Monday, November 16, 2009

Written by Me (and Send in the Clown)

KV Taylor wrote about recurring themes in her fiction last week (okay, one theme really, but it was blood, and blood is like ten themes in one), and my response:

At the core of most of my schtuff, I guess I’d have to say family dynamics, especially dysfunctional families. Maybe families that are trying really hard to be functional. Single parents. Dead siblings. Poverty.

...well, you read it yourself. Family dynamics are huge: the brothers' relationship in "Tesoro's Magic Bullet" or unresolved issues between the father and son in "The Sub-basement" or even the father and son with absentee mother in "The World in Rubber, Soft and Malleable". Why family dynamics?

I don't know if I've revealed this little tidbit before, but my father died of "complications" related to a brain tumor he developed when I was five. By "complications", I mean the fact that in 1980, when he was diagnosed, radiation was a relatively new treatment for cancer. They bombarded him with radiation, and yeah, it killed the cancer. But his brain started dying, too. You can imagine the changing family dynamics during the following nine years (he died when I was fourteen).

So that probably had a big impact on my life. You think?

I also write about poverty at times. Not about poverty per se, but about characters who aren't social elites. I weary of stories in which all the key characters are professors or princesses or doctors or *ack* writers. You know what? Most people aren't. My characters have worked at meat packing plants, auto parts stores, as secretaries, teachers (duh), custodians, clerks at fishing tackle shops...normal jobs. Not exactly poverty, but definitely with a trend away from high power careers/royalty.

So yeah, that works. There's also the strong inclination toward the unknown. Stranger things happen. I believe in weird. I prefer to watch "average Joes/Josephines" deal with the odd and uncanny than a princess.

I'm quite average, myself. What about you?

Now, I know some of you have come here for NaNoWriMo inspiration. No picture today, I'm afraid, but I do bring you:

(and a friendly reminder to do something unexpected in your novel)


K.C. Shaw said...

Identifying recurring themes, and then identifying reasons why they're my themes, is a fascinating and scary exercise. My main theme is belonging, which probably comes from being bullied pretty badly from sixth grade to eighth--not to mention just being one of those smart, creative people that don't quite fit in.

The way you work with your recurring themes is really marvelous. I remember reading somewhere that nothing bad can happen to a writer--it's all material.

Cate Gardner said...

I agree with the whole doctor/princess thing, I like ordinary folk who are that little bit extraordinary.

Rebecca Nazar said...

John Steinbeck is my hero. My characters have been and always will be blue collar.

Aaron Polson said...

K.C. - I've seen too many young ladies ostracized by their peers. Junior high is the worst. But it's material, right?

Cate - Your characters are always extraordinary.

Becca - I love Steinbeck! Students really respond to his work, too.

Jamie Eyberg said...

I will never write about a writer as a character but I am not afraid to add a carpenter or farmer into the mix. And now that I have said never I will end up doing it anyway. Wonderful post today, even without a picture.

Aaron Polson said...

Jamie - Having a variety of jobs really helps in the character development part of writing, doesn't it.

No one has clicked on the clown yet?

Jamie Eyberg said...

That clown is ninety-nine flavors of wrong.

Aaron Polson said...

I know. A little surprising what you find when you Google "happy clown".

Anonymous said...

I'm phobic of clowns and I clicked anyway. I was equal parts disturbed and full of sinister joy. Bwa ha ha, clown!

This was an especially fascinating post! I was just discussing themes with a friend of mine, and how they have (or haven't) changed over the years. We write to find out what our current obsessions are, yeah?


Katey said...

I'm trying to work up the courage to click the clown. I am not a fan of clowns for so many reasons. Man.

I think those are admirable themes, and certainly not in need of paring down in your fiction (like I worry about with mine): they make for brilliant tales, and you use them differently in every one.

I'm very interested in the family thing as well. There are very few dynamics that are so fascinating, for so many reasons. Thanks for giving the story on that.

And Steinbeck is the best. Just throwing that in there.

Aaron Polson said...

Mercedes - writing is definately part self-discovery.

Katey - You can throw Steinbeck wherever you want.

BT said...

I have a problem - I write a lot of stories centred around kids. I do a lot of horrible things to them - well, not me, other characters - you know what I mean.

But, and I hope I'm right here otherwise I may need to call in the cops on myself, my kids find a way to overcome. Most of the time...

As for the Princess versus the pauper scenarios - I don't think it matters as long as all the characters are believable and the reader has an opportunity to empathise or connect in some manner with them.

As for jobs - I'm forever pulling experiences from the multitude of jobs I've had in the past. I'm yet to really tap into my time as a male nurse - some good stuff in there.

And the clown is just wrong. Not 99% - it's completely wrong. I worry for those out there with so much time on their hands they dream up this type of on. I suppose we, as writers, do the same type of thing. Now I'm worried I'll start writing about clowns! I once had a girlfriend who did clown gigs as a sideline...hmmm.........

Alan W. Davidson said...

I like your theory: writing about the regular folks. Why should they be 'soap opera-esque'.
And weird is good...and thanks for the Pennywise-esque clown.

Barry Napier said...

Characters with Daddy issues tend to pop up in mine. There's always a very strained relationship with a father (or father figure) in my longer work. The thing that sucks is that it is completely unintentional.

Danielle Birch said...

I clicked on the clown, even though I intensely dislike them.

You got me thinking about my characters, and the ones that aren't completely off their rocker - i.e., beyond working :) - are mainly working class - my current main character is florist. I have finished MS with lawyers for main characters but there is a very good (dark) reason that for.

Aaron Polson said...

BT - Male nurse time had to be priceless as far as experience goes.

Alan - Nobody said the clown was nice. Just "happy". (I'm thinking irony here) Weird is good.

Barry - Yikes. I know a few therapists who could run with that.

Danielle - A florist. There's an under-used profession in fiction. Good call.