I’ve been revising like a madwoman lately, pulling favorite half-started pieces from the dusty archives of hard drives and in some cases even old printed copies of false starts from characters whose lives first shimmered in my mind some time before the laptop I have now saw the shiny light of day. It’s scary in a way to look back on my writing over the last several years. More than two decades ago, I seemed to have an innate sense of what was coming. I predicted, in a way, pain and tragedy that is even now realizing itself in my life and the lives of my loved ones. My obsession with families, with children, with tragic deaths that came too soon and with losses that seemed so profound as to be unintelligible… with coming out to your truth against the odds of doing so… I seem to always have been, at 20, at 30, and now in my early 40’s, swimming upstream.
I use idea boards on Pinterest to anchor my thoughts, my characters. I normally start with a character or a concept, a place or idea, and then glom onto a Board and pin snippets and shards of images and feelings so that when I get stuck or am uncertain where the characters want to go, I can refer back to the Board like a compass. A buoy to uplift and re-direct me when the creative waters threaten to wash me ashore.
I hate, though, culling images from the old traditional places. Models and modeling websites can be great for finding unusual faces or striking beauty. But sometimes I wish I could take a photo of Crystal, the flight attendant whose skin and soft pink lipstick and mixed-race eyes and small hands and ombre waist-length hair evoke even now a sensation that I want to create for the reader. I want to write about real people, people with weight and girth and pores on their faces and hair that’s poorly cut, with imperfections and colors and scars and flaws. Models are great to sell couture clothes (if you’re into that sort of thing) but I want real.
My mother is in intensive care (which is a topic I want to tiptoe around out of respect for her privacy, suffice it to say it’s serious) but this weekend I was with her for Mother’s Day. We watched Food Network nonstop from her hospital bed, a favorite we share, and I decided to create an idea board for a well-loved story that is out on submission now. One of the competitors perfectly fit the image of I have the main character. There are precious few photos of Chef Sandy Hunter out there, so I Pinned what I could. Thank you Food Network and Chef Hunter for those awesome images that so perfectly capture my character Nicole. For the other character, Dot, I don’t know where to begin. Unless I start snapping photos of real people on the street (Flight Attendant, Crystal, could you move that oxygen mask from your face for a just a minute and pose? Less “The nearest exit may be behind you” and more “Cocktails are $4 and we accept cash or credit” in your expression, please.)
I’ll continue to add to my idea boards and continue to write about the real people and the real scenarios that move me. And I’ll continue hoping that popular culture catches up to what I think the rest of us really want to see. Real. Us. In art and literature, on billboards, as well as idea boards.