Sunday, October 26, 2008

Writing...What a Life!

Well, I did it. I finished the second manuscript. As I often say, not bad for a beginner. That's two down, and hopefully, fifty or sixty to go. That is, fifty or sixty to go should I actually find an agent and a publisher.

Writing...what a life! To paraphrase Renee DeCarte, I write; therefore, I am. Sounds silly, doesn't it? A writer, a true writer, can't keep the story off the page. Whether they get published or not, they just keep hacking at it. Stories form inside their heads during the night. Potential plots swirl around their cerebellum while they drive to work or watch television. They read, honing their craft, and all the while think, I wish I'd written that or I could have written this so much better. Although those thoughts sound a bit arrogant, in reality it's the genes talking.

Whatever happens in the life of a writer becomes fodder for the gristmill. Writers, as is often said, write what they know. I know Virginia and its history. I know what it's like to be poor, really poor, eating the same meal night after night: boiled potatoes and beet pickles. I know how to plant a garden, raise chickens, and milk cows. I put all of that into my work, accompanied by an occasional burst of psychology melded with my own personal style.

My genre? I write in the literary genre. Can't help it. I've tried others, many others, especially the paranormal. My writing group doesn't like the paranormal elements I slip into my least, they don't like it so far. As in the first novel, I've had to eliminate the concept of the paranormal: time travel, ghostly visits, second sight. The trouble is that I know that, too.

Am I a psychic? Do I frequently chat with the other side? No. I'm neither a psychic nor am I someone who's had extensive experience chasing down demons and such. I'm from Appalachia. During my childhood, I sat by the old, coal stove and listened, listened to the whispered tales of ghosts and evil spirits, from the Bell Witch to the shadowy figures that lived in local, abandoned houses.

I've wondered at my own inability to translate those ghostly tales into my work, and I think I've come up with a solution. I'm so steeped in the paranormal, that it doesn't frighten me. I'm not afraid of ghosts and ghouls and things that go bump in the night. We can not fear the familiar, and I'm all too familiar with these kinds of stories. Because of my utter lack of fear, I can't make those stories frightening to my readers. They all come out bland and matter of fact. In my work, the sentences, "I ran to the mailbox" and "I saw a ghost" come out with the same sense of tension. No tension, no fear, and without fear, no excitement. I'm one of those people who, when subjected to the eerie sound of disembodied laughter, would just roll over in bed and say, "I wish them haints would shut up. I need to get some sleep."

Maybe someday I'll be able to create the kind of tension required to strike terror in the hearts of a reader. I think I'd like that: a very literary ghostly tale, filled with strange whispers and stranger sights. Till then, I'll simply practice on friends and family and occasionally torture the Dawg Pack.


Gini Koch said...

Oh, you don't torture us that much...LOL!

I also firmly believe that some of us are gifted with a literary bent and some gifted with a genre bent.

Can you learn to write genre? Sure. Of course, it could take years and cost millions of lives. On the other hand, you write beautiful, captivating literary prose naturally and with little effort, so the Pack would prefer you continue to focus on that (since, currently, you're the only one of the Pack with a shot at the Holy Grail called Pulitzer, and we want to be able to entourage with you when you're feted).

To paraphrase the immortal words of Steve Martin, some of us have a way with the literary words and others... ... ... not have way, I guess!

WKEverhart said...

Thanks for the praise, Gini! The only problem with winning the Pulitzer is what can you do to top that? I'd really like to face that problem head-on someday. When I do win that holy grail, the Dawg Pack can be my entourage. No question about it.