Friday, February 13, 2009

The People Who’ve Moved into My Head

by Lisa Curry

I was all set to give you a domestic-disaster blog about oatmeal. Yes, oatmeal. Specifically, my recent realization that my children had reached the ages of 9 and 11 without ever having eaten it, and how my efforts to rectify that situation and thus transform myself into a Better Mother nearly resulted in my having to take a sick day from work when my older son complained of severe abdominal cramps after eating it and, in fact, did result in my being half an hour late for work when my younger son refused to eat it and I had to make him a whole new breakfast.

But something happened to me recently that’s even more dramatic and blog-worthy than oatmeal, if you can believe that.

People have taken up residence in my head.

My fellow Stiffs and you other writers know the kind of people I’m talking about. The people whose stories rattle around in your brain, playing over and over like video clips in your mind’s eye, clamoring for you to turn them into words and put them on a page – or hundreds of pages, to be more accurate. I’ve had people like that living in my head for as long as I can remember.

The dramatic part for me is that these are new people. I haven’t had new people in my head for more than four years. All I’ve had is the same old people – the characters from my first two (unpublished) historical mysteries and the contemporary mystery I then started but quickly burnt out on. (Right about the same time the agent representing the second historical mystery decided he didn’t want to be an agent anymore, perhaps not coincidentally.) Those people mutter to me on occasion, but I’ve become proficient at shutting them up.

Their time is past, I tell them. They had their chance, back in the days when I had preschoolers, no job and hours to devote to writing nobody was ever going to pay me for. Now is money-making time – time to fund the kids’ college and my husband’s and my retirement accounts. And that means that unless it’s the writing for catalogs and other marketing collateral I do on a daily basis, for which I am paid a tidy salary, I’m not doing it. Period. End of story.

It took me a very long time to come to the point where I could say that. I spent a year or more telling myself the reason I wasn’t writing was because I didn’t have the time. At last I admitted to myself that the reason I wasn’t writing was because I didn’t have the desire. After that, it took a good while longer to stop feeling guilty about it.

Now that I’m finally in that happy, honest, guilt-free, money-making place, these new people appear in my head. And they’re loud, insistent, demanding people, constantly rattling the bars of their cage. I’m not sure where they even came from, but I haven’t been able to shut them up since they arrived. Their video clips play in my mind incessantly, to the point that I’ve become curious about what I might be able to do with them.

They’re real people who lived and died a millennium ago, so I can indulge my curiosity without really committing. In a spare moment over my lunch break, I can Google their names and look at dates, events and family members and check my plot ideas against their reality – or at least, what’s known or believed of their reality. I’ve accumulated two very packed and scribbly pages’ worth of such notes over the past week. At home, I can search through all the maps of medieval Europe still sitting on my hard drive from my historical mysteries and see where these people lived and what was near them, again checking my plot ideas against their reality.

And okay, I admit it – I actually wrote two paragraphs. They were very bad paragraphs, shockingly lacking in any kind of voice or style or rhythm, and I ended them with a little bracketed note to myself:

[Lisa, this blows. And you know first person isn’t the right viewpoint for this story. It has to be third. Try again.]

I haven’t. Yet.

But you know, I think I will. The idea both terrifies and excites me.

I wonder if I can still write like I used to after all this time. I wonder if I can sustain the passion necessary to generate hundreds and hundreds of pages. I wonder if I can balance a full-time job, a marriage, two kids and writing a novel. I wonder if the historical realities around which I intend to weave my fiction make this project just a little too ambitious for me.

I wonder, but damn it, I’m going to find out. And everything will be okay no matter what the answers are.

It occurs to me that maybe it’s not so ironic that now that I can finally say, “I’m not writing because I don’t want to, and I’m okay with that,” (and actually mean it), I’m starting to want to write again. Maybe it’s the most natural thing in the world?

Wish me luck.


Gina said...

Go for it, Lisa!

Joyce said...

Lisa, YOU CAN DO IT!!!

You're a wonderful writer, and I can't wait to see what happens with this. And I would still like you to query "Widow" again. A lot of agents are looking for historicals right now and that book is definitely good enough to be published. I think you gave up on it too soon. GET QUERYING!

Annette said...

(Jumping up and down and clapping hands in delight) Yay, Lisa! I do think there is a connection between letting go of the guilt and finding the desire again.

And didn't I just use the "excited and terrified" line in my blog on Wednesday? Lots of that going around.

Wishing you all the luck in the world, girlfriend!

Karen in Ohio said...

Go for it, Lisa. Can't wait to see where this goes. But voices that loud are not to be ignored.

Anonymous said...

This is very good news, Lisa! I, for one, am glad to see you back. You've got what it takes.

Thanks for the reminder about listening to the voices. I'm at the end of the process--finishing a draft and trying to polish, and it just hasn't come alive for me. You're absolutely right.--I need to let those characters off the leash for a while. I'll see what they come up with. Thanks.