A few months ago I was presenting at a conference, and at the final luncheon the conference speakers were asked to say a few words about the most influential book from their childhood. Mine is/was a dull choice—Little Women, a predictable selection for many female writers. And every time I’ve heard another writer explain why she chose Little Women, it’s always the same thing: Jo March was a role model. I’ve usually cited that reason too.
But the book did far more for me than provide an admirable girl protagonist, something I didn’t fully grasp until I stood up at that luncheon to yet again extol Little Women (at the same time confessing I now find it unreadable). The book’s real influence on me I now understand is that it established early on a preference for domestic stories and nurtured a belief that the dailyness of life is novel-worthy.
I thought about this recently as I was browsing the YA shelves at my local chain bookstore where the quotidian hasn’t been evident for a long time, not unless your day-to-day involves curses, vampires, angels, etc.
Not to sound a lament, nope. There’s some marvelous stuff being written and published; even better, much of the student work I read is infused with similar veins of crazy, brilliant imagination.
But when she works with the ordinary, a writer has to find subtler ways to create drama. I’ve been thinking about how to shake up the dailyness–my own and the fictional dailyness that I am creating on the page–but without resorting to fantastic measures. For example, a bird feeder might seem an odd writing inspiration, but it’s proven so to me. Thanks to a new feeder in the front yard, I now every day watch a hawk swoop in and scare the crap out of the sparrows and chickadees and juncos, sometimes even scoring a lunch outside my living room window. Is it a coincidence that the protagonist in my work in progress has gotten sharper tongued these past few weeks?
I have a small backyard, currently snow covered. In summer there are a few chairs, some slabs of stone that serve as a patio, a small perennial bed. It’s a pleasant enough place. Lately I’ve been thinking about building a bottle wall. Cement and glass–how ordinary! But with any luck, my little project will get out of control and before I know it, my children will be calling each other and wondering if Mom is okay and who is going to step in and do something.
p class=”MsoNormal”>I had similar thoughts while writing last night. I said, “Oh, I can’t do that. Better not. Stop now.” Then I went ahead and did it. Even the quotidian can be full of surprises.