Wednesday, July 28, 2010
Home » Sally John , the writing life , writing through pain » Weddings, Wakes and Whitefish~ Sally John
Sally John is the author of sixteen novels, including the three popular series: The Other Way Home, In a Heartbeat, and The Beach House. Her stories run the gamut from small-town dynamics to Chicago emergency personnel to Pacific beach epiphanies. Initially inspired to write after penning a computer software manual, Sally has also published nonfiction articles, and she speaks at workshops and conferences about writing and family issues. Three-time finalist for The Christy Award, former teacher, and Illinois native, she lives in Southern California with her husband Tim. Writing fiction takes a backseat only to her cherished roles of wife, mom, mom-in-law, and grandma.
Weddings, Wakes, and Wisconsin Whitefish
How do you tell your editors—six weeks before a twice-extended deadline—that you no longer give a hoot whether your characters ever resolve their issues? That as a matter of fact, if they walked off into the sunset, you would laugh and laugh until your sides ached?
This had never happened to me before. For me, writing fiction is life and the rest is just details. I’d rather be writing fiction than doing almost anything else. The line between real life and make believe life has blurred to the point that “real life” is the one in my imagination. All that other business tends to be ho-hum or annoying.
Then my daughter got married.
My son’s wedding several years before hers did not affect me in the same way. A mother-daughter thing? Or the fact that his was on the beach and hers was traditional church and slew of attendants? I don’t know. Suffice it to say this one undid me.
The buildup to the wedding was not to blame. Elizabeth basically organized the event singlehandedly. My role was simple. I made two pre-wedding trips from California to Iowa and “mommied” her. Most days while she taught, I sat in her apartment, wrote, and did her laundry. The only interruptions were the UPS man’s knock and the cat’s attempts to walk across my keyboard.
So far, so good. As usual, my heart hummed along, recording moments and emotions to draw upon later for future stories. In the meantime, I slashed away at my heroine, ripping apart every support system she had. I took her to Vogler’s darkest cave. She made it through. She began her journey home, armed with lessons learned and determination to live them out. Then the unthinkable happened and she was truly crushed.
Ah. It was the perfect time to leave the story and enjoy the wedding. Afterwards, I could put her back together and carry her safely home, easy breezy.
The week of wedding festivities translated into an indescribable joy and I learned an important lesson: indescribable joy is not fodder for fiction.
Nope. Pain is. As are fear, anger, terror, uncertainty, sadness, and doubt.
Not only was every difficult thought and emotion missing from this wedding experience, they were annihilated from my being. I went home and grinned at my desk, not writing a word, remembering the ceremony, the family and friends, the laughter, the dinner, the luscious Midwest spring day, my husband in his tux, my glowing daughter and son-in-law, my precious granddaughters in their flower girl dresses.
I was satiated.
In the fifteen years that I’ve been immersed in writing fiction, nothing has stopped the process. Of course there have been intrusions and obstacles and delays, but life always fueled the work.
There was the season of two teenagers. The empty nest. My father’s last days and death. Our nephew’s cancer diagnosis. A significant marital struggle and healing. The cross-country move from Illinois to California. The wildfire that destroyed our house and every memento we had so recently and so carefully packed while pitching everything that didn’t matter. The loss of our twenty-seven year old nephew.
All of it carved within me a hole, a longing for something that is beyond words. And, as you fiction writers know, this is where story begins, in that place where there are no words.
I grinned for days on end. The writing floundered. Real, real life had poked its amazing essence into my imagination and I could scarcely remember my heroine’s name.
But I didn’t want to worry my editors. Reminding myself that the secret to writing success is showing up, I just showed up, day in and day out. I wrote junk. I deleted. I wrote some more junk. I recalled unpleasantness, like the taste of boiled whitefish in Wisconsin thirty-some years before and the endurance test not only of that meal but of sharing vacation time with my in-laws.
Eventually the wedding receded. My heroine once again tugged at my heartstrings. Real life got back to normal.
I think my editors had an inkling of what was to come. When I first told them about wedding plans, they laughed and offered to extend the deadline. God bless those wise women.
With the flash of a bullet, Sheridan Montgomery’s world ceased to exist.
Her husband, Eliot – the U.S. ambassador to Venezuela – may have physically survived the assassination attempt, but he would never be the same again. And Sheridan had accepted that neither would their marriage.
But when a man that Sheridan had hoped to never see again brings new information about her past, it spins her life down a side road—a path that makes her question everything she thought she knew about herself, her husband, and their life together.
Does a promise last forever when everything has changed? With honesty and grace, best-selling author Sally John tells a moving story about the unexpected detours our lives can take and the hope that it’s never too late to find our way back.
“A wonderful story about the twin truths that forgiveness is costly but love can meet the expense head-on. Sally John is an insightful, inspiring storyteller.”
-Susan Meissner, author of The Shape of Mercy