Welcome to First Monday Mentoring, when I answer your questions about the writing craft and look at the realities of being a writer.
This month’s blog was inspired by two things – meeting a new baby in my adopted family, and some exciting reprints of my books. How do they go together? Well, the books are my babies, the legacy I’ll leave to the future, not least through the ongoing collection of my literary papers by the State Library of New South Wales.
Seeing my older books reprinted and in new languages – the latest being Chinese and Lithuanian – tell me my stories still resonate with readers decades on. What will your books leave? Will you have written them or kept them in your mind or computer, unshared, all that inspiration lost forever? Because make no mistake, when you write, you inspire others. You show them how the world might be instead of how it truly is.
Given how bad things are in parts of the world right now, any shred of inspiration is badly needed. Despite being so often belittled, romance novels play a key role. My first, Love’s Greatest Gamble (1982), dealt with the aftermath of a family member having PTSD. It wasn’t known by that name then and the effects even less understood. You came back from a war and got on with it, burying your struggles in alcohol or – in the case of my heroine’s late husband – gambling. She was left to deal with the fallout and the huge debts left to a powerful man.
My novels have also dealt with miscarriage, adoption, self-image, eating disorders, and a very current issue, domestic violence. The book, Man Shy, was challenging to write while keeping a balance between the issue and the love story. At one point, I almost gave up but my editor encouraged me to continue, and the book has been reprinted in any number of languages.
If you want to write about a serious problem, you must take it seriously. Before writing about the heroine’s miscarriage, I researched widely and interviewed friends who’d had the experience, in order to deal respectfully with what – to the mother – is the loss of their child. No trite dismissals or assurances it was “for the best” and “you can always have another.” One of my friends remembered her son’s would-have-been birthday for the rest of her life.
Another favourite is Man and Wife, where the heroine is a corporate maven ridiculed in the media for her clothing choices. No man goes through this. Furious, my heroine hired a man to be her “wife” and give her the same domestic back-up most businessmen enjoy. This connected with readers on so many levels, most telling me they needed a wife themselves. That he turned out to be her industrial rival made the story more fun, but the undercurrent of gender inequality in the corporate world lingers today. Man and Wife came out in 1984.
I’ve been published in book form for 40 years. One of my personal inspirations, Star Trek, debuted on American television 50 years ago this month. Why has that show endured when so many others have vanished without trace? Again, I believe it’s the inspiration the show provided. Star Trek’s creator, Gene Roddenberry, one of my writing mentors, dared to explore racial equality, gender roles, the morality of war, and many other issues – all in the guise of a science fiction show. The pre-CGI effects, cardboard sets and rubber-suited monsters were the best that 1960s television could do. But it was the careful thought behind the scripts (not all, but a significant number) that has kept the show relevant for half a century.
Every writer is asked where we get ideas. It occurs to me now that they may be asking about the substance behind the boy-meets-girl story. On August 9, I’ll explore this question via a Masterclass at the Canberra Writers’ Centre on how to blend our real-life experiences with fiction. Click here for details. Only on writing this blog, do I see I’ve been doing this my whole career. My own struggles with weight, constantly moving house and being the new kid on the block and the like, form a subtext to much of my fiction.
My beacons science-fiction series published earlier this year by Momentum (Pan Macmillan) are new-kid-on-the block stories, except in the guise of aliens with strange powers, living among us. I didn’t set out to write that issue and only see it now, with hindsight. As it should be. Using stories to bludgeon readers over the head with issues doesn’t work. Instead, you take real people as your characters, figure out what they’re struggling with in their lives, and write that story. How they overcome their struggles is your plot, the inspiration being a by-product of their journey. The readers will “get it” as mine have for the last 40 years. As Star Trek fans like me have been “getting it” for 50 years.
What of yourself do you or will you give to your readers? I believe it’s why we need to tell stories, and why readers soak them up. We all need inspiration. If it’s not out there, maybe it’s inside you, waiting to be shared.
What do you think? What books have inspired you? What do you want to share? Your thoughts are welcome in the comment box below. They’re monitored to avoid spam, but your comment can appear right away if you click on “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.
Happy writing and inspiring others,
Valerie’s Beacon sci-fi series out now!
Beacon Starfound OUT NOW
Beacon Earthbound OUT NOW
Beacon Continuum OUT NOW
Beacon Homeworld OUT NOW
via Amazon.com.au Amazon.com & Amazon.co.uk – also via
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