Elegy of a former fiction writer

Today, I’d like to tell the story of why I gave up writing fiction.

As I have said in a few recent interviews, storytelling has been the fabric of my life ever since I can remember. As a child, I became so engrossed in my imaginary playground that I would forget everything else. The absolute worst punishment was for a grown-up to take away my books. (Which they did. Often. Unforgivable.)

As soon as I learned how to put pencil or crayon or pen to paper and write the stories that I carried in my head, I was lost forever. Sucked down that great gaping black hole of no return. I wrote stories on paper napkins. The margins of the church bulletin. (Sacrilege! I learned to hide them very quickly lest I invoke divine or parental wrath. Frankly, I was more afraid of the here-and-now than eternal retribution.) Paper placemats and menus at restaurants. Programs at recitals, concerts, and plays. The palm of my hand.

Once I was old enough to understand the implications of, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” my answer rarely changed.

“A writer,” I said.

Then when the practical realities of daily life convinced me that I could never make a living while scribbling the stories I had to hide from my family, I changed my mind. I would go into another career that would pay the bills, but I would still write.

When I got old enough to study the art of crafting fiction in a serious way, I threw myself into the classes as fervently as I throw myself into anything I have ever loved.

The last story that I wrote–and never finished–was of a woman in her early 30s, helping to raise her four-year-old niece whose mother had recently died of cancer.

“What kind of cancer would kill the fastest and have the least possibility of remission?” I asked. I checked out stacks of oncology books from the library and scoured medical journals while debating how to kill this young mother. I settled on stage-four pancreatic cancer, swift to make its appearance and equally swift to leave behind a widower, half-orphan, and a sisterless aunt.

Whether it was as good of a story as I thought it was, I have no idea. I threw it away shortly after, when I gave up writing fiction.

You see, it was in the middle of research that my father went in for an emergency biopsy.

Yes.

Cancer.

Once we got the diagnosis, I showed my family the miniature cancer research library I had accumulated.

“See,” I said. “This book says this, and this book says that, and here we see that this treatment is effective because…”

No one questioned why I had brought with me more cancer books than clothes.

Once the initial shock wore off and I was faced with the reality of a possibly dying parent, I was seized by a mystical, superstitious, unexplainable but unshakable belief, all the more potent because it took me the better part of a decade to realize that I had it.

I wasn’t silly enough to think I had caused my father’s cancer by writing a story about cancer. Yet, wasn’t there something uncomfortably eerie, perhaps karmic? I had so happily, eagerly laid out this fictional woman’s fate and built up her life story only to kill her off in order to write the “real” story. I knew all of the lingo of cancer but none of the life.

Chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, and all of the assorted paraphernalia associated with cancer became part of my everyday vocabulary.

I never wrote fiction again. I tried a few times over the next years to go back and to write a story, but I never could do it. I worked on memoir writing, academic writing, activist writing, spoken word and performance pieces, but never fiction.

Until a fragile but beautiful girl named Kat came into my life. I thought she was a fluke. I wrote her story only to put it away again, and I wrote it only because it was a secret perverted fantasy that I would never show to anyone.

Today, Kat has become the flagship, the main oeuvre, of the tiny fledgling enterprise known as Ana’s Kinky Books. She was quickly followed by Mira, Carene and Leila, Vennie, and many others.

When I was a child, I knew that I would grow up to become a writer.

I just didn’t know what kind.

.

(The Way Home, the first volume of Kat and Natalie’s stories, will be published March 6th by Lazy Day. In the meantime, you can find The Vengeance of Mrs. Claus and Desire in Any Language at Blushing Books or Amazon.)

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48 thoughts on “Elegy of a former fiction writer

  1. minellesbreath says:

    I understand superstitious thought. At times we feel if we think something. It will make it happen, or in my case the opposite will occur. If you were worried about your father logic doesn’t always come into play. Emotion and fear are what motivates us to take action or not act.
    However, I am glad that you once again turned to your passion. Not only does your soul sing, when you stop tamping down on your love, we all benefit by getting to read.

