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Write On Through To The Other Side: When Your Character’s Diagnosis Becomes Your Own

October 1, 2014 Writing 1 Comment

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By

Natalie Serber

 

I clearly remember the day I gave my character, Mona Brown, her breast cancer diagnosis. I’d been writing a novel about Mona and her family, a husband and twin daughters, who moved from Portland to the rural community of Boring, Oregon in the hopes that they could protect their girls from the perilous teen trifecta—drug use, early sexual activity, and bullying. Since life and novels are rife with complications, you can imagine that things don’t turn out as Mona hoped.

About six months in to the writing, the book wasn’t going well. I couldn’t understand why Mona had such little trust in the world. Why was she unable to grasp the golden ring of confidence that things ultimately work out? Not in the rosy Polly Anna glow, but in the deep immutable sense that she and her family had the mettle to make it through any trial. What had pushed her into this fearful, dark corner? I decided that the cause had to spring from Mona’s childhood… Aha! Her mother must have died when she was a young girl. Yes, having lost a mother in an accident could deeply undermine the feeling that the world is a benevolent place that tenderly holds the people you love. And yet, this loss didn’t seem enough. I clearly remember sitting at my desk when another thought struck me… Oh, of course, she’s recovering from breast cancer. She’s afraid that she, like her mother, will die before she can see her girls through to adulthood. She is afraid that like her, her girls will be motherless. It made sense. For just as Mona was losing her breasts and facing her mortality, her thirteen-year-old daughters were blossoming into their sexuality, burgeoning with life and power they did not understand. What a dreadful and amazing time that would be. What fertile territory for a novel.

The writing was going well. I had a full draft and I was making my way through a revision when another day burned a hole in my memory. The day I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

It happened the year I turned fifty, the year I published my first book, the year my youngest child went off to college. It was supposed to be my year of celebration, of immersion into my work, of embracing my empty-next life stage and instead I’d been pushed into my own dark corner. My fear was immutable, dense and heavy. In no particular order I feared merging into traffic, death and what it would mean to my family, loss of joy, suffering, chemotherapy, darkness, silence, and, most punishing, I was afraid of myself. I had given Mona breast cancer. I got breast cancer. Ergo I had conjured up my illness. I was prescient, powerful, in possession of some sort of precognition. Suddenly my novel was very, very close to the bone. I was afraid of my own dark thoughts. I was paralyzed. I could no longer write. … Continue Reading

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Brush is to Canvas as Keyboard is to Computer Screen

September 29, 2014 creativity, Fiction, Writers, Writing 4 Comments

 

 

Brush is to Canvas as Keyboard is to Screen

by Charles Garabedian

A blank computer screen

A blank canvas

Both are calling me on a rainy Saturday morning in September as I sit at my desk with a cup of steaming French Roast coffee, freshly brewed. The sun hasn’t risen yet; it’s too early. My mind is beginning to wake up as I stare straight ahead at the computer screen without a word on it. And through the corner of my eye, I can also see the stark white canvas on the floor illuminated by the computer’s backlight. It’s been years since I painted landscapes, but I keep a blank canvas in my study in case I ever get the urge to crack open my box of oil paints again. I turn back to my computer and type the first few sentences of a new novel-in-progress, knowing some or all of the words will likely be deleted or revised in a few minutes, hours, or even by the end of the day.

False starts are common for me when I begin a new chapter, let alone the first paragraph of a new novel. One of the most difficult tasks is writing down these first few words, sentences, and hopefully, paragraphs. For me, it’s like pumping the gas pedal and hoping the car will start, getting on the elliptical at five in the morning—half-asleep—and hoping my body will loosen up by the end of the workout, or getting on a bike for the first time in years and hoping I’ll remember how to pedal and brake properly. Once the momentum begins to flow, once the first few words get typed on the screen, the easier it becomes for me to tackle the other paragraphs and fill the blank pages with a scene.

 

… Continue Reading

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