"Insanity runs in my family. It practically gallops." ~ Cary Grant
"Blood relatives often have nothing to do with family, and similarly, family is about who you choose to make your life with." ~ Oliver Hudson
"The other night I ate at a real nice family restaurant. Every table had an argument going." ~ George Carlin
"Family quarrels are bitter things. They don't go according to any rules. They're not like aches or wounds. They're more like splits in the skin that won't heal because there's not enough material." ~ F. Scott Fitzgerald
Yes, I know. It's April Fool's Day, and you might have thought, surely William will mark it with some splash of inappropriate humour, right? Well, no, not really. Today I'm going to pull an April Fool's joke by being serious. Though I can direct you over to our joint blog, where we did precisely that, marking the day with a Without A Word image blog. Head on over and take a look.
Today I thought I'd touch base on a few things writing wise. One of the blogs I follow is from JE Fritz. At Still Writing, she often blogs about word origins, and back in March, she was writing about the origins of the letter N. It seems that in its earliest roots, the letter was symbolized as nahas. Incidentally, that word also means snake. This surprised me, of course. You see, in Heaven & Hell, one of my characters has the surname Nahas. He's a Palestinian politician, who's an exceedingly rare thing for someone of that profession: an inherently decent and honourable man. Whose name means snake. Oh well. Too late to change it now, right?
Another blogger I follow, Tracy Krauss, posted back in March a writing exercise that I liked. Check out that link for her original look at this. I'll paraphrase the terms she's used...
1. Think of the story you have written or are writing, and define it with a single word.
I'll cheat here a bit by saying that I'll use two words, but they're bound together. For my protagonists, the events of Heaven & Hell are about justice. For the antagonists, the story is one of revenge.
2. Focus in on this by asking a question about that word. The question ought to be as specific as possible.
Where is the fine line between revenge and justice? Can a terrible wrong be made worse by giving in to vengeance?
3. What is the answer to that question? This is the message or idea the reader's going to take away from your book or story.
This has been a theme that's shown itself through the book time and again as I've written and revised. For my protagonists, justice is about stopping a greater evil, defusing a crisis, even if that requires violence. For my antagonists, violence is a tool to indulge their anger, their need for revenge. Justice is restorative. Vengeance is destructive.
I've been reading a novel by Carla Neggers lately. That Night On Thistle Lane is a romance with a dash of mystery to it, set in New England, in a small town called Knights Bridge. She's written about this place before, and characters from that book turn up here again, though in this book another couple finding their way together take the forefront of the novel. I was first introduced to Carla's work through Norma, and have read quite a bit of her novels since. One of the things that she often uses in her novels is the theme of family- mostly family by blood, but also the friendships that form close enough to count as family. As an author, it allows you to continue to use the same settings and characters in future books if you like (with this book, she has twin sisters who could always turn up in future books of her own). It's been typical of her earlier books, where family dynamics play a big role in the relationships Carla writes. It would seem to be a reflection of her own life, as from everything I've seen of her online, she seems to have a large, close family.
I contrast that sense of family bonds in her work with my own work, which I would use the term lone wolf for. In Heaven & Hell, my two spy protagonists, Tom Stryker and Meredith Devon, are both only children. Stryker's parents are deceased, and he has no other family. Devon's father is dead; relations between she and her mother are strained. Her mother doesn't particularly approve of her profession, but that's just the surface of things, which I'll no doubt explore in future books. It leads me back, so to speak, to the recent James Bond film Skyfall, with the observation of how orphans seem to make good spies. Bond lost his parents years ago, and the loss hardened him. The film fleshes out that background, giving us more insight into the man. Likewise, in my work, Stryker is an orphan, and for all intents and purposes, so is Devon. These are two people who have been stripped of family, alone in the world. They're lone wolves.
This also reflects itself in our joint work in Same Time Tomorrow. There I write the point of view of our male protagonist, Gabriel Miller. He's an orphan too, his parents killed by a drunk driver when he was eighteen. In the book, his closest family is his grandmother Bridget; his friendships form the rest of his family. Our female protagonist, Chloe Masters, whose point of view is written by my partner in crime Norma, is also an only child, her father no longer part of the picture, her mother facing a crisis. Both of these characters have something of that lone wolf sensibility about them, the lack of extended family. It's a touch we extend to some of the supporting characters in the book; Dana Butler, Chloe's best friend, never speaks of family, so there's a friction where that's concerned. Olivia Shaw, Gabriel's close friend, is an only child and orphan whose parents were emotionally distant. And Rachel Mitchell, Olivia's fiancee, has been disowned by her family when she came out of the closet. What family ties these characters lack, they make up for by making family of the people they choose to consider as such.
I know where this comes from, of course. A good dose of who we are as people works its way into our writing. I think having characters who are isolated in terms of family dynamics is reflected in part from my own family history. No, I'm not an orphan, and I do get along with my parents. Sibling relationships are a different story, however, and that's why only children seem to be a recurring theme in my writing. I've come to think that family can be the people you're closest to and who you choose to think of as family, even if that relationship is based in friendship. It doesn't always mean those you were brought up with. Sometimes you can be hurt the worst by those you were brought up with. These past two years, I've had to learn that the hard way. Cathartic moment coming. Ready? Here we go.
I have from time to time referenced the strained relationship where my sisters are concerned, more often than not in comments in other blogs. Two and a half years ago, they did something awful to my parents, and never apologized. It was the last straw after years of keeping my mouth shut to keep the peace in the family, years of patiently putting up with their barbs and thorny personalities, years of the less than savoury men in their lives (we're talking complete sleaze, racists, alcoholics, just the real dregs of society). Where one used hard words like a blunt sledgehammer, the other was more likely to use her words like a dagger, stabbing deep. The effect of their words was the same: painful. It amounted to verbal abuse and bullying. And I internalized all of it, and when that last straw happened, all of the negativity and resentments I'd kept in check came pouring out. I ended up in a very dark place; I hit rock bottom, but that's what I needed to seek out help.
You can only be hurt so many times before you say enough. No more. My sisters have never done the slightest thing to make amends to my parents, and now so much time has gone by that it would just feel hollow. I can't trust them not to do something equally awful someday. They remain the same bitter, vindictive, toxic people they were. And the cost of letting them in is more than I can bear. So the end result is that I have no more sisters. They're strangers to me.
I'm in a better place now. They'll never change, and I've dramatically lowered my expectations that they ever will. It's not going to happen. I do have some good sibling dynamics. My brothers and I get along quite well, and the same applies to my sisters-in-law. Still, all those years of walking on proverbial eggshells, biting my tongue, and hiding the effects of that verbal abuse took its toll, and it reflects itself in my writing lone wolf characters. It's wishful thinking, I'd say, writing characters without siblings. Strained families in my fiction are influenced by my own strained sibling dynamics. The good thing about writing.... it's cathartic.
Lots to get off my chest. Thanks for letting me vent. Now you're no doubt thinking, "he's like that???"