Saturday, July 13, 2019

Not for the Faint of Heart

Several art historians with excellent experiences of working at museums generously volunteered, over the last several weeks, to give me an intensive, behind-the-scenes look at what they did.

I discovered an entirely different culture than anything I experienced while working at an international bank (profit-centered corporate gamesmanship) or teaching college-aged students (collegiality among colleagues and intellectual freedom in my own workspace to nurture students).

Behind closed doors, museum staff offer a passionate mix of idealism, love of history and culture, and a desire to protect, preserve, and share artifacts that illustrate where we've been, what we can create, and what is possible for us all.

What did all this new research mean for my current story, The Seventh Tapestry, about a young woman who discovers thefts at a medieval museum?

At first, my characters and my story seemed as mired in mud as this warthog, spotted on a trip to Tasmania a few years back. After reviewing notes, building new administrative structures for my imaginary museum, and new plot lines, I set all aside.

One day passed without writing. Then, two and three. I fretted a bit as all writers do. And then I remembered a time when my very livelihood had been threatened.

It truly happened like this: I had been working for a large corporation for several years while attending night school. One of the administrative assistants in a different division began receiving abusive and sexually threatening notes left at her workstation. Because of the nature of the threats, an outside investigator was pulled in. 

I knew nothing of this situation until the investigator called me into the president's office and accused me of writing those notes. I was shocked at what the investigator knew of me, where I lived, and what I did outside of work. He interrogated me three times. Then he threatened to fire me, whether I confessed or not.

Despite the president warning my boss not to get involved, he asked me point blank if I were involved. I said no. He said I was not going to be ‘interviewed’ again without him present. I was encouraged to take my two-week vacation, not knowing if I would have a job when I returned. 

When I came back from vacation, the case was solved. Everyone knew that the administrative assistant had written those notes herself. She was gone. The investigator was gone. No one apologized to me for this devastating experience. 

What on earth does this experience have to do with my story? Remembering the shock of those accusations, that sense of betrayal, I began writing anew. All fell into place. I was ready to step outside job descriptions and 'torture' my characters. The joy of writing THIS story returned! 

This saying makes me smile.
We writers do play with words, but we are never 'faint of heart.'
The picture was taken near Redmond, Oregon.

Thursday, July 04, 2019

July IWSG: Finding the Pearl

This month's question from Insecure Writer's Support Group asks writers to explore "What personal traits have you written into your character(s)?"

My first blush reaction was, "Gosh. I don't know." 

But then I realized all of my protagonists fight the good fight. They're stubborn and independent, taking on impossible odds, facing challenges that come from sweeping economic and political change we have little control over. They're kind, compassionate, idealistic, and they fight for change. They struggle. They fail. They persevere. These are the good guys we all want to be.

And my antagonists, caught up with greed, set aside their concern for others to achieve their goals. Shaped by nightmares, cultural expectations of race and class, driven by their own egos, they wreak havoc in a world I don't want to be a part of. They are faceless night monsters, unethical, and quick to forgive their own weaknesses. They appeal to others because they can be charismatic, seductive, and then manipulative. I try to find their redeeming qualities. Writing the villain is the toughest challenge I face.

Famous film-maker Federico Fellini (1920-1993) once said, "All art is autobiographical; the pearl is the oyster's autobiography."

A page from Sandra Brown Jensen's amazing journal.
Used with permission.
What a shining sense of what a person's (or character's) life can mean.

Here's the rub. Neither we nor our characters can escape our pasts. What we write has the potential to influence others. That's a responsibility and a challenge we may not see when we're knee-deep in our stories. For as we construct a character trait by trait, experience by experience, we confront our villains anew.

Don't we all hope to find that pearl in our villains' autobiography? And aren't we all working for that sometimes hard to find 'happy for now' ending?

With special thanks to Erika Beebe, Natalie Aguirre, Jennifer Lane, MJ Fifield, Lisa Buie-Collard, and Ellen @ The Cynical Sailor! for hosting this July 3 posting of IWSG. Why not check out what others have written -- or join in IWSG right HERE?