Homefires is out now! So without further ado:
The question most frequently asked of me is “how do you dream up those stories?” Most of the time, I reply “from life.” But that answer is too simple and may be considered glib so I go a step further and clarify. I begin with a premise, like in Song of Renewal, where a family is tossed into peril when, after the father has forbidden sixteen-year-old Angel Wakefield to go to a concert with her first boyfriend, because a terrible storm could make the venture dangerous, the mother relents and allows Angel to go. Later, when the teen is in a horrific auto accident that kills Troy and leaves her comatose and paralyzed, the results are devastating.
After setting the initial conflict, I begin to ask myself “what if?” What if…Garrison cannot forgive Liza for going against his judgment that fateful night? Imagine his anguish. What if…Liza’s guilt is so great that she cannot forgive herself? Imagine her remorse. What if…despite the fact that Garrison still loves Liza, he cannot bring himself to provide that succor she so desperately needs as their child lies at death’s door? How utterly alone and betrayed she must feel. Then, what if Liza eventually becomes so emotionally spent that she is forced to numb out her feelings for Garrison? What far-reaching effects will this have on their lives? On their marriage? But what if their love for their daughter is the one bond that keeps them tethered together? The what ifs are infinite and crucial in creating a story.
In Flavors, I asked “what if” Sadie Ann’s experiences—both good and bad– at the Melton farm grow too complex for her sensitive adolescent mind to process and remain well-tuned? The result was that Sadie Ann began to define the sometimes exhilarating, sometimes bizarre happenings in terms of flavors. Childhood was lemony while teen life was strawberry flavored. Adulthood ranged from Strawberry to Vanilla-y- to Cinnamon Spicy, depending upon the situation and nuances. Violence had a vile smell, the flavor of road-kill. Her stoical, sometimes apathetic grandmother was described as “sage-y.” This process of categorizing each reaction neatly, in a civilized way, helped the sensitive twelve-year-old deal with and file away each epiphany of her summer’s journey.
The choice of flavors is concise in rounding out Sadie Ann’s odyssey from childhood to adulthood in that life-altering summer. The girl’s inner child harmonizes with those inside all of us. We may disparage them during those awkward days now called tween years. We may scream and vilify her/him when they pop up at inopportune times and embarrass the bejeezus out of us.
I describe my own inner child as a sometimes grotesque Betty Boop with smeared lipstick and clumped, spidery mascara, who regularly made me look and act like an utter fool between the ages of eleven and fifteen. Actually, even further into my teens. Not as often but she was still on “go” and would spring into being at the least provocation. But at other times she was the sweetest, most giving of beings, loving the unlovable and forgiving the grossest of betrayals.
And like the older, melancholy Sadie Ann, I kept pushing that inner child away until she appeared less and less. Today she is nearly non-existent. And strangely, that doesn’t please me like I thought it would. In fact, get these—I find myself missing her. Yeh. Especially her spontaneity. All this melancholy junk spawned by aging gets too, too heavy. And I miss her ability to see past others’ flaws and just—love’em, Y’know? Oh, and I miss her childlike abandonment to joy. And her lemon-zesty celebration of life itself.
I wonder—would she come back? At least when I need her? In recent days, I’ve beckoned to her, more and more. Talking and reminiscing. Stuff like that. Because I know that, like me, she’s a sentimental soul. And I know that, even though I put her down so brutally in younger days, she won’t turn me away.
More than anything, you see, she loves to make people happy.
Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us today Emily!