by Lillian Csernica on November 27, 2013
For A Lady Who Must Write Verse
Let your rhymes be tinsel treasures,
Strung and seen and thrown aside.
Drill your apt and docile measures
Sternly as you drill your pride.
Show your quick, alarming skill in
Tidy mockeries of art;
Never, never dip your quill in
Ink that rushes from your heart.
When your pain must come to paper,
See it dust, before the day;
Let your night-light curl and caper,
Let it lick the words away.
Never print, poor child, a lay on
Love and tears and anguishing,
Lest a cooled, benignant Phaon
Murmur, “Silly little thing!”
I’ve been having running conversations with my two best friends, also writers, on the subject of improving the depth and meaning in my writing. Both have advised me to work with and through the considerable amount of trauma I’ve experienced. Car accidents, surgeries, family upheaval, my sons’ disabilities. Yes, it could always be worse, but I do have some rather weighty material to draw on.
Right now I’m up against a good example of what could be an opportunity to prove my friends right. In the short story I’m working on right now, I’ve come to the scene where the hero is forced to watch his father get eaten by the monster. If the hero’s father had taken the hero’s warnings seriously, this probably wouldn’t be happening. Part of the conflict between the father and the hero is the hero’s refusal to play along with his father’s corrupt business practices and participation in a major cover-up. To the father, that translates as the son being a real disappointment to him. As the hero watches his father suffer a really horrible doom, the hero isn’t thinking his father is getting what he deserves. The hero sees this as the culmination of being such a disappointment to his father, even though the hero knows he’s made the better moral choices.
I’m having a really hard time writing this scene, even though I understand it and I’ve got the action blocked out on paper. Why? Because November 18th would have been my father’s birthday. Daddy died seventeen years ago, one month before Michael had to be delivered by emergency C-section. This is a very hard time for me. Thanksgiving is all about family gathering together and being grateful for who’s there to share the feast. My father never got to see his grandsons. I know how much he was looking forward to me having children. Daddy would have make a terrific grandfather, taking the boys fishing, playing games with them, and best of all, going bowling. Every time we take Michael and John to the bowling alley, I feel like Daddy’s spirit is there with us.
So you can see the trouble I have with making my hero watch as his father gets eaten by a monster. It’s easy to kill characters you hate, characters that might be based on people in real life who have given you reason to dislike them. It’s much harder to kill characters you love, especially when they’re based on people in real life whom you love. I don’t know how Joss Whedon or George R.R. Martin stand it, I really don’t.
Now let me say that my hero’s father isn’t much like my own father. My fictional world is probably better off with one less corrupt business executive. That’s not the point. My main concern is my hero and his emotional turmoil. How can I sit here at the keyboard and take the empathy that even now has tears running down my face and translate that into the words that will express my hero’s suffering and the decisions he makes based on it? I don’t know, honest to God I don’t, but I have to find a way. I have to draw on my pain and reshape it into the pain as it is experienced by my hero, in a way that will resonate with my readers.
Dorothy Parker wrote, “Never never dip your quill/In ink that rushes from your heart.” To get to the level of writing I want to achieve, that’s exactly what I have to do. I have to take that quill and stab myself in the heart, over and over again, keep that ink rushing out, and write my stories from the very essence of my heart. I’m going to cry a lot, and I’m going to get headaches, and I’m going to get sick to my stomach. Nobody ever said it was easy being a writer, and anybody who thinks so is a fool.
I will complete this story. I will do right by my hero and my father. And then I will move on to the next story, sharpen the next quill, and spill my metaphorical blood across the page. Because I am a writer, a storyteller, and this is what I do.