I’m writing a novel. I’ve been working on the outline and premise for well over a year, but work and life and relocating to the other side of the continent have all been barriers to my efforts of actually writing. Work is steady, life is what it is, but the relocation is done, and the muse that used to drive me to write twenty thousand words in a weekend (in my fanfiction-writing heyday) is back from her vacation in the South Pacific and is, once again, encouraging me to write actual fictional words about actual fictional characters. Finally.
As a writer, I’ve learned that inspiration is unpredictable. I can go months without having a single moment where ideas and thoughts flow, and then, in a heartbeat, the floodgates open and I’m overwhelmed. Joyously overwhelmed.
Alright, so… romantic fiction? Yay or nay? As a reader, they’re my favorite kind of books to lose myself in and, as an aspiring writer, romance is, by far, my go-to topic. Trying to find good romance novels to read… Well, that’s a challenge. Why? Because a big majority of romantic fiction out there just downright sucks.
I worked on my manuscript last night for the first time in months!!!
It’s been three weeks since we moved and we’re finally, FINALLY getting this place unpacked. I’m on call this weekend, but things have been relatively quiet at work (I’ve checked my email about 10 bajillion times). I decided that today would be the day I’d finally get the last 10 boxes in my dining room unpacked. We ended up throwing away a lot of stuff because we went from a full sized, eat-in kitchen at our old house to a galley-style kitchen in our townhouse. There just isn’t room for all the junk we had. So we downsized, and I have to admit that it feels nice to do that! I also rooted through box after box tonight looking for these:
A few years ago, my mom found these dishes on FreeCycle and snagged them for me because they were clearly vintage. They have “Syracuse China USA” printed on the back, so I started to do a little (well, a lot of) research. As it turns out, Syracuse China made dishes for the restaurant industry. These particular ones are in a pattern called Millbrook and they’re from 1938!!! I’ve had them in boxes for a long time but at long last, I have a place to display them so out they came today. I always picture them being used in my WWII-era novel, when Lila goes to help out at her aunt’s diner. I can practically hear the sound of the utensils scraping against the plates as the patrons eat, talk amongst themselves, and listen to the radio that Aunt Beth constantly had on in order to catch the latest war news. *sigh* I need to get back to writing!
…do you ever feel like you’re going to drown in all the stories that are tumbling around inside your head, just waiting to be written?
I do. There are so many, and they come at me in flashes and tiny snippets. Moments of dialogue. Flares of pain from a particularly sad monologue. The connection to the characters are fleeting because as soon as I’m invested in a scene that’s playing like a Spielberg flick inside my head, it fades away and makes room for another one from a completely different story, with yet another set of characters who have a story to tell. And they come at me, firing like a barrage, when I’m at work, perhaps counseling an employee or working on a spreadsheet and can do absolutely nothing about them other than jot down a few notes and try to refocus on my day job (the thing that makes me money.)
When I finally do have a few quiet moments to write (after the mundane chores of daily life are done), I have to listen to who’s the loudest, which story is burning inside my mind during that particular moment. Then, I can finally pound out a scene, where I imagine it being pulled from my brain in a wispy, silvery strand like a memory going into the Pensieve in the world of Harry Potter. Only once I have a few scenes down can I breathe easier. Finally. They’re out. My brain has room to focus again.
But the respite never lasts too long. There’s always something to be written.
Can we talk about sex, please? Well, not the act of it, per se, but attitudes toward it in the past versus the present. I think a lot of people are inclined to believe that in the 30s, 40s, 50s, and right up to the start of the sexual revolution in the 60s, premarital sex just didn’t happen. And if it did, there was an intense level of shame that rode piggy-back on the person who’d had the sex. For example, my dad was born in May of 1945, after his parents had been married only seven months. Later in life, when he questioned their wedding date as compared to his date of birth, he was told that he had been a premature baby. Pictures of my dad as an infant show a robust, downright roly-poly, healthy baby. Dad always joked that had he been carried to term, he would have been an 18 pound newborn. It’s obvious that my grandparents engaged in a little pre-wedding hanky-panky but even when my dad was 50 years old, they still couldn’t tell him the truth. So it seems that sex, while obviously a part of life, wasn’t an open part of life.
Fast forward to today, where attitudes toward sex are blase. Television, music, movies, books – everything is designed with sex in mind. As a result, kids are growing up way too fast and with more knowledge than they need at a young age. The reason I’m even talking about this is because the novel I’m working on takes place during the 40s, where sex, as a point of conversation, wasn’t treated the same way it is today. It’s a topic that also has to be addressed because the actual act of it is apparently becoming pivotal to my story. (The reason I say “apparently” is because the novel I had planned is not the story that’s coming to fruition. The characters have other ideas and they’re letting me know, one detail at a time.) The thing I have to remember when writing is that, while sex certainly happened – think of all the soldier boys leaving home for God only knows how long and that whole “last night on earth” mentality that must have been present – my characters wouldn’t have openly talked about it like characters would in a novel that takes place in modern day. The thing is that today, sex sells. Even badly-written, questionable sex sells. (I’m thinking of a certain terribly written fanfiction story-turned-novel that involves the “hero” (and I use that term under great duress) yanking a tampon from the body of his heroine so that he can bang her for the 14th time that day.) Since sexually charged stories are so popular, the more the better, right? I have think about those things when writing this novel. Sex is pivotal to the story line, yes. It’s a catalyst for so much of what comes later. And even though I know that graphic details and titillating descriptions are what attracts an audience, my biggest challenge is staying true to the era. A conversation that would easily happen between girlfriends today almost certainly wouldn’t have happened in 1941. There wouldn’t have been any “OMG we totally did it” moments to share between squealing girlfriends. Any conversation would have been had in hushed tones with one eye toward the door.
So I guess the question I’m posing to myself is how much sex is too much sex? Where do I draw the line between keeping a modern audience happy and telling an authentic story? I love writing sex just as much as the next gal, but I have to find my limits with these particular characters, because I don’t want to turn my readers off when attempting to turn them on.
In the novel I’m writing (okay, in one of them I’m writing but in the one I’m focusing on right now), I have to tell not one but two separate love stories. The first one ends tragically, a casualty of war, and the second one is truly the focus of the story. That being said, the first relationship has to feel as authentic and true as the second one later becomes. It’s a hard road to traverse, I’m finding, because I want to focus so much on Lila’s relationship with Jack. However, I have to remember that Danny is Lila’s first love, her husband, the man she thinks will be coming home to her once the war is over. She and Jack are walking parallel paths and once they intersect, her world turns upside down for probably the third time in her young life. Walking these paths with all of them, and showing the beautiful love that Danny and Lila share and then not discounting it once Jack steps into her life, is going to be the biggest challenge of telling this entire story. I’m slowly feeling my way toward how to do it but it definitely requires a lot of thought (and note taking!)