Not because they’re annoyed, but because they don’t know. And I think being asked makes them (us) feel silly.
The recipe for a novel tends to read more like one for Grandma’s secret family meatballs, than one from a cookbook. It has a pinch of this and a dollop of that—all those measurements that aren’t really measurements. But I can tell you one or two things that always go into the soup.
Character’s emotions are echos of those we ourselves experience.
I’ve never had a child with brain damage like Brian in The Scent of Wrath. But I have had a sick child. I know that sinking feeling a parent has when the doctor gives them news they don’t want to hear.
It wasn’t hard for me to write Olivia’s angst about her son’s wandering tendencies in the same book. My son was a champion at disappearing when he was small. We had to leash him at theme parks. It was actually kind of cathartic to get those old emotions off my chest by transferring them to Olivia.
Recently we’ve had some problems with our dog. She couldn’t open her mouth without pain. We took her to the doggy dentist, and low and behold she needed dental surgery to have three infected teeth removed.
But, unfortunately, that may not be the entire issue. There is an autoimmune disease that attacks the muscles of the jaw in dogs. The fix, if it fixes easily, doesn’t seem too bad. Prednisone for a few months.
I’ve gone through a full range of emotions over this issue.
- Fear – the first time she cried out in pain when I touched her face
- Horror – when her eye was bulging, inflamed, and half-covered by her third eyelid
- Confusion – when, at first, the vet couldn’t come up with a diagnosis
- Dread – when faced with the bill
- And now, some peace
I’m still concerned, but we have a game plan that should do the trick and won’t require taking out a second mortgage on the house.
As I pen my next story, you can be sure that if a pet owner, a parent, or any character has a cherished loved one going through a scary medical condition, I’ve got resources to draw on. Maybe those resources will even help pay the vet bill!
But what about plot ideas? How do authors come up with those?
This is a little more complicated. Other’s stories, newspaper articles, friend’s experiences, all stick to me like pollen as I go through my day. Some of these bits of data lay dormant in my mind and are eventually buried by the next day’s miscellany. But some take root and grow.
The Sanctity of Sloth (coming this August) grew from just such a tiny seed. My husband showed me an article about an archaeological dig in England where they’d unearthed the ruins of an anchorhold.
What’s an anchorhold? Step one for me is curiosity. What the heck? Inquiring minds gotta know.
Here’s what I learned.
Anchorholds were small cells attached to the sides of cathedrals. These cells were the final resting place of the living, eventually dead, men and women called anchorites.
This practice—walling oneself up for life—was fairly common in the Middle Ages. The anchorite lived out his or her days communicating with the world through only a small window.
That’s a strange and interesting tidbit of history, but here’s where the unknown, sometimes scary, mind of a writer kicks in. This is what I call:
What if, my muse says, someone walled themselves up at the San Juan Capistrano Mission? Attached a cell to the Great Church ruins?
What if that person witnessed a crime and couldn’t get out to stop it?
What if they decided not to tell the police?
What if that decision, that sin of omission, cascaded into a series of catastrophes, each worse than the next?
Ta da – The Sanctity of Sloth was born.
I realize this isn’t a complete or scientific analysis of the mind of a creative, but it’s the best I can do. Stephen King likes to call his subconscious the boys in the basement.
I prefer to think I have angels in the attic.
The more I give them to chew on, the louder their conversations get. If I listen, I can hear them. Then I write down what they say.
I’ll keep you posted about my furry baby.