|Lesley A. Diehl|
I’ve been writing and publishing for about ten years. Lately I’ve found that my writing has changed in ways that I don’t think readers would be aware of, but I am. I’ve said that I’m “mining my family” for my ideas and my characters, but it’s more than that. My work is coming from a place closer to my center.
The first advice I ever received when I began writing fiction was to write what I know. Since I was a retired psychologist, it seemed clear that meant I should use my career as the basis for my work. The first manuscript I wrote featured a professor of psychology as an amateur sleuth. She was, as you would imagine, me in a younger, feistier, more in-your-face persona. Not a bad character, but the manuscript was originally well over one hundred thousand words. You guessed it. I didn’t know how to write fiction. The work got no interest from agents and editors. They were wise not to want to bore their readers.
So what else did I know? Early in my career I ran a part-time private practice, so I had some clinical experience and an interest in multiple personality or dissociative identity disorder. I constructed a story about a multiple, the dominant personality written in first person, the alternates in third person. That’s not an uncommon approach now, but at that time, although some agents thought it was an enticing idea, I was a newbie with no fiction writing credentials. And I made the story humorous which horrified some agents. And that one went nowhere also.
I decided I had run out of what I knew, so I carefully researched a protagonist for the first book a small publishing house bought. The research was fun because my protagonist was a microbrewer. Now I knew nothing about craft brewing, but I learned fast by touring small breweries in New York and Florida and picked brewers’ minds and sampled their products.
I seemed to find my humorous voice in a series set in rural Florida, a story about a retired preschool teacher turned bartender who was a winter visitor to Florida. Emily Rhodes found the fields of cattle, the lakes, swamps and the honest nature of the people to her liking, and she adopted rural Florida as her home much as I had. I loved it so much that I set another series there with a protagonist who owned a consignment shop and who loved secondhand merchandise. So do I. Where did that come from? My paternal grandmother liked to reuse things even her daughter’s clothes which were sizes too big for her, but she adjusted them with scotch tape, safety pins, staples and some basting thread. She taught me at a young age about repurposing, reusing, reclaiming and rehabbing everything from clothes to furniture. Suddenly, writing my Eve Appel consignment shop owner protagonist seemed like I was coming home. At the same time I wrote several Thanksgiving short stories about a red-haired aunt of Amazonian proportions and a couple of quirky grandmothers as the major characters. They really were my family, albeit a bit exaggerated. Recently I learned that the fourth story featuring my “Aunt Nozzie” will be published in yet another Thanksgiving anthology.
The writing process felt different because it seemed to come from deep inside me where all my childhood memories of family resided. These bits and pieces of my life seemed to be aching to become a story.
Not all childhood remembrances are happy ones. In my case the joyful times find their way into funny stories. Others are percolating around in my psyche waiting for a darker vehicle for expression. Perhaps I’m finding yet another writing voice, one of dark humor and noir atmosphere. Regardless, as a writer I think I’m writing nearer to what is important to me—family. It’s always found its way into my work, but now it feels more genuinely mine.
I wonder how your writing has evolved. Is my journey similar to yours?