I began to write stories when I was in middle school (only they called it “junior high” back in the day).
I had no end game. I simply fashioned tales out of whatever was on my mind at the time. The first stories involved The Beatles (because they were always on my mind when I was young), with me imagining that Paul McCartney and I were romantically involved and the group’s latest hit song had been written because of a particular experience he and I had shared. The stories meandered through this imaginary life without direction. Reactive. There was no purpose other than to show how Paul and I interacted with each other and the world around us in ever-changing circumstances. I couldn’t weave my stories fast enough for my friends! It was exhilarating.
I still write like that – I weave. I look at my work as creating a tapestry that intertwines characters and circumstances within the context of real life, reflecting the larger world. The smallest of details shape the texture of the piece and contribute to the whole. Character personalities reflect the sum total of experiences I am happy to explore in the text.
A tapestry isn’t fashioned in a straight line. Neither are my stories.
My Embracing the Elephant tetralogy (of which three volumes have been published), follows two people from childhood through adulthood during a time of great turmoil in this nation – events that begin with the California Gold Rush and (will) end with the American Civil War. My characters mature and change as the world around them matures and changes. They burn with the desires of youth and respond and recoil from historical events that rock their world. My characters don’t make history, but history makes them.
That, however, doesn’t seem to be what reviewers want in a book. Of the newest installment (A Peculiar Peace), I’m getting comments like “a bit of an odd story” or criticizing the work for meandering, wallowing in minutiae, introducing extraneous subplots (I guess they missed the part about being one in a series which isn’t over yet – those subplots could come up later, you know). Apparently, in order to get a good independent review, a book must be a linear accelerator.
I don’t anticipate my books will ever travel from point A to point B without distraction. Life doesn’t happen like that – and my self-assigned goal is to create realistic characters in a believable (albeit flawed) world. I don’t “end” my stories as much as I “end” the then-current action, hinting at the future, leaving all possibilities open. Like life itself. Like the tales in my spiral notebooks those many years ago.