The Last Culprit
At the Gig Harbor Historical Museum this past summer
I'm nearing the end of writing my third novel, and I don't think the process will ever stop demanding a lot. After delving into the post-Depression 1930's for both Swiftwater and The Emblem, I told myself this one would be easier: The Last Culprit is set in the 1970's in my hometown of Gig Harbor, WA. I was also working from a story structure I'd started at age 27. It had some development, but wasn't polished or publishable. While approaching this work was more seamless because of these aspects, it's kept me reaching/stretching in other ways.
Here's what's hard about my third book:
*My characters are mostly male.
I've known I wanted to write about the consequences of bullying for a long time. Many of us didn't emerge from our school years unscathed from either damaging words or actions. While there's a wide range of bully behavior, I wanted to hone in on an undeniable act and ponder how both aggressor and victim emerge from such an incident. While I favor writing female characters, male characters started cropping up in my mind early on, and that's the direction the story took. While I have strong female characters factoring in, it's a challenge writing from the perspective of the opposite sex. Thankfully I have enough male writing mentors to help guide me and the benefit of books to read to see that my work measures up.
*There are more people alive to correct my errors.
The Baby Boomer generation, those who lived here during the span of my novel, will likely have opinions my portrayal of Gig Harbor. Did I get the colors for the Peninsula Seahawks right? How about the make and model of the vehicles most favored during the time? Did I pick the musicians/bands most played on the radio during that time? While it's fun to read articles from the early 70's (thank you, Gig Harbor Historical Museum) and helpful to find beta readers who grew up before I was alive, I still need to put effort into making the story believable.
*My railcar became a boat
When I wrote this story the first and second time, my character Jesse was locked in an old, abandoned railcar in the woods. It wasn't until I dusted off an earlier draft a year ago that I had several fellow writers tell me that a boat would be a lot more fitting for the fishing town of Gig Harbor. While I tried to keep my railcar scenario, the steel clipper won out, and I gave in, realizing that change was a stronger one. To make it work (since I knew precious little about boats), my husband took me to an abandoned boat in a neighboring town and boosted me up so I could explore the rotting boards in the floor, the mechanics of the hold, and have a working knowledge of the floorplan.
*I'm exploring the after effects of trauma.
Thank goodness for works such as "The Body Keeps the Score," "Try Softer," "Switch on Your Brain" and the ability to interview people about their lived experiences. I wouldn't want to write a book that discusses the lasting grip of trauma without the help of experts in the field. While I've learned and grown a lot through counseling myself (realizing all of us have storms to weather), I'm limited to my own experience and the empathy I can feel for others. Because of an extensive reading list, I have a greater understanding how trauma (big T and little t) takes a toll on individuals mentally, physically, and spiritually and also how one can start healing. But there's a lot I don't know, especially in regards to the weight a soldier carries after war. It takes work to capture such trials on the page. I want to do so with understanding, nuance, and believability.
Writing a novel remains an uphill process, but it's absolutely worth the sweat and occasional tears. While there are a few hours that flow and the writing comes effortlessly, more often than not, this process demands as much effort as you have to give it. I will tell you this: it makes it all the more rewarding when you finally sign off because you know you've given your best.