Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Journey to a Story

I found myself reminiscing today about the journey I've taken with SHARDS OF GLASS.

First, I wrote a few scenes after my father died.  Rough sketches of things that happened, glimpses of the way I felt. I was seventeen when my father died, and I quickly decided it wasn't safe to share my grief with anyone else. So I wrote. In all likelihood, what I needed was therapy and possibly medication, but writing and time brought me through that darkness instead.

At the same time as I blundered my way through mind-numbing depression, I fell in love for the first time. Embarassingly, inappropriately, unrequitedly in love, the way I think could only be managed at eighteen, with an older friend and confidante. Our relationship was unmitigated disaster. I wrote a short story, Kiddo, exploring the dynamics of that disaster. But I still felt I had more to say about it; writing helped me make sense of what happened with us.

Then I took a creative writing class in college, for which we were assigned to write, create and bind our own book for display in the library.  Yes! Writing and arts & crafts.  I was in heaven.  I put together a collection of short stories, excerpts and poems that all related to April and her story, slapped on a black and white cover with two coffee mugs, and titled it "Coffee and Cocoa". Nick (my former love) was coffee, sophisticated, dark and adult; April was cocoa, sweet and naive.  It was an interesting experiment for me, but it wasn't the novel, yet.

One day, I was thinking about "What if?" scenarios (which is one of my favorite ways to brainstorm. I thought, What if my father, who was scared of losing his dignity when he was diagnosed as terminally ill, had asked me to assist in his suicide? What if I said yes? How would that change me as a person? What if lying about that one terrible thing caused someone to just start lying about everything, trying to change reality the only way they could?

So I wrote the half of a first draft of SHARDS.  That draft, though, was focused on the April & Nick saga, not on April losing her father. I realized unrequited romance was not as interesting as the "what if..." concept I'd discovered, and I was writing the wrong story. Abandoned.

The REAL first draft began with the key first chapter (excerpt) where April helps her father commit suicide; everyone who read it was hooked on the novel. Booya.  I finished this draft. I revised. I was finished.

I queried it to agents, and had some interest, including a request for a full (that nothing came of). But then I realized that SHARDS wasn't ready after all.  I cut a massive subplot. I cut the ending. I cut 50,000 precious words that I'd poured out on the page and then polished lovingly.

And that's where I am today. Re-writing, revising, trying to coax SHARDS into the stunning novel I know it can be. I'm always at the end, again; now I have to go back through the outline, add in key scenes, get the input of beta readers, revise and polish, polish, polish.

I'm more confident than ever, and oddly content to be back to work when I thought I was done. I believe SHARDS is a wonderful, original story. It needs a little more work. I can't believe it's taken this long, but I still believe.

This is, of course, a very personal story about my writing journey, but I thought it would be interesting to talk about because we all have such different journeys from the first germ of a book to the final product. Some stories write up quickly; some take years to coax to fruition.


Candice said...

Wow, I LOVE the title of your novel. What an interesting concept. I think it sounds original and thought provoking. It also sounds like your personal experience will give you the depth of emotion to do it justice.

Cutting is so hard (especially 50k!), but in the end I'm sure your manuscript with be all the better for it.

Guinevere said...

Thanks, Candice! The title comes from a pivotal scene where April's mother, after her husband's death, has an emotional breakdown and destroys all the framed photos of April and her father. April cuts her fingers on the broken glass from the frames when she's trying to pick up the pieces. It's nice to hear that people like the title!

Ellen B said...

I think that title could lead to some really interesting cover designs, too :)

Thanks for sharing this. I started writing in earnest again after my father died too, although in my case I was 21 when he passed away suddenly and 23 before this translated into doing any writing. But his death was still the catalyst, because my novel is about the stories and the history that die when you lose someone. I started thinking about all the questions I hadn't asked him, and what the answers might be, and it all went from there. . .

I'm sorry for your loss, btw. Lovely post.

Jon Paul said...

Thanks for sharing this. I think your excerpt is very strong, BTW.

It's very tough to write about events that we're close to in real life, so I applaud you for going for it. No doubt your MS has benefitted from your experience--and we look forward to seeing more excerpts!

Indigo said...

First, thank you so much for your kind words on my post Rainy Day Muse.

As for writing through the pain. I truly get it and on some levels believe we allow ourselves to come alive on those pages. I know for me...if I didn't write my way through my misery when I first went deaf - who is to say.

I started out writing penning a memoir years ago. It still sits awaiting for me to pick it up. For now I take my experiences and let them play out in my characters lives. Who better to help them come alive on the page than someone who has already been there.

I can't wait to see Shards come to fruition. (Hugs)Indigo

Donna Hole said...

Wow, what an inspirational journey to writing you've had. Thanks for sharing it with us.

You are doing the novel emotional justice. It's strong and moving. I'm glad you're continuing to work on the novel.


Jen said...

The title is brilliant, and the story is as well. It's frustrating when you know something is missing about your story, but it is nice when you find the piece that needed to be switched!

I too had an interesting childhood where my grandfather tore our family apart, and writing seemed to be the only thing that kept me sane. I am thankful for everyday I write!

Beautiful twist by the way, I can't wait to hear how the rest of it continues!

Guinevere said...

Ellen, thank you for commenting. It's always good to hear from someone who's been there too.

On the cover art -- I was originally imagining her hands cupping shards of broken glass, but I think Stephenie Meyers ruined the cupped-hands imagery for me. So back to the drawing board!

Jon, thank you. I'd love to post more excerpts of Shards, so I'm glad you said that!

Indigo, I'm glad you came over to the blog to say hi! I enjoyed exploring your blog today. It's amazing how much writing can be a comfort as well as a challenge.

Donna, thank you! I know you have the most complete vision of the novel of anyone (as it exists so far) so that means a lot.

Jen, I'm glad to hear from someone else who writes for their sanity! Although of course, the tricky part about writing your crazy family into life, in some incarnation or another, is always that they may read your writing and not appreciate seeing any part of themselves depicted. Some of the tough interactions between April and her mom, like the title one, are based in reality to some extent. Which is going to be quite awkward, I imagine, but it's what I had to write.

Bokheim Publishing said...

Inspirational and filled with the soul. Follow your heart on this one and trust yourself. If you do, your story can become something as meaningful to others as it already is to you. Best of luck with your story!

The Bokheim Chu

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