    Like

    • Ana says:

      It took many years before I came to terms with it, and even then I have only shared this story with one or two people. It’s all Cara’s fault for getting me to tell secrets. 🙂

      And yes…soul singing. For sure.

      Like

  2. Bas says:

    So, you never came to the point in your book that you really killed her off?
    And your father survived.

    I have read once about a writer who said that it was his greatest joy to kill of those characters that had been fighting him all the way through the writing of the book.

    Don’t you dare kill off Kat, Nat, Mira, Claire, Minelle or whichever character we love in your books!

    Like

    • Ana says:

      Yes, she died before the story even began. Everything was told from the perspective of her sister who was left behind to take care of her daughter.

      I think if I ever kill off Kat or Nat or any of the others, I will have to change my name and shut down the blog before angry hordes descend. 🙂

      Like

  3. joeyred51 says:

    I am glad that you decided to continue to write fiction despite your dad’s illness. One of my favorite authors, Vince Flynn, continues to write best sellers while he is struggling to fight off his cancer. All of our experiences help shape us as writers, some fun and others tragic.

    Hug,
    joey

    Like

    • Ana says:

      There was a golfer who wrote about his experience with cancer (though badly). And yes, our experiences do shape us. Someone said the other day that if our life had been a smooth ride, we would have little to write about. Still, I’d pick the smooth ride. 🙂

      Like

      • Cara Bristol says:

        I had watched an interview with Randy Shilts, who’d written And The Band Played On, about discovery of the AIDS crisis, how the disease spread, the early research. As he was wrapping up the writing of the book, he got his diagnosis of AIDS. He said something to the effect that the experience built character, but he could do with a little less character.

        Like

  4. Joseph McNamara says:

    There are many of us I am sure that are glad that a fragile, but beautiful girl named Kat came into your life. We are blessed in her imagery and story and all the more better in a “fiction community” with her presence and the woman who wrote her story into our lives.

    Like

  5. Willie says:

    I’m sorry that you had that experience to endure, and logical or not it stopped your fictional writing. I am so very happy, especially for you, that it didn’t stop your writing. So few people follow what is in their hearts- you are very fortunate indeed. AND thankfully for the rest of us, you excel at your dream too!

    Enjoy your weekend

    Willie!

    Like

    • Ana says:

      That experience of fear and grief, etc. taught me a lot about life and what’s important. I use that in my writing now, but it took a long time before I could put them back together.

      So thankful that people like you read these stories and take them to heart.

      I hope you have a good weekend, too.

      Like

  6. Cara Bristol says:

    I totally understand your inability to finish that cancer story after your father was diagnosed. When fiction parallels real life, fiction becomes unbearable. I’ve had a couple of serious medical situations and couldn’t stand to watch the medical TV shows while I was in the midst of it all.

    I’m so glad Kat enabled you to pursue your dream.

    Like

    • Ana says:

      Oh, yes. That fiction/real-life connection is complicated even in the best of circumstances, and when things go haywire it is unmanageable. I am sorry to hear about your medical situations and hope that you are well now.

      Sometimes I wonder if I will ever cross the line back into mainstream fiction (or as mainstream as anything I write or do ever could be). It’s so interesting that you and I came into spanking fiction from opposite directions.

      Like

  7. pao says:

    I think we all can’t help but make correlations to what we do and what happens around us when something like that happens. I hope your family is well.

    I’m glad Kat came to you and I’m glad you’re sharing her stories with the world. And thank you for sharing this story.

    Like

    • Ana says:

      I hesitated about this one, but as I said it is Cara’s fault. 🙂 And in times of difficulty, we start to develop weird thoughts and responses. It all seems so clear now, but at the time I couldn’t even begin to acknowledge it.

      Like

  8. Penelope says:

    Sharing such personal and difficult things takes courage, Ana. You are a brave person. And, as so many others have said, we’re lucky that you found a way to start writing fiction again.

