Last week I told you a little about the difficulties I’ve been having with Broken Down. I wish I could tell you the block is gone, but it’s not. It has gotten a little easier – I’ve finished two and a half chapters since then – but I think this book is going to fight me every step of the way. The one good thing to come of it so far is the feelings the characters have for each other are much deeper than I’d anticipated so early on in the story.
I was able to pinpoint another reason for the trouble. I stumbled across this blog post, written by Sarah (Eliza) Hirsch. I know Sarah from my old RWA chapter; we worked together for a few months on last year’s ECWC committee. And this part really stuck out at me:
My focus shifted from writing what I love to writing fiction as a means to quit my day job. I changed how I wrote. Then I changed what I wrote. Then, after a period of being unable to write due to some pretty hefty emotional trauma, I realized I didn’t even want to write.
I don’t want to write fiction anymore.
I turned my back on what I loved, and in the process murdered it.
First, I have to qualify this, as it relates to me: I love writing romance. I really, truly do, and I am so glad I figured that out early on. More, what I’ve learned since writing Fracture and Game of Shadows is I love being able to write romance that doesn’t necessarily fit within the boundaries of what we’ve come to expect from the genre. I don’t consider either story particularly boundary pushing in the grand scheme of things, but they pushed my boundaries, and I’m looking forward to pushing things even farther.
But between that post and the struggles I’m having with Broken Down, I keep thinking of my first story. The one that took a year and a half to finish, where sometimes it took me hours just to write 500 words. The one that taught me a shit ton of what not to do. The one that, even though I’ve shut it in the Drawer of Stories That Never See The Light of Day, I can’t stop thinking about.
If you’ve followed the blog for any length of time, you know what I’m talking about. A Lesson in Vanishing.
When I wrote the first draft of this story, I was so fucking proud of myself. I’d finished a book. It had a beginning, a middle, and an end. There was even some character development.
It also had no dialogue, was written in all lowercase, there was a bit of WTFery going on, and there was more than one instance of overwritten descriptions. It was, in short, an attempt at literary fiction, that subset of fiction I have a love/hate relationship with. It fell pretty short of the mark, but even under all the crap I’d piled on top of it, there was a fantastic story, waiting to be told.
When I did my first round of revisions on it, I’d been writing strictly urban fantasy and romance for about a year, and it influenced the changes in the story. Changes I never intended to make. Vanishing had become a romance of a sort, and Frankie’s story was never about finding love. It was always about finding the answer to a question: what would cause someone to just up and abandon her life?
Sarah’s post did a few things for me. First, I went and found the instigator for Vanishing, a piece I’d read in Wired back in 2009. Then I started thinking about all the books I’d read over the last couple years that have stuck with me and tried to push me into a space where I couldn’t be afraid to delve too deeply into what could potentially be very disturbing places. Alice Close Your Eyes. The Last Time I Died. The Secret Place. Perla. Brooklyn, Burning. Those stories weren’t afraid to examine the darker sides of humanity and the questions they raise. Some have happy endings; some do not.
Interestingly, none of them are romances.
The thing about romance is it’s an escape. I read it to clear my brain, to entertain myself without having to think too much. Literary fiction (and every single one of those aforementioned titles can be considered literary fiction), when it’s well done, often pulls me into a headspace that surrounds me with the beauty of the English language and the way it makes me consider character motivations in a way genre fiction doesn’t.
I want to write Frankie’s story. I want to write it the way I’d originally imagined it, where it’s about the character journey and not the plot, with a nebulous ending that doesn’t leave things all neat and tidy – because life is not neat and tidy. I don’t want this story to be an escape.
I want to write it unhindered by deadlines and promises and obligations. I want the freedom to make Frankie as unsympathetic as I want – I don’t want to have to force a “save the cat” moment on her if she doesn’t want one. I want her scared and cold and unfeeling and unwilling to bend to anyone’s will. I want her panic attacks and paranoia, her fatigue and anger.
To do all this, though, means I need to make it a priority. It means shifting some things around and taking a break when I’m not sure I can afford to. It definitely won’t happen this year. But the longer I put it off, the more it hurts. Because yeah, it hurts. It stings like a motherfucker, having to keep shunting Frankie’s story aside because I have other projects that are more likely to sell. Vanishing is not a story to be written for money. It’s something I need to write for me.
I don’t think I could have written it the way it deserves before now. I wasn’t ready. I hadn’t spent time inside Nora’s head, or Cass’s, or seen the way The Following and The Blacklist like to screw with people. I think I’m ready now. And this time, I’m going to let Frankie do the talking.