My blog is in indefinite hibernation until I finish my book. Remember my goal of completing it by the end of January next year?
That actually still seems possible! It’s June and I have a compelling outline and some nicely written passages (well, I think they are for now). But it hasn’t been, isn’t, won’t be without sacrifices: no longer making regular posts on this blog or being active on social media.
Time is precious and the quality of my work depends on it, so that’s the first resource I need vast quantities of.
The second resource is harder to name, though most people might call it “self-acceptance” or “self-love”, for me it’s a little murkier. What has become absolutely clear is completing at least one “good” novel would be a dream-come-true for me. What isn’t clear is what exactly makes a novel “good”. So, roughly four years ago, I began writing drafts for a novel, just writing for the pleasure of it, and writing whatever I felt like, some of those writings I published in posts, some of them I kept in files for further development or to never see the light of day again.
Getting insightful feedback on my work has been pivotal to my development. Although that feedback helps me grow, it also makes me feel terribly exposed and vulnerable. The immediate side-effect of publishing something you truly think is “good” is the feeling of being completely naked in public.
This whole process has made me realize that the vague novel “in my head” may always be a thousand times better than the actual novel I produce! It turns out that leap between the profound, beautiful, wondrous feelings and ideas I have inside and the actual words I put on the page is not only incredibly difficult, it’s crucial.
I admire authors who manage to make that transition seem so effortless. For me, it certainly isn’t. Perhaps that transition between my thoughts and the actual words I struggle to put on that page wouldn’t be so difficult if I didn’t constantly vacillate between contrasting perspectives, which as you may have noticed, is the consistent theme of all my work! Additionally, there is a sense that my stories are essentially “rewrites” of prevalent narratives, especially because I am preoccupied with multicultural experiences. But this is not a rant or a complaint. These very struggles are the sources of my inspiration as well.
To complicate things further, I often think about two people as I write. The first person is my mother. This may not be uncommon for a child to think so about a parent, but I truly consider my mother an extraordinary person. She was someone who literally had a church built from the ground up, ran a successful restaurant, threw elaborate parties, built gardens, moved the entire family to another country, then drove across that country, all because of a dream, a whim, or a particular fascination she happened to have at the moment. My mother, though she was far from perfect, constantly showed me the power of persistence, hard work, dedication and most of all, the incredible power of the mind. Her beliefs were so powerful that it was often difficult to communicate with her, to get her to see anything from another perspective, but she believed in great things.
The second person I think about seems to be the complete opposite of my mother. An older classmate, let’s call her Karen (after the memes), I met during my first year of college. At the time, our Creative Writing professor had given us an assignment to write a short mystery story to be critiqued by our peers. Being my mother’s daughter, I wrote an embarrassingly ambitious story about a lawyer trying to prosecute a gruesome serial killer. Admittedly, the mystery genre is not my cup of tea and my short story was truly horrible, I tried and failed miserably to make it like The Silence of the Lambs (my inspiration at the time). But Karen was not just extremely critical of my work, she was angry at me. She told me that I was too ambitious and I should stick to writing what I know. Her own mystery story, in stark contrast to mine, was decidedly unambitious, it was about missing house keys and other household objects that go missing.
Although I was hurt at the time, I could understand Karen’s point very well. Yet, I also can’t ignore my mother’s example. Authenticity in writing may only come from “writing what you know” but we can’t achieve great things if we don’t strive for them. Books would be very boring if they were limited to everyday experiences or restricted by any rigid rules for that matter.
I keep thinking about these two contrasting perspectives as I continue to write this book. It started out being a conventional first person narrative about my family’s origins, but as I put more time and effort into it, it has changed, it has evolved into something else. It has gone in a different direction than I originally intended, it is now a fiction novel with strong science fiction elements.
The Karens of the world probably won’t like my book, but I hope that they’ll at least give it a chance. All I can do is give myself that chance.
Text and images by M.P. Baecker