that his leg touched hers. “Your mom and dad, they just ignore you. I see you looking at me though, begging me to pay attention to you.”

Hayley looked at her hands, watching his wrinkly stained fingers as they moved from her hand to her knee. She stiffened. A funny warmth washed over her. Suddenly she wasn’t cold anymore, but still she shivered.

“You want to be my special girl?” He moved his hand up her leg, just above her knee.

Hayley moved away, but he followed.

“I don’t know.”

“No one else is going to want you or care about you like I will. You’re not the prettiest of girls, too fat for that. You have a job in life, all girls do, but I can show you how to be more special than the rest of them.” He leaned forward and kissed her cheek.

Hayley wanted to cry, but terrified of angering him, she stayed rooted to the bench.

“You’ll be like your mother, all girls are, good for nothing but fucking and babies. Might as well be good at it.”

His words hurt, made her chest ache as though he’d hit her. She knew what fucking was. Devon’s friends talked about it all the time. She didn’t want to do that. It sounded awful.

“Stand up.”

Hayley stood, her legs trembling.

“Now, what we do here is our secret. Got it?”

Excerpt #2

“What about your grandfather?” Jane asked. Hayley felt a chill creep over her.

“Grandpa Barry?”

“No, Grandpa—”Jane glanced down at her book. “Warren. What is he like?”

Hayley stared at her hands. Why was she asking about him? “I dunno. He’s not really my grandpa so I don’t see him a lot.”

“No? Amy says you go there every Sunday.”

Hayley remembered what her mom said and focused on giving as little as possible away.

“Amy lies. I told you that.” If her dad knew…Hayley shivered, she wouldn’t hurt her dad by telling anyone about Grandpa Warren.

“Are you ever alone with him?”

“Never.” Jane’s eyebrow went up and Hayley mentally kicked herself for answering so fast. “I mean, he doesn’t like Devon and me, so why would we be alone with him?”

Jane smiled. “I’m sure he loves you both.”

A lump formed in Hayley’s throat, she wanted to throw up at the thought of Grandpa Warren’s ‘love’. “No, he doesn’t. They only like Amy and Jacob. Me and Devon aren’t their real grand kids. They told us so.”

Jane frowned, a little wrinkle creasing her otherwise smooth brow. She looked different when she frowned, the warmth in her eyes vanished. Hayley felt a smile tickle the corners of her mouth. She didn’t like that. It must not fit with what she wanted Hayley to say.

“Why do you think Amy would do this? Why would she tell me that people hurt her when they didn’t?”

Hayley shrugged. “I dunno. Probably because she got in big trouble and Daddy was going to find out and she hates my mom.”

“I don’t think she hates your mom, she’s a confused little girl.”

Hayley snorted. “She’s not confused about anything. She’s evil. She only cares about herself.”

Jane shifted her notebook and flipped through the pages. “I think we’ve gotten off topic here. I need to make sure you’ll be safe, and that’s why I need you to be as honest with me as possible, no matter how much you want to protect your parents. Do you understand that?”

“Yeah, and I’m telling you the truth.” Her tummy felt hot and she wanted to scream at this woman to make her stop asking these questions.

“Okay, but can you promise me something?”

“Sure,” Anything to get out of this chair, Hayley just wanted to go home.

“If you think of anything, or you remember something that may have happened that would be important, you tell your principal and he’ll call me.”

Hayley stood. “I won’t. I’ve told you everything. Can I go now?”

Jane’s eyes looked sad, as though she felt sorry for Hayley. She could keep her pity. Hayley didn’t need it. A whisper fluttered through her brain that said Amy might have told them about Grandpa Warren. Part of her was angry that he’d lied about her being special, another part, a bigger part, was relieved at the possibility she wasn’t alone. She didn’t feel so bad knowing she wasn’t the only one who let him do those things.

Is that why Jane asked these questions? Did Amy say Grandpa Warren touched her? Was she lying about that too or did he really do it? They won’t believe Amy now, because she lied so much, but they might believe Hayley. Her chest tightened, the urge to tell Jane everything burned inside her but her mother’s voice echoed in her head. She couldn’t do it.

Excerpt #3 (the last, I promise)

 “You’ve been drinking enough.”

“So it’s okay if your dad does it but not me?”

“It’s not okay for either of you. I hate it, and I hate how you two act. How’s your hearing, Mom? Which side is it? Still not better?”

Dana’s face reddened, and her hands trembled. “That was an accident. You don’t know what happened between us or why; you’ve had nothing to worry about in your whole life, Hayley. Don’t judge what you can’t possibly understand.”

“Nothing to worry about? Are you kidding me?”

For the first time in her life, Hayley’s temper turned to her mother. She stood. Her body shook, and tears sprung to her eyes. Hayley wanted to shake her, to make her see what everyone else saw. They were a laughing stock. She hated how people whispered about her parents, about Amy.

