When I made attempts at writing novels and short stories as a teenager, all of my main characters were girls in the throes of pill addiction. (Prophetic in a way, as my pill addiction grew to its full force in my early twenties.) They were pretty girls addicted to “Demerol” and “Benzedrine” and “Valium.” (The novels of Joyce Carol Oates must have really made an impact on me.) I laugh when I think back to this, because those aren’t the drugs that kids get a hold of for recreational use anymore. It’s all Vicodin and Ativan and Adderall these days.
Writing through my twenties, many of my attempts at novels and short stories have continued to include characters in their teens brushing up against drug abuse or depression or some kind of disorder. Divorced parents. Raped at a high school party. Cutting. Vodka drinkers. After all, you write what you know. You also write to get the demons out. And then you move forward. I have started to move forward.
Like all such crafts, if we stick to them, they evolve in ways we do not anticipate or imagine. I never would have imagined that I would be 70,000 words into a manuscript set in a fantasy world of witches and ruthless monarchs, prostitutes and peasant-boy fools. But here I am. Having a ball.
What I like about writing in this rather unfamiliar genre, is that I am attempting to dismantle the genre-ness of it. Which may prove to be incredibly naive and stupid and ridiculous…but how else do we learn? I was not inspired to write the tale because I am obsessed with witches or a massive J.R Tolkien fan. (Though I do love me some George R.R Martin.) I am trying to build characters that a kid who tried to kill himself or whose dad left or got strung out on heroin could relate to, but instead of wearing blue jeans and Chuck Taylor’s they’ve got on armor and long dresses. Instead of pot they’re drinking too much ale. Instead of grappling with Jesus and atheism, they’re wondering if witches and magic could actually exist. And then everything else is the same: struggles with identity and family. Coming to terms with and abuse and who we become based on those experiences. Why the choices we make don’t always align with what we actually want or know to be right. Examining more closely that most people aren’t ever completely evil (or completely good) and that there is always something lingering beneath the surface that would cause one to hurt another, or herself. Why people always assume something outside of them is their salvation. Why people assume true love to be something that it usually is not. Why people live in fear.
No Benzedrine or Valium in this novel. But there is clearwine and Elixa, and there is a purple river that kills you if you fall into it. There’s also family. Relationships. For most novels, when you cut to the chase, are really just about the screwed up, messy, gorgeous madness that goes with one person being, whether they like it or not, connected to another. Witches and druggies alike.