When I was a kid, my house had a library. Okay, it was really just an unused dining room filled from floor to ceiling with bookshelves, but to an introspective, socially awkward girl like myself, it was a refuge. There, I learned about the world through the encyclopedias that ran along the bottom shelves. I was exposed to history through the hundreds of World War II books Dad had, as well as stacks of Life magazines from the 40s and beyond. The library was where I discovered smut and would sneak through pages of Clan of the Cave Bear when Mom and Dad weren’t home, my mind sucking up words like “throbbing” and “turgid.” And there, in the Romance section (aka Mom’s books), I was introduced to the book that I realize now has had a huge influence on my life as a lover of the written word. When I was 12 years old, I read Ashes in the Wind by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss for the first time.
In a continued attempt to make myself write more, I decided to participate in this week’s Weekly Writing Challenge. I chose the following prompt for this time travel experiment:
- Be an invisible observer in a major event from the past. Or an active participant — whichever you prefer.
And here’s my addle-brained contribution!
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!
Although I’m 93% done (according to my Kindle), I wanted to share what I’m reading at the moment because it’s really affecting me.
This story follows Babe, Grace, and Millie from the World War II years to the mid-60s, and shows how their lives and the lives of those around them were profoundly changed by the war. A connoisseur of WWII-era fiction, this book is different than most of the ones I’ve read because it strips away the romanticism of the period and lays the struggles of those that lived it open for all to see. It focuses on the intense grief over the men who didn’t come home and on those who did make it home, but who came back changed due to PTSD. It tackles heavy topics like as rape, racism, and the post-war role of women, but at its heart, it’s about three women, the men they love, and how the war changed them and the world around them. Oh, and as an added bonus for those of us who thrive on angst, it has a healthy dose of unrequited love, too.
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!)
Ben told Iris a lot of things over the years as they played in the street or went ice skating on the pond. And as much as she told Ben about her hopes and her dreams, there was one thing she always held back. She never told Ben, or anyone else for that matter, what her biggest secret was. It was the kind of thing that Mama had told her girls should never talk about, especially not to the boy himself. A boy should be the one to come calling on a girl, not the other way around. “The fact is,” Mama told Iris as she dropped warm dollops of butter over the mashed potatoes on Sunday afternoon, “that good girls never chase after boys. Your job is to look pretty and smile – if it’s meant to be, he’ll notice.”
He’s about to go off to war and she’s not sure when he’ll be back. All Iris has to do is get up the nerve to tell Ben how she feels before he leaves. After all, he was the one always encouraging her to go after what she wanted.
Full story located HERE