When my husband first read my new book, One Week of You, he commented somewhat drily that the main character was a goody-goody.
“She reminded me of you,” he added with a chuckle.
I didn’t like being called a goody-goody. Just wait, I thought. I’ll dump your socks into the drawer unmatched. The truth is, as much as I would love to be a rebel, I’m simply not one. Since childhood, I have always been a rule-follower who struggled with right and wrong, and wrestled with meeting standards that my parents set for me and that now as an adult I’ve set for myself. These are the issues that my main character, Lizzy, deals with in the book. Sometimes in a funny way.
One Week of You is based on some events that actually happened to my daughters. First, when my older daughter was in middle school, as part of her health curriculum she had to carry a bag of flour, or a “flour baby” for a week (hence the title of the book). Carrying the bag of flour was supposed to represent the responsibilities involved in having a baby. I was fascinated by this exercise and wondered how the kids reacted to it. Second, when my younger daughter was in high school, there were once three bomb threats in one week. I really admired the stoic way the students reacted to the threats, and the way the administration handled it, and I wanted to write about it. How must that have felt for those students?
When I’m writing, I try to tap into my own emotional landscape. So, while the events in the book happened to my daughters, the emotions of the main character are my own. I feel as though my own emotions are the only ones I can write with authenticity. I try not to simplify relationships just because I’m writing for young people. Young relationships can be just as complex as the ones we have when we’re older. And the struggles we have as young people can often loom larger than those we have as adults simply because they’re the earliest obstacles we face.
Strong emotions are almost always accompanied by a physiological response, so when I’m writing I try to start with those. “I could feel myself blush.” And next come thoughts. “How could he think that?” Another good technique is to use an object to carry the emotion – an objective correlative – such as Rosebud in Citizen Kane or Wilson the soccer ball in Castaway. We used to call it “O.C.” in my writers’ group. The O.C. in One Week of You would be Lizzy’s flour baby.
As an adult, I still wrestle with trying to meet the standards that I’ve set for myself. I still struggle with self-doubt. My new book is coming into the world. Exciting, yes! But what if no one reads or likes it? I recently let my cat read it and his reaction was not encouraging, as you can see from the attached photo. What if no one comes to my signings? I once read a hilarious article about a writer finding the best uninterrupted writing time during signings. Maybe I will find it to be a good time to match socks.
In some ways my fears remind me of the fears of acceptance that I had when I was a teen. The most useful thing I can do with these emotions, other than to try to power through them, is to channel them into my writing and let my characters feel them.
I hope that young readers will identify with Lizzy’s emotional journey. And, well, mine.