    Like

  9. Celeste Jones says:

    Ana—yet again, a lovely post. It is easy, I think, for us all to become cavalier about a situation when it happens to someone else (real or fiction) and it can be shocking and humbling when the roles are reversed. I like to think that I am compassionate and responsive to my legal clients, but there have been a couple times recently where family members have been involved in the legal system and it has made me really stop and think about how I treat those on the other side of my desk.

    Like

    • Ana says:

      Fiction/other people IS easy to get used to, isn’t it? We get so stuck in our perspective that sometimes it takes a bit of a smack in the face to wake up.

      Like

  10. SassyTwatter says:

    Ana that was simply a beautiful post. You put yourself out their and share so much with your readers & for that we are blessed. I am so happy you came found your way back to writing your stories need to be told.

    Like

  11. Jade Cary says:

    Great post, Ana. What a story. We bring things to our work, and we take things away. And yes, we kill off those who made things difficult. LOL! I can relate. Thank you for sharing your privates…your most privatey privates. Muaah.

    Like

  12. Patricia Green says:

    Writing fiction is pretty much dreaming while awake. Our imaginations dream up all kinds of scenarios to test them out, every night when we dream in our sleep. Some of those dreams are nightmares, and while it’s unlikely that we’ll encounter a bogeyman in the daylight hours, some of what we dream about prepares us for the tragedies we face in our waking lives. Writing about a cancer victim undoubtedly prepared you for your father’s illness in a way that no one else involved could be. That preparation can keep a person sane in an otherwise crazy world. I’m glad you went back to writing fiction, Ana. The world would be a less colorful place without your books.

    Like

    • Ana says:

      Sometimes it’s when I stop writing that I feel as if I am dreaming, and the writing feels real. I am not sure if this is a reason to worry.

      What a neat point about being prepared for my dad’s cancer. I never thought of it that way, but it is true that he then relied on me as the one who had done all the research. Thank you for that insight…it has taken me a very long time to come to terms with this time of my life, and you’ve added a nice little grace note.

      Like

  13. Constance Masters says:

    What a lovely post Ana. I’m glad you found your way back to writing again. There’s a line in Sister Act 2 where Whoopi Goldberg says to a young girl…”If the first thing you think of when you wake up in the morning is singing…you’re supposed to be a singer girl…” I think the same can be said for writing. If the first thing you think of when you wake up in the morning is writing, then that’s who and what you are.

    Like

    • Ana says:

      Oh, I didn’t remember that quote but it is perfect. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and have to write. There are many easier things to be, but this chance to create stories is certainly wonderful. 🙂

      I find it amazing that writing is no longer a solitary occupation. I used to write all alone, longhand…and now it’s become a way of meeting so many neat new people.

      Like

  14. Cat says:

    Oh Ana – I am so sorry for everything you went through with your dad and your writing. Call it what you want, superstition, karma, etc., that real-life/fiction association can be very scary.

    I’m so happy for you and all your readers (me included) that the beautiful, fragile Kat came into your life, demanded her story be told, and helped you give birth to Mira, Vennie, Carene, Leila, etc.

    You are a wonderful writer, whatever genre, just keep writing and we’ll keep reading.

    Blessings,
    Cat

    Like

    • Ana says:

      It was tough and even a few years ago I wasn’t able to make sense of it, but (and I know that you know this as well) with time, life gives us the strength to make sense of many things that once seemed unbearable.

      I am lucky to have readers, supporters, and friends like you. Hugs.

      Like

  15. Susie says:

    Wow Ana, I’m so sorry that you had to stop writing at such a tender time in life. I’m also real glad that you found your first love again and are putting it to such good use. It really seems to be helping you find some joy again.

    Like

    • Ana says:

      Hey Susie, so nice to see you stop by. Yes, it was an awful time and for a while I thought it was just the shock that meant I couldn’t write. It took a long, long process before I understood why I had lost something so precious to me. It came back to me, not in the way I’d anticipated, but in another way. You’re right that it’s bringing me joy, and I am so grateful. 🙂

      Like

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