“Mom, all my life I’ve seen you happy like, what, two maybe three times? You’re always stressed out, you’re always banged up and you never ever see the good in anything. How do you think that affects me?”

“Hayley, I’m happy.”

“Bullshit. What happens when he finally kills you, Mom? What happens to us? Don’t you think we know how bad it gets? We can hear you. Every time we’ve heard you guys. He’s got a problem, and so do you. I’m sick and tired of seeing you sick and tired. Don’t you want more than this? Don’t you want to feel good?”

Dana stared.

Hayley waited for her to speak, cringing at the stricken look on her mother’s face. Why couldn’t she just shut her mouth?

“You must hate me,” Dana finally whispered. “I didn’t think about you guys that way. I thought I was doing what was best for you. God, I don’t even know what to think anymore.”

Hayley sat on the chair closest to her. “Jesus, Mom, I don’t hate you. Why would I hate you? I just don’t understand how a person can live their life like this. Why do you let everyone hurt you?”

“I don’t let them.”

“You do. Dad, your family, everyone. People whisper about you guys, they say things right in front of you and you do nothing.”

“What do you want me to do? Punch them? That’s not a solution. Better to ignore them. They might lose interest.”

“No, it’s better to defend yourself, to tell them you won’t put up with it.” Hayley drew lines on the table with her finger, frustrated, tired, and sorry she ever said a word.

“You’re wasting away. I don’t know why. What’s food got to do with any of this? Do you think if you disappear then they’ll leave you alone?”

“No, that’s ridiculous.”

Dana shook her head and turned away. She picked up a plate from the dish rack and put it in the cupboard above. The hinge was loose and when she closed the door it hung open just a little. “I don’t know why I do it. Sometimes it’s not about what you want or what you need, not when you want to have a family. I can’t explain it so you’d understand. I just want everyone to be happy, and you’ll see when you find someone who loves you that it’s not always black and white. I can’t change who I am, even if it’s pathetic. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry, Mom. You’re always sorry.”

And this is Suzy Sunshine, signing off.  

6 thoughts on “Why Do We Do This Writing Thing?

  1. What you've written is powerful and definitely edgy. John Locke had a similar topic in a story he wanted to publish, but even his friends warned him not to self-publish that one. He put the question up on his blog and the last I heard it was an overwhelming 'no' from his readers. Harming a child, verbally, physically or psychologically is still taboo–even for famous writers.

  2. Yep, and this is the problem with this manuscript. I have had great feedback from one agent and a few small publishers on the writing quality and other elements, but they're reluctant to take it on because of the theme. However, child abuse is only a small part of it. There's also domestic violence and other types of abuse to show how the cycle works and why stopping it requires more than a single person. I've been sitting on this for a while. I haven't sent it out in months for the reason you point out, but I can't change the story. If I do, then the whole point of it is lost. Does that make sense? I should point out, that first excerpt which implies the abuse is about as detailed as it gets. I strongly disagree with detailing a scene like that. It happens and it's a sad reality that I think more authors should tackle so that it's not taboo to talk about it, but I don't think anyone gains anything by adding the graphic details of it. So yeah, I'm not sure what I'll do with I Do.

  3. Hi Renee,At the bottom of our road in Liverpool was a small garage/workshop. The owner molested small boys. It got out and he hanged himself in the garage. At leastI think he did. So, the story resonated because, though I wasn't a victim (not pretty enough) he encouraged all of us to come and we'd all sit on a bench eating crisps. I can still smell the grease, feel the grime of the place. Your story brought it back.Two things – try a British agent. Fewer taboos here. And because presumption is my middle name, I'd change this'It sounded awful.' to 'It sounded bad'. Awful is a weak word but 'bad' though more simple is also more stark.

  4. Thanks, Mike. I agree. Bad it is. Awful is one of "my words" that I say frequently, so I don't always see it as it actually reads. (hope that makes sense.) I'm sorry to bring back bad memories, but I'm glad it resonated. Don't you find it's not the visuals that stay with us, for both good and bad memories? It's the smells, the textures, the sounds…I like using that instead because I think it triggers more emotion. I could be totally wrong, of course. :)And thanks for the tip on British agents. I thought (although I've never actually looked into it) that most accepted only UK authors. This is good to know.

  5. There's a nice little book I am reading called "Lolita". It's widely regarded as one of the best novels of the 20th century. I can't even imagine what some people said when the author tried to publish it. My point is, don't give up. I believe in this one.

  6. I imagine he had some very interesting feedback on Lolita. Thank you, Henry. I believe in this one too and if a publisher isn't brave enough to take it on, I'll make sure it gets read. 🙂

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