Friday, November 29, 2013

When Amityville Is Your Hometown

Now that I have decided to forgo a formal outline for Blind Sighted, I’m diving into writing and thinking about settings. Should I use a fictional New England town, or an actual, real-life village? I was faced with the same question when I wrote my other novels. In Uncharted, I went with fictional, just so I could contrive the quintessential coastal-Maine community. With Portrait of a Protégé, sequel to Portrait of a Girl Running, I chose a true-to-life setting—the Sunapee Lake Region in New Hampshire, even naming some establishments in the community—but with Girl Running, I had a dilemma. I wrote with the geography of a particular town in mind—the village I grew up in—Amityville. So much easier than plotting out the ‘floor plan’ of an entirely new imaginary setting.

Since it has been a few years since the debacle, The Amityville Horror, was produced—thirty-four years to be exact—I don’t know … perhaps many people don’t remember the movie. I never saw it, and not just because I have an aversion to horror flicks. There are quite a few of us who still remember the horrible night that spawned the movie. I was an impressionable fourteen years old. I did not personally know the DeFeo family, but their tragedy rocked my safe, predictable, middle-class, ordinary life. Their tragedy was incomprehensible and it still reminds me of how precarious life can be.

Nevertheless, I have many fond memories of growing up in Amityville. It was a unique setting amongst the suburban towns that surrounded it, with its quaint village and mixed racial community. It was not only picturesque (and I believe it remains that way), but it felt safe. For me and my siblings, life happened in a three-mile radius. Aside from occasional trips upstate or to Florida, and out to Iowa to visit grandparents, Amityville, with its nearby beaches—Robert Moses State Park and Gilgo Beach—was all I knew for the first eighteen years of my life. It was only natural for me to write from memory when I constructed Girl Running. Even though at the time I had no plans for publication (that’s what new writers say when they set out to write their first real-live novel!), I was saddened to know that I could never use the actual name Amityville in a fictional setting. So sad, because it even sounds like the perfect fictional setting—Amityville! Doesn’t it conjure images of a happy, safe, amiable place? I mean, the word amity itself means friendly! Alas, I had to alter the name to Millville. Yeah, it’s pretty generic and it still works for fiction, but I would like to have held true to my hometown.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Changes and Alterations

… Speaking of change or growth or self-empowerment, or whatever you want to call it … I think I am forever destined to ride this cycle of discontentment into striving into frustration into acquiescence onto a plateau, rinse and repeat. I value growth exceedingly. I push myself into discomfort in so many aspects of my life, hoping for growth if not enrichment. I have benefited even if at times the results have been harrowing. This means I am also coming to terms with my strengths and weaknesses and my boundaries. These threads weave their way through my life, including the threads of my writing.

All four of my novels took years to sew up—from inception to the story’s conclusion. A lot of that that time was sucked up because of not knowing what I was doing. Too many of my characters were shallow and all over the place. The story arcs seemed to take a circuitous route. And the prose itself was laden with so much unnecessary verbiage. Now that I finally have those books stitched up, pressed, and published, I’ve been thinking about how great it would be to actually know what I’m doing ahead of time—that’s right, OUTLINING! Using an actual pattern instead of simply draping fabric over a forms and seeing what jumps out at me. Outlining is supposed to streamline the whole writing process. And in theory, I really like the concept of outlining—it’s like ultimate control (and yeah, I kind of like to control stuff and know how things will turn out in real life), so what’s not to love about outlining? In fact, the idea of it has made me discontent with my former make-it-up-as-I-go-along approach to writing.

The problem is, all I seem to be doing is hanging around with these new and fascinating yet ethereal characters in my head, but no plot—like laying the pattern on some amazing fabric, but not being able to visualize the garment. Of course, I do have a few plot points—I do know what each character wants and what stands in their way, but I can’t seem to visualize them playing together. They—and their story—have no solidity. It occurs to me that a basic idea is all I’ve ever had when I started writing a story. Yeah, I’d like to say that pushing my brain to work in a different way would make me a better writer, a better person, but good grief—at what point am I just going to accept the way I work creatively and be happy—yes, content—with that?

Okay, there, I said it! I have officially committed to just writing my next novel by the-comfortable-seat-of-my-pants, one stitch at a time. I don’t know how long it will take to sew Bind Sighted together, or how many times I will have to rip out its seams and refit it, but it’s got to be a whole lot better than poking my needle at nothing at all!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Blindsight—Seeing What We Can't See

Because I’ve always written primarily by the seat of my pants, beginning with just an idea and a vague destination, I really want to try out a new approach, which is not new at all—outlining. Part of this approach entails theme (although knowing the theme up front is not absolutely necessary, it’s supposed to be really helpful, and I need all the help I can get!). The theme should help the outline take shape, running its thread throughout and tying everything together. I have never consciously assigned a theme to my stories up front, though by the time I type THE END, the theme is pretty clear.

For my next project, I've been mulling over ideas and keep coming back to a couple of possibilities, one of which I stumbled upon quite by accident. It has to do with the title of this project “Blind Sighted.” Yeah, it's sort of a play on the word blindsided, but it also alludes to the fact that the mother of one of the main characters believes her son is blind—but he’s not! Yes, she’s delusional.

In the process of researching delusional disorders and simply typing “blind sighted” into Google, I came across the medical term, Blindsight. Well, now, this is quite fascinating, I thought, and serendipitous! Blindsight, according to Wikipedia, is the ability of people who are cortically blind due to lesions in their striate cortex … to respond to visual stimuli that they do not consciously see. This cartoon* nicely illustrates it:

So, this idea of responding to visual stimuli without consciously “seeing” it fascinates me! Metaphorically, this seems like something I could expand upon as a theme. I mean, when it comes to relationships, we often tend to wear blinders—it can be very difficult to see a person as they really are. Sometimes, if they are highly-motivated actors, it may takes years. But meanwhile, we generally respond to individuals and navigate relationships intuitively—without conscious reasoning. That may work for a period of time, but often when there is some sort of upheaval, we may suddenly see what we have been previously blind to. Now, add a delusional layer, and I have all sorts of fodder for tension and conflict.

Do we see what we need or want to see in an individual? What happens when imagination or fantasy or delusion meets reality? I can tell you that it is very messy!

*image by Jolyon Troscianko