Someone told me (or I read somewhere) that if there are no tears or surprise for the author there are no tears or surprise for the reader.
At the time I was writing my first draft of Simple Gifts (will be published by Lazy Day in April of 2013), and a plot twist I hadn’t planned (or frankly, wanted) turned Carene and Leila’s story into something altogether different. I was surprised. My beta readers were surprised. It was good.
As I have been slugging through (and hating) Kat 2 and struggling to reconcile the story I want to tell with the story that wants to be told, I took a moment today to do some private journaling. What came out was unexpected and deeply, profoundly true.
I took that moment of deep, profound truth and connected it to Kat and Natalie’s relationship. They are struggling. I’ve written their struggle front, back, and sideways. I’ve written their falling apart and their attempts to come back together again. I had an elaborate structure of scenes that showed, I thought, the growth of their relationship.
What I forgot to include was my tears.
It’s not Six Sunday yet, but consider this a bonus.
The driver-side windshield wiper smears rather than clears the drizzling rain, and the warmth of the heat blower fogs the windows. Shivering, I turn the defroster on high and drive around the neighborhood. I’d meant to ask Natalie how to fix the wiper, but there never was a good time. Her dad made her learn all of the car maintenance basics, like it or not, because he said a single woman stranded on the side of the road needed to know how to fend for herself. He taught me a little bit, too, when I lived with them the summer in between college years, but most of my time was with Mama Jane. If there were any place I wanted to be in the world, it was in her kitchen.
I found myself, unexpectedly, crying. I am still feeling quiet as I sit with this revelation. Kat on the outside, remembering a place where she felt safe and loved and welcome…and a place that she has not been able to visit for years.
I hate to say it about my own work because it sounds boastful, but I think there is something universal about Kat and Natalie. Maybe the nonsexual disciplinary aspect of their relationship is not universal, but isn’t there a commonality of taking for granted someone who made you happy…and finding it difficult to accept unconditional love?
I realized why Kat and Natalie have been fighting me so much and why I’ve hated Kat 2 for the past month. I wasn’t willing to cry for them. I wasn’t willing to cry with them. I wasn’t willing to be Kat and to be Natalie. I wanted to write about them without becoming them.
I like writing their fun little stories for Fika or LOL Day or Spank or Treat. I don’t like writing their pain. Vennie was a laugh-a-minute fun-fest of silliness from start to finish. Kat and Natalie…well…they’re my problem children.
Kat gripped me by the collar today, and she yanked me to sit down next to her.
Listen to me, she demanded. If you’re going to write my story, you have to know me first.
The thing about someone quiet like Kat? If she decides to stick to her guns, well…it’s a lost battle. I listened. I wrote. I cried.
And then she let me tell her story.
Dear Katling? I’m sorry for holding you at a distance. I’ll listen better from now on. You have a right to have your story told in a way that honors you, not in a way that is fun and easy.
(But your older sister Vennie never gave me this much trouble!)