The Darker Side of Fiction
Updated: Mar 15, 2019
Historically, I’ve never been much for romance novels in part because they seemed too saccharine and Pollyanna. Unrealistic. That was the 20th century. In this, the early 21st century, the speed and ubiquity of digital information allow us easy access to the details of humanity’s shadow. Today we more readily write, make films and sing songs about things we didn’t talk about out loud back in the day.
So when a friend challenged me to get out of my “non-fiction rut” (her description of my writing, not mine, though in hindsight, I appreciate the novelty of a new direction), I told her, “You give me a story idea and I’ll write it up. I don’t care what it is.” It took her a minute and a half. Her one-sentence prompt cracked me up it was so far afield of anything in my consciousness.
And, it had shadow.
The first of my series of fractured romance novels begins with Hush Life. My characters do not ride hand-in-hand into the sunset. I’ve a more zigzag sensibility when it comes to storytelling. I don’t expect or even want my stories tied neatly in a red bow.
From this first-time journey of writing long-form fiction, I’ve learned that I can write anything if I relax and don’t take myself too seriously. And when writing darker material, not to judge my imagination or for that matter, any personal experiences I may draw upon.
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Q&A and Timeline for Hush Life Do you relate to your lead character in Hush Life? My friend’s prompt deliberately included a protagonist I could relate to: a woman writer living in New York (I’m native). As I began to know Janna through daydreaming, she became increasingly relatable because I tapped aspects of my personality to shape her.
Is the story based on true-life events? Not at all. Janna is adopted, I’m not. She’s from small-town Florida. I was born and raised in Manhattan. I loved seeing New York City through this character’s eyes. It was fun to relocate her to that daunting metropolis where she finds an apartment, makes new friends, launches a career and falls in love. Also, Janna lives in Astoria, Queens. No way could a 26-year-old old freelance editor and aspiring novelist afford 21st century Manhattan. I conducted a lot of research to credibly place Janna in Astoria because I have no first-hand knowledge of the cultural transformation of Queens and its current status as the new “hipster” section of New York.
How much time did it take Hush Life to be a fact of life?
January 2014 to May 2015. Here’s the timeline:
January 2014 After I received the prompt from my friend, I did little with it except conduct research based on “What if?” questions that immediately surfaced.
April 2014 through July 2014 I began what I call “sandboxing” – organic play with ideas. In the United States, nursery and kindergarten children often play in sandboxes. I’ve never stopped playing with sand and today live near the beach. On and off the page, I played with the idea for Hush Life the way I play in general whether it’s with sand, paint, plot or character: I explore, experiment and discover by continually asking “What if…?” As the plot emerged I committed to answers from the “What if?” questions I posed to myself and the characters (they do speak to you). That was the organic evolution of my outline.
In 2004, I attended the Iowa Writer’s Conference. Based on a template from a novel-writing workshop, I created 21 chapters as “containers” for my sandboxed outline. Into these chapters I “chunked and plunked” my plot as my instincts, and the work itself instructed.
July to September 2014 Only after I had a sense of narrative (what happens) and plot (why and how) over time (21 chapters), did I begin crafting sentences. I wrote and polished the first 8 chapters. In September, I gave them to my gauntlet-tossing friend to read. She had a huge issue with one aspect of my plot. Through “sandboxing” I revised it. My friend read the revision and said, “That makes more sense to me.” Only then did I continue writing. Trusting the instinct to seek early plot feedback was immensely productive.
October to December 2014 Once clear on who does what to whom, why, how and when, I wrote like crazy. Along the way, the book morphed from 21 to 32 then 43 chapters.
December 2014 through February 2015 I took a break at year end to clear my head. Though I enjoyed the process of writing my first novel, Have a Ball Writing Your First Novel it was intense because of the steep, focused learning curve.
February 2015 to April 2015 Refreshed from break, I wrote hard. Also, I contracted with my graphic designer to create the book’s cover.
May 2015 I completed the manuscript the first week of the month. The novel flowed for me but I was too close to it. Fresh brain cells and objective eyeballs were a must before Hush Life went live. So, in this final stage, I enlisted four pre-publication readers. I needed to know what was clear or murky, and what required expansion or the chop.
July 4 2015 After incorporating feedback from readers, I independently published Hush Life to Amazon’s Kindle platform.
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For more on the Hush Life writing process,