Beth Camp Historical Fiction

Thursday, April 19, 2018

"Q" is for Quandary

My quandary is that I want to write stories that entertain and inspire people, sometimes with laughter. I mostly write historical fiction, with side trips to science fiction and thrillers.

But when I write, whether historical fiction or something else, dark stories well up. Science fiction turns to dystopia. Somehow I am drawn to those stories about people who are caught up in tragedy or worse. I don't always believe in happy endings or even happy-for-now. Despite a happy marriage that has lasted over 40 years, my research takes me to places where classes of people fight against each other for the privilege to live with hope.

My DH is currently reading Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann, a brutal history of a time in Texas when whites took land and oil money from native Americans through deception and egregious murder. He keeps asking, "How can people do things like this?" And I'm reading Daniel H. Wilson's Robopocalypse, the first science fiction I've read in many years, a mesmerizing tale of war between humans and robots. Most of the time, though, I read those happy-ever-after books by the box or, I should say, by the digital download.

Once a psychiatrist told me that I had successfully constructed a good life by not looking at my childhood. "Denial works up to a point," she said. "You have a choice. You can continue as you are, or you can work to confront what is now hidden." Expediency won. As Nikos Kazantzakis in Zorba the Greek writes: "Wife, children, house, everything. The full catastrophe." I was 30, head of household with a 3-month-old and a 60-hour work week. The house, though it didn't have that picket fence, was like a dream of suburbia, and we were happy there.

Most of the time, life is simple. Routine. Shaped by commitment and expectation, we move through our appointed days. Have you ever worked where you punched your card in a time clock morning and night, lunchtime and break time? Or perhaps bells rang, At one of my first jobs, I compared new computer printouts (think 1961) against physical inventory counts. My pencil hovered over reams of paper, double-checking a machine. My eyes blurred. I had no clue a computer would replace me. Today, a clerk uses a scanner. How long before that entry-level clerk is replaced? Back then, I worked two jobs and took night classes at any local college, and I dreamed of writing. Someday.

So, what's my quandary? Someday finally came. I began writing seriously when I retired. Three books in ten years. Not a bad accomplishment. Good reviews and bad reviews. Useful critical feedback. Amazing fans. I love the whole process of researching, writing, and revising. So, what's wrong? I don't want to write those dark stories any more. Yet, each day, we are surrounded by darkness -- political, economic, social. How in good conscience can I write those lighter tales that I read with such abandonment?

But I want to try. My current project begins with mystery, romance, adventure. A lost tapestry. A compromised museum. A heroine (art appraiser/curator) and a hero (officer with an art crimes unit). In my working plot summary, they have their happy-ever-after ending. But I've already learned that in the writing, the plot, the characters, even the theme can change.

I remain, as Webster defines, in a state of perplexity and doubt. Maybe I should stop writing, not a good feeling at the beginning of a project. But maybe I should stop writing and enjoy this next decade, simply retired. My experience says stopping the writing lasts about a week or so. My ordered life seems so unsettled when I do not write, as if the very blocks of existence are awry.

Ha! The quandary is resolved. I will write this story. Just maybe you can check back in within a year to see the happy ending! Or, perhaps you have some advice?

Today's post for April's A-Z Blogging Challenge could have been a poem. Click the link to read what other bloggers following this Challenge are thinking and writing about.

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