When I was a child, one of my favorite places at my grandparent’s farm was the hill above the big lake. There, a square of concrete hid beneath the pasture grass. In the springtime, yellow and white daffodils pushed through the grass and bloomed in swaying clumps. Someone had planted the flowers; they spilled down the hill. We children played there, skipping across the broken concrete, pretending we were in the kitchen or bedroom or dining room of our very own house. Intrigued, I would squat in my shorts set and part the grass. Planting my palm on the pebbly concrete, I dreamed of what I never knew.
As most of you know, three agents are currently reading the revised manuscript of Train Trip: Lucinda Mae’s Quest for Love, Honor, and the Chickens.
I just finished mapping out the last fifty pages of the new Katrina novel, Jazzy. I don’t begin writing with an outline; I begin with a character and a situation. As I write, I jot down a bare-bones outline of what I think is coming next. Often this turns out to be untrue. Sometimes I go back and outline what I’ve written, to see what I’ve written. Here, at the end, the outline takes on a more detailed imagining. In these last fifty pages of Jazzy, elements of what I initially thought would happen remain, but they’re all slightly different. The one hard fact of the ending remains the same: if this is to be a Katrina novel, death must enter the story.
I HATE writing death. I like for death to be the emotional triggering event–in the past. Read my novels and short stories and you will see death over and over again. I attribute this to my daddy dying when I was three years old, suddenly, tragically, graphically. Haunted by that, I’ve explored the death of mothers, several cousins, a sister, strangers, an uncle, a grandfather, boyfriend, wife, the near-death of a nephew, and the death of too many fathers to count.
Only once or twice have I written the death of a character who lived and breathed when I began the story. In one novel, I was so averse to having a young cousin die, I had him run off and become a Jesus freak instead.
All of which means the character in Jazzy, of whom I am extremely fond, must not die in vain. The hard part, of course, will be when I return to the beginning of the story for the editing process. Now I will know the character is going to die. Everything I write about him will be tinged with poignancy. It will be hard going. Death always is.
here’s to creative synthesis . . .