On Saturday, the fabulous Amy Ruttan blogged about publishing her tenth book. (Congrats on the accomplishment, Amy! Woohoo!) As I was reading her post, I was struck by the couple of sentences where she talks about writing next to her son’s crib in the PICCU. It spurred so many memories for me, some of them agonizingly painful and others exquisitely beautiful.
I remembered the novels and novellas and short stories and freelance work I completed while basically living at Texas Childrens Hospital in Houston. That was one hell of a year for our little family. Kiddo had two major heart surgeries and lengthy hospital stays, one at 15 days old and the other at 6 months old. I won’t even go into the insurance claim wrangling and other nonsense. Suffice to say it was emotionally, financially and mentally draining.
And yet some of my most emotionally powerful books and short stories came out of that time period. I get the most reader mail about Swap Meet, The Chair and Between Friends. All three of those pieces were written bedside in the CVICU or Step-Down units.
Readers seem to connect so well with the characters in those works. It surprises me that they’re some of my best works considering the absolute shit working conditions. At the time, those stories were written because A) we were going to need the money to pay off those piles and piles of medical bills and B) I needed to mentally escape from the fear of losing my weeks old baby to several severe and life-threatening heart defects. You know, coping at its writery-est.
I think, in some way, my pain and fear and those brief moments of delight when the kiddo came off her ventilator or nursed or smiled were interwoven in my characters. I was able to connect with Max and Chris and Eddie and Whitney and Mick on a level I hadn’t been able to reach with other creations of my crazy writer mind. I was so emotionally aware during the writing of those books. I was living and breathing fear and anxiety and happiness and the strongest love imaginable.
I’ve noticed that all of my works after those experiences with kiddo are so much stronger emotionally than my earlier bits. It became easier to tap into those feelings and transfer them to the page. I guess when they say write what you know, they also mean emotions. I never knew what that kind of fear or love or hope or anxiety felt like. Believe me; when you feel them once, you never forget them.
I think sometimes writers are afraid to go there emotionally with their characters. It can be draining to write those types of emotionally challenging scenes, where someone is being destroyed or someone is discovering how powerful love can truly be.
But we shouldn’t shy away from those things. Readers want to experience the full gamut of human emotion. They want to feel the excitement of a new attraction. The butterflies-in-the-belly sensation of a new love. The can’t-breathe-because-my-heart-has-been-ripped-from-my-chest pain of the Black Moment. The absolute joy of the resolution (or the satisfaction of a good grovel). Readers want to feel.
And, as a writer, it’s my job to give them what they want. Even if that means drawing from some really painful places or, conversely, from some totally effing awesome places, in my life.