Thursday, June 12, 2008

Everyone suffers, everyone wins

First, let me say I am NOT obsessing about the editor. Nope. Not me. It's no big deal that I finally figured out Google Analytics and saw that I had two page views from New York, even though I don't know anyone there. Nope. Not a big deal, no obsessing. Not here.

If you buy that . . .

But let's move on to business.

As I may have mentioned, I write women's literary fiction with strong romantic elements (I think). My mom reads all my stuff (quickly, too) and occasionally I get comments like, "Are you sure you had to kill off Henrietta?" and "Did everyone have to die, honey? Isn't that a little dark?" And don't forget, "Are you sure he did that during the war? Did he have to get captured?"

And the answer is always, Yes, they all have to die, and yes, they all have to suffer. Everyone suffers. Everyone. No single character goes unscathed or unmarred. I am a mean, cruel authorial god who takes my people right up to the breaking point, then, just when they think everything's okay, pushed them over the edge.

If you've read the short stories at, you'll know what I mean. There are no happy endings in the short stories. Not even the hope of a happy ending.

It's not all bad. The short stories have some great sex scenes (there has to be something fun, after all) and they do have a happy resolution in the novels. The novels are quite lengthy, and all sorts of bad things happen to my people, but in the end, everyone comes out stronger and everyone gets a happily-ever-after. The unhappy endings for the short stories are at least resolved and put to rest in the novels. (Which, I know, sucks right now, because you may be wondering how there can be a happy ending when Frank did what he did, and how there ever be a happy ending for Hank after Saigon falls. Wait for the novels. Please.)

The odd thing is, I am not a morose or unhappy person. A little OCD, maybe, but in the grand scheme of things, I have never been pushed to the edge, never given up hope. Sure there have been trials, but mostly I look back and see that what was once so important, now isn't as much.

In fact, people who know me, even people who just met me, generally comment how funny I am. (Tangent alert: And I always say, you should meet my sisters, I'm the boring one. And no one ever believes me, ever. My hubby didn't until he met the rest of my family, and then even he had to agree that, compared with the crackling, sensual humor of my drama queen sister Leah and the goofy-yet-urbane, quirky storytelling of the natural comic sister Hannah, I am almost staid by comparison. Almost.)

And that humor almost never comes through in my writing. It peeks out occasionally, but my people are too busy having their souls crushed by something horrid to be too awfully funny.

When I write my women's literary fiction, I tap into a dark, fearful place in my soul, the part that knows that, just because you're paranoid, doesn't mean they aren't watching you. The part that spends the three days before my hubby flies to a business trip imagining the thousands of terrible things that would keep him from coming home to me and our son. The part that can't watch the evening news because every deranged act, every accident, every natural outcropping of a society working through the bugs becomes real and personal. (That's right, I don't watch news. Haven't since I got pregnant almost four years ago, when the world got a lot scarier for me.)

When I kill a character or drive him into insanity, I'm giving that dark part an outlet, a place to go. I've been ruining my people's lives and putting them back together for almost a year now, throwing the worst at them and then letting them rebuild, one painful day at a time.

And I think I'm happier for it. I pour out my fear and pain onto a page instead of letting it fester inside. When I give my people a way to go on, I give myself a way to go on, even though nothing bad has happened to me.

And I pray it never does.

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