Saturday, January 24, 2009

A Writer's Life?

"You never told me your parents had a place in Key West." Allison always hated it when Will adopted that accusatory tone.

"There's a lot I haven't told you. I don't talk about my parents, remember?" As far as she was concerned, both parents had died much longer ago than indicated on the death certificates they'd just received. They'd died when she'd left Litchfield, CT for the last time, at age 19, driving cross-country with her best friend Isabelle, determined, as the Golden Gate Bridge rose into sight, to erase every mark from her past, even the stray ones others probably wouldn't notice. So, everyone else might be thinking they'd died last week, victims of a private plane crash her father had most likely been piloting with flask in hand on his way to Block Island.

All you writers out there: does this ever happen to you? I was browsing through a journal in which I jot down ideas for stories, essays, blog posts, etcetera, and I came across this. What a great opening. I'm curious to read more. (I hope some of you out there feel the same way.) But guess what. There is no more. Nothing. Nada.

What's worse, though, is not only is there nothing more on the page, but also, I realize after reading it, there is nothing in my head. I don't remember writing this at. all. I must have written it while in Key West last summer (perhaps after a particularly strong Mojito? But that would be unusual. Writing is not an activity that typically springs to mind when I've had too much to drink. Not that Key West doesn't inspire one to engage in activities one usually doesn't, like, perhaps, writing with a bottle by her side in a Hemingway-esque fashion).

Moments like these, in this writer's life, are really frustrating. By the ominous-sounding "past-that-must-be-forgotten" presented by Allison's attitude toward her parents, I can only guess that this must have been the beginning of some sort of ghost story. However, for the past year, I've also been working on the first novel in what I am hoping will be a series of satirical novels set in Small College Town, VA. These two characters most definitely are not in Novel the First, but all year, I've been having all kinds of ideas about future novels in the series, and I often jot those ideas down, as well as paragraphs that come to mind when thinking about them. Allison very well might be one of those second cousins who was born and raised elsewhere and who is headed to Key West where she is going to discover something that leads her to SCT, VA and all these crazy cousins she barely knows. Usually, I write some explanatory note to myself, but I didn't do so with this one (again, probably because I was in Key West, engaging in all kinds of unusual behavior).

Incidentally, I like the names Allison and Will. Naming characters, especially when it comes to couples, is often a difficult task for me. Sometimes I finish a story and realize the main character's name is completely wrong, and I have to go back and change it. But these two go well together with their double "l's" and the fact that "Allison" is three syllables, and "Will" is only one (which could be an indication that Allison's character is going to be much more complicated than Will's. In fact, Will may not even be someone who sticks around for very long. Then again, maybe he'll become so immersed in all of Allison's complications that he becomes a "William").

Anyway, so now what do I do? I've got an opening that really pleases me. I've got characters who've got good names. Do I just let them fizzle and die, or do I try to make something of it? I'm stumped, so I decide to flip back through my journal to see what other mysteries it holds, and then I find it: the brief plot outline of the ghost story about the haunted house in Key West.

And I realize I'm not losing my mind (or becoming a Hemingway-esque writer) after all. It's all coming back to me now. I took a picture of a fantastic-looking, surely-haunted house when we were walking through the Old Town area one afternoon. Mystery solved: this is the opening to the ghost story that features that house. Now my imagination is off in a million different directions as to what Allison and Will are going to find and exactly what deep, dark family secrets are going to be revealed.

So, gotta go. I have a ghost story to write.


Watson Woodworth said...

I can't write fiction to save my life.
Luckily, few people actually are required to write fiction in order to save their lives.

litlove said...

Yay! Inspiration! It's a great beginning, Emily, so bon courage for the rest of the story. And I keep telling myself I should keep a writer's notebook. I just have ideas and abandon them in the junkyard that is my mind! :)

Anonymous said...

Oh what fun! I hope the story writing is going well!

Anonymous said...

One day I found a disc on my disc that said "Writing" and opened it up to find this really fantastic opening that I had written maybe a year before. I vaguely remember writing it but I have no idea where I intended to go with it. I go back to it time and time again and nada.I didn't even have the characters named yet! LOL

ZoesMom said...

I have a few of those openings myself. Sometimes I trash them and sometimes I save them some more. I rarely press on. One day, I hope.

Yours sounds really interesting -- can't wait to read more!

Rebecca H. said...

Glad you solved the mystery! I like the idea of keeping a writer's notebook too, but I can see that it might create some problems as well as solving them! The story sounds very promising.

Emily Barton said...

Nigel, thank God most of us don't have to write fiction to save our lives!

Litlove, well, having a writer's journal can have its downside. I once lost one while on a business trip.

Stef, not as well as I would have liked, but I plugged along.

Jupiter, so glad to hear I'm not the only one!

ZM, I can't imagine how a woman can raise a child, hold down a full-time job, and have ANY time to write. One day is right. The ideas will be waiting for you...

Dorr, it hasn't turned out to be as promising as it sounded, but we'll see as I play around with it some more.