Sweetening Sour Grapes
A grandmother in the hill country of Texas is writing books people pay good money to read, and this grandmother here in Big-D has yet to get on paper an outline of any of the stories I haven’t figured out how to tell. I learned about “Desiree Holt” on a CBS Sunday Morning Show. (“The Rise of Mommy Porn”) She has written 140 novels. That’s one every two weeks!
“Ms Holt has about 10 years on me – so maybe there is time – but how she does it, I can’t speculate; she is more prolific than Will Shakespeare, who wrote only 37 plays and some poems. No, I haven’t read any of her books. However, based solely on the TV interview I am guessing had the Bowdlers gotten hold of her material there might have been more to bowdlerize in her novels than the Bard’s plays.
Lest the aroma of sour grapes overcome any gentle readers – my humble opinion is not based on what Ms Holt has achieved, so much as it is a goad to my own writing aspirations. I confess having a smidge of resentment — OK – a large dollop of envy. Maybe that’s one reason for these ruminations. But perhaps too, is the need for a sheepish confession: writing is hard work.
And the hardest part is truth telling. Not true confessions – but using words to create in a reader’s mind, and heart, the A-Ha! moment of sympathy, empathy, understanding – reaction – but not revulsion. Come to think of it — revulsion works. I mean, think of Lady Macbeth . . .
Sex and murder capture readers!
Successful writers are those folks who convey the pulsation of passions, good and dangerous, without too much information – creating characters whose complicity don’t make a reader put down their book in disgust. No, wait – disgust works: remember Iago?
So, I am a grandma – living in the flatlands of north Texas . . . transplanted from Maryland . . . meeting plenty of new people any one of whom could be a heroine or anti-hero that great, soon to be finished — started, still bubbling on the back burner of my brain book. My Texas characters fitting in nicely with crew already inhabiting my brain, which is filled with people, real and imaginary, whose words and deeds shaped me.
But a work worth reading can’t be about me . . .
It might be about my mother, and her siblings who lost their mother to TB, and their father to domineering aunts who ran him off shortly after his wife died, because his Irish-Catholic roots were tangling him up in drink and failure. Or, so the story goes. What was the real story?
My book might be about that grandmother who died when she was only 28, leaving the love of her life, and her precious 2 little girls and 2 boys, knowing her uptight Anglican family rued the day she married him, pregnant with her first-born. One family member told me that Florence – her name — became addicted to laudanum. Truth or gossip? What was suffering from TB in Baltimore like in the late teens of the 20th century in Baltimore?
And I haven’t even touched my father’s people – whom an ex-sister-in-law called “broken-down Southern wanna-be aristocracy.” Granted, William Faulkner and Tennessee Williams seemed to know some of the characters in my dad’s family – and Harper Lee and John Grisham knew a few more, but a few folks from that small town created lasting impressions on me using very few words.
For instance, my grandmother: Nellie Maude, a widow, always in a homemade dress and large white apron. She wore black, lace-up shoes, wire-rimmed glasses, and long silver hair always done up in a knot on her head. She left home rarely, and who may be said no more than fifty words ever to me in the 23 years I knew her.
Then there’s her sister, Essie, whom I call the city mouse, though she lived in no city. She drove a model T Ford up through the 1950’s, and she drove her adult kids nuts – or so some said, zipping to DAR meetings, lunches, and other places along highway #9 in rural South Carolina, dressed in a fitted mauve suit, broad brimmed veiled hat, and a chain for dead fox chasing themselves around her neck.
Just describing the differences in their houses would make a great short story!
And I haven’t even gotten to my father or mother, or the other aunts and uncles . . . or the cousins . . . or my neighbors! Or, my husband, and his family!
But making readers feel at home in my attic-full of so many characters . . . that’s gonna take some doing!
Writing is hard work!