Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Powerlessness and Letting Go

I started my "writing half of the week," with a full list of things I wanted to accomplish.  That's not anything new and unusal, all professional writers set goals--and work to meet them.  But, sometimes life gets in the way, and not always in ways we can predict.

In December of 2010, a little over a year ago, my now three year-old granddaughter Abigail was diagnosed with Idiopathic Thrombocytopenia Purpura, an autoimmune blood disorder that causes her body to destroy her platelets.  She's done well with treatment, even though she's required regular blood product transfusions.  To date, over 6,000 donors have helped keep this little Princess alive. 

About a third of kids with ITP will have only one episode of the disease, about a third will have recurrences that subside within a year, and about a third will have life-long problems.  Since Abigail is past the one year mark, it is likely she is in the chronic category.  Another constant concern for kids with ITP is the risk of it developing into Leukemia or Lymphoma. Last week, Abigail's blood showed some things that raise the concern of this happening.  Yesterday, they drew more blood to repeat the smears.  If they are also abnormal, a bone marrow biopsy will be the next step.   

Waiting for lab results is always difficult.  But, today, with all these "things" I want to get done, I found myself looking up at a photograph of Abigail on my wall and dissolving into tears.  It hit me, this is the first time in the year Abigail's had ITP that I have cried.  It's never been my nature to break down, something I think has a lot to do with my nursing background.  But today I am not the nurse, I am a grandmother and a mother. I can't DO anything to change what she's going through, all I can do is love and support my daughter and son-in-law, and of course Abigail as they face the unknown. 

And I dont like it.

In my last blog post, I talked about why I write horror, and how I plumb the depths of my own soul when I write.  What I realize today is that I am terrified of not being in control.  From nursing and medicine, to being a retail manager, and even being the future president of the Nebraska Writers Guild, I gravitate to roles that allow me to shape my own world.  Think about it, don't fiction writers do this every day?  My rules, I make them up.  I tell my characters what to do, I create every detail of my story worlds.  I don't want to bow to God's will, I want to BE God. 

It's Holy Week, and I contemplate Christ's surrender as he faced his death.  The taunts, "If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross." 

As I search for solace, I recall Christ's words, "Father, if it is your will, let this cup pass from me; yet your will not mine be done."

As a grandmother, I pray that this cup pass from our family.  I can't make myself finish the sentence.  I'm praying for the grace to be able to finish it, and to have the conviction to back it up.  Is that me wanting to be God?  Absolutely.  It's my character flaw. 

I'm working with the plot for a short story, and in big letters on my notes page is the word, SURRENDER.  I'm not quite sure how I'm going to use it yet, but salvation will either be had or lost over that one word.  Writing truly is self-analysis on the page.  I'll let you know how it works out. 

As for Abigail, check out Abigail's Angels (ITP Support) on Facebook.  My daughter Megan, and Abigail are changing lives.  They are much better at this surrender thing than me.  You guys are my heroes! 



Sunday, April 3, 2011

Horror. Why we love to read it, and why I love to write it.

April 8-10th will be the 2011 Nebraska Writers Guild Spring Conference.  One of the many things I'll be doing to help with this conference is having a table to display information about speculative fiction.  What's that?  Speculative fiction encompasses the darker side of literature.  Subjects ranging from pure horror to science fiction and fantasy.  To prepare, I've spent a lot of time thinking about horror.  Why are people drawn to it?  Why do I write horror?

Horror writer Douglas Winter says it very well. " Horror is not a genre, like the mystery or science fiction or the western. It is not a kind of fiction, meant to be confined to the ghetto of a special shelf in libraries or bookstores. Horror is an emotion."

A well-crafted horror story posesses the ability to grab my attention, and forces me to confront some part of my psyche I'd rather not face.  Yesterday, I was talking to a fellow writer about writing dark fiction.  (Hi Emily!)  I made the observation that if I am not squirming in my seat when I'm writing horror, I'm not digging deep enough inside the recesses of my own soul.  In a very real way, writing horror is a window into the author's being.  In gifted horror writer Joe Hill's story, "You will Hear the Locust Sing," Francis, the main character, turns into a giant bug, who then proceeds to eat his father.  It doesn't take much to realize that Joe just might be having some major daddy-issues with his rather famous horror writer father, one Stephen King. 

Yes, writing horror is catharsis, therapy, and if done well, something that alters the way the reader views the world.  I challenge readers of Alice Seibold's, "The Lovely Bones," to come away unchanged.  The best-selling Tim LaHaye/Jerry Jenkins "Left Behind"series fits this definition as well.  Disagree with me?  The Horror Writers of America don't!  They even list the Bible as a horror book.  Demons, plagues, apocalypses... Yep, that fits my definition for horror.

I sometimes wonder what readers of my stories will infer about my innermost thoughts from reading my work.  My co-authors, D. Anthony Brown, Brian Thomas, and Johnny Houser's demons will end up on display too.  Or at least they will if we do our job as writers well.  Because, if it doesn't make me squirm in my chair when I'm writing it, I can promise you won't squirm in yours when you are reading it.

I'll leave you with this, and I hope you'll take time to add your own stories as comments.

I remember the very first real horror book I ever read.  I was in seventh grade, and staying overnight at my friend Renee's house along with friends Sandy and Lynnette.  I was wearing a white flannel nightgown, with white lace on the yoke, laying on the floor in a sleeping bag, and even though the rest of the girls had drifted off to sleep, or were gushing about boys, maybe some of both.  I picked up this book, and from the title, it was about a girl.  A girl in High School. So, I started reading.  And I could. Not. Stop! The book was "Carrie."  I read the entire thing, cover to cover, that night by flashlight, curled up in a ball in that sleeping bag on Renee's hardwood bedroom floor. 

Notice how detailed this memory is.  It was one of those PROFOUND moments, one that changed my life forever.  Yes the details of the story scared the bejezus out of me, but the emotional impact was much deeper.  I couldn't stop thinking about that poor Carrie, how many horrific things she'd endured, and how she'd managed to fight back against everything and everyone that oppressed her.  I was a geeky, sometimes bullied junior high student, and it resonated with me.  It was more memorable than losing my virginity.  (No, I'm not sharing that story.  Sorry.  Maybe, just maybe it will show up in a future story.  I do write horror... bwahahaha) 

Now it's your turn.  What was YOUR first horror story?  Did it change you?  How?  Thanks for playing along!