“The writer operates at a peculiar crossroads where time and place and eternity somehow meet. His problem is to find that location.” Flannery O’Connor
My novel is set in the 1980’s but my characters flash back to their childhood and college years in the 1960-70’s. I am having fun writing the story, but there are times I must stop and think, “When did MP3 players become popular?” or “Would my character remember the moon walk that way?” It is an interesting problem to have. It becomes more complex the further into the novel I get.
Until now, I have been a non-fiction short story writer, so writing a novel is daunting and unfamiliar territory. I am used to short projects that don’t take much time and don’t require my interest for very long. I sometimes feel I have an element of attention deficit because I like to finish a project quickly and move on to the next idea. Writing a novel takes more patience and persistence than I am used to giving. I enjoy my characters, though, and continue to see what surprises they offer.
I began writing the novel after the suicide of one of my college friends. He was my mentor and spiritual guide in those turbulent years of breaking away from home and finding myself. When he committed suicide 30 years later, I felt betrayed. Had all I had learned from him about faith and love been a sham? I was very angry and used my writing to lash out. I used my writing to organize my thoughts and to eventually forgive him for taking his life. It was apparent in my prose that I was going through of the grieving process.
At first, I was in denial. It couldn’t be true. Maybe someone murdered him. Maybe it was an accident. I explored all the options that were contrary to reality. I felt pain and guilt. Why hadn’t I tried to contact him? It had been several months since last we spoke and even longer since we had seen each other. Maybe if I had called, he wouldn’t have taken his life.
Then I was angry and wrote about how betrayed I felt. “How could he do such a thing?” How could he put his mother and family through this? He killed himself just before Mother’s Day. What lousy timing. He killed himself before his 52nd birthday. Why? I stayed in the anger stage of grief for a long time. (I sometimes find myself returning to it, but for shorter periods of time now.)
Identifying the bargaining phase of grief has been harder, but I think I manifested it by thinking my novel might help my friend be redeemed. In the book, my character commits suicide, then suddenly finds himself “attached” to a strange woman. Everything she does repulses him or causes him pain. The premise is based on Jean Sartre’s “No Exit” in which “Hell is other people.” My character is suffering because of this woman. But he will eventually be redeemed through her actions. In the grieving process, as I understand it, bargaining is when we try to make things better by asking God (or our belief system) if we do this, will He make things better or have things return to “normal.”
As I write the ending of my story, I can see where I am in the depression/reflection phase of grieving. I am trying to make sense of it all and tie up the loose ends. It makes me sad when I write about the finality of death as well as the “what could have been.” Acceptance is the final phase of grieving and I am getting there.
It is common to flip-flop back and forth through the grieving process. I have seen it before in my professional as well as my personal life. I have lost both of my parents and three siblings to early deaths so the process is familiar. What is not familiar is the nuance of death by suicide.
Writing through my grief helps me deal with it. My novel is fiction, but the emotions are real. As I write the story, I find it much easier to imagine the times and places my characters are traveling through. The story is leading the way now that I have dealt with my initial sorrow.