Wednesday, June 9, 2010

How the Journey Began…

I write for other people as a living. I’m a hired gun. In fact, I began to think I’d never write for myself again. I mean, really, am I going to read and write all day long and then do it some more once I get home? Yes, yes I am.

It didn’t start off that easily, however. In fact, on May 25 I hit an all-time low when my husband turned to me and asked what I had written about before I took my job. What?! Had it really been that long? The fact that I couldn’t remember proved it had.

I’ve always been attracted to themes about identity construction so I told him about the essays I had written over the years, many of them non-fiction. I still have a soft spot for that genre as I love the idea of finding an extraordinary story in ordinary life.

What imbrued, however, was the premise for my fiction story. I was recalling how as a teenager, I was desperately trying to figure out who I was and where I fit in.* I’ve always been intrigued by the question of whether we’re a product of our environment, our relationships, or inherently born with our personalities somewhat intact. So…what would happen if I took a character with amnesia and moved her to a new place altogether where she, quite literally, had to start over? Who would she become? What secrets or surprises would arise?

I thought about the idea over and over again on metro rides and jogs, when I was walking the dogs, or making coffee. I quite literally couldn’t turn it off. When I wasn’t at work I was thinking about what I’d write. Some characters took a while to develop while others came to me pretty intact. Sometimes I’d hear a sad or happy song, think of a certain scene and write entirely out of order to ensure I got my ideas down on the page. When I finally came up for breath I realized I already had 34,000 words and a lot more to say. This wasn’t a short story after all!

I didn’t tell anyone other than my husband what I was up to so it seemed omniscient when my grandfather, just a couple of weeks before his death, said, “Sarah, I want you to write something where I can go into a bookstore, pick it up, and buy it. Can you do that?” I told him I’d try and that’s what I’ve been doing ever since.

*Disclaimer: There was also a crisis of identity immediately following college graduation. It involves floating around a friend’s pool, drinking Coronas, and watching The Graduate on constant re-play but that’s another story altogether.

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