Tuesday, October 09, 2007

The Stories

By Amy

My agent asked what I was working on next. When I told her it's another dark, wrenching novel, she kind of laughed and wondered why I was interested in telling such stories.

Readers expect a writer's characters to be autobiographical, that the protagonist's experiences are the writer's own. I suppose for many people that's true, but not for me. My life has been blessed. I've never had a lot of money, never belonged to the popular clique or was considered a beauty, but I was born into a large family with loving parents. I've had good health more or less, and all of the rights and opportunites afforded an American. For that, I've always felt I was a forunate one. But that's not true for everyone.

I am a news hound. Each day I read 3-5 newspapers with NPR streaming in the background. Neither vampires nor anti-christs, dinosaurs nor aliens terrify me. People do. We humans inflict great horror upon one another. I am haunted by visions of what befell Nick Berg, Erica Green, Charles Falkenberg, an unidentified Hutu mother -- too many more to name. People are capable of incalcuable evil, maybe we all are, I hope not. I write what I do because I need to find a way to -- if not make sense of it, how can anyone do that? -- rewrite another's fate.

A friend of mine is struggling with the direction of her WIP. She knows the dark corners she needs to explore, but it can be a challenge to one's psyche to forge on. As writers, we must expose our rawest nerves to find the honesty. Still, we do it to be true to the story. And while life doesn't always have a satisfying resolution, at least we can give that to our beloved protagonists if we want. We can find comfort knowing we get to control the ending.

If only we could in life, too.


Carleen Brice said...

I read an interview on bookreporter.com (I think) with Jennifer Weiner. She talked about writing Good in Bed to give her character the happy ending she didn't get in real life. Except. That after she wrote it, it seems she got it. Much like that character, she fell in love, had a daughter, met Hollywood stars. That interview gave me great hope when I was afraid my book wouldn't sell. Maybe we can write ourselves better endings.

I'd like to think that shedding a light on the evils of the human heart can change things. So keep writing those new endings! We need them!

Melissa Amateis said...

I thought to write a breezy, light-hearted novel after I finished writing one that wasn't necessarily dark, but dealt with some heavy issues - Nazism, German vs. American, etc., during WW2. Funny thing is, my next novel is NOT going to be breezy and light-hearted - that's not the kind of story it is, and no matter how much I wrangled and wrestled it, it refused to be breezy. The story is as, well, the story is. And I must tell it without putting my own two cents in, I guess.

Still so excited for you!!!

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Carleen, I hadn't read that about Jennifer Weiner, but I love it. I'd say Jennifer has created herself a happy beginning. Good for her.

Melissa, I suspect you and I think alike. I've skipped ahead in the PBS/Burns WWII series and can't begin to imagin what it was like discovering those camps. Think about picking up your morning paper and learning there are extermination camps in pockets of the world. How do people do that?


Larramie said...

While I totally understand and appreciate your need to shed light on the dark, Amy, my concern is and always has been adding fuel to a fire. OTOH, if you can write a happy ending, good does triumph over evil.

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Larramie, I'm not giving evil its turn so much as acknowledging the pain of others. Ignoring history is far more dangerous than calling it out.


Lou Ann Homan said...

I found your group my accident on this very day as tonight I am hosting my first Writing Circle at my home. I wish I would have found you all sooner for some advice. Is there time? (I have two hours yet!) We are a small group in a small rural setting, but have thought about this for a long time. I am a storyteller and a writer in our area with a small weekly column in our local newspaper. Writing is simply my way of life, but I need folks like you to push me along. Thank you for such a great blog site...but now send advice...someone...somewhere out there in the abyss!!

Lou Ann

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Welcome, Lou Ann. I think the most important characteristics of a good writers' group is to be kind, be honest, and be patient. Trust comes with time, and trust is the key to a helpful critique. Let us know how it goes tonight!


Read It and Reap said...

Today, I happened upon the writersgroup blog, and your comments inspired renewed hope on the day after I netted my record-fast, same-day rejection from an agent ... of my query alone.

I have to believe my novel is good, and funny, and inspirational. So, like my characters, I'll pick myself up again and carry on. You gotta have faith in yourself, but it helps to know others are keeping each other going through the bad times, and sharing the good stuff.


Ello - Ellen Oh said...


This is a great post. I especially agree with you about what we humans do to one another is more horrifying than any horror movie Hollywoo can come up with. I love the idea of rewriting another's fate. I have a dark WIP in many ways. One of the most difficult passages I wrote was about the bombing of Nagasaki. One of my beta readers told me she couldn't stop crying when she got to that part and all the more because it had all really happened. One of the most important things a writer can do is write and help understand why sometimes bad things happen.

Unknown said...

Big congratulations to Amy! And Lynne--Congratulations on your novel! (Also, I'm telling everyone I know with kids to buy your book.) Hannah, I hope the editing is going well.

I haven't been on your blog for a while and I'm just catching up on all the great news with everyone.

And Lisa--you're in LA? I used to live in Long Beach--I'll post my list of favorite places to eat in LA on my blog.

It's great to learn your about all your success--inspires me to keep on.

Anonymous said...

Humans have an appetite for infinite good and evil. Sometimes in the same person.
That is one of the reasons I never read horror books [anymore.] The daily news is more terrifying and disturbing than that.
Dark stories, they just illuminate both good and evil, especially when written by good writers.

Lisa said...

The world needs writers who can a shine light onto the unhappy stories and into the darker side of human nature. The key is that we need stories to be told in a way that is compassionate and that serves to make us think and ultimately can lead to change -- even if only in the minds of the readers, even if only to spread awareness. Although I don't believe in obsessing about things that frustrate and depress, I do believe that as human beings we can't afford to bury our heads in the sand. Great post -- made me think :)

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Ann, I'm so pleased you stopped by. Every writer I know has been rejected -- many times over. I tell my friends they're allowed to cry over the first rejection, but then it's time to pick yourself up and move forward. Always move forward. And trust your gut. You'll make it.

Ello, I agree about trying to make sense of this world. I don't expect any of us can, but perhaps we can find some level of acceptance or solace. Can't wait to read your book.

Thank you, Grace. It's so good to see you back here. Grub Street has played a huge role in my writing life. Think of all the people you've inspired as an instructor there.

Reality, isn't it true? I love that you pointed out the complexities that exist within each of us, the extremes in some. Makes me shudder to think of it.

Lisa, Yes, exactly, I think it's important to acknowledge the horrors so that we can possibly, hopefully prevent them from occurring again. Is that too optimistic?


Anonymous said...

Thank you for another fine posting, Amy. --M

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

I appreciate your stopping by, M.


mohanley5 said...

Lisa's post here made me think of Jenna Blum's book, Those Who save Us...so beautifully written, but such a horrific subject.

Amy, hope you feel better...so much sensory overload in the past few weeks...maybe your body is "allowing" you to take a break???
Also, didn't know you were from a big family...me too (5th of 11) how about you?
Get better before the Taste of Grub!

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Five, I think you're right. Gail Konop Baker gave me smack upside the head, reminding me to enjoy this honeymoon period. She's right, of course. I enjoyed my weekend.