Gifting the Readers

It was an unusual path that led to the creation of my third novel, Mourning Dove, and the thought that spurred me on was gifting the reader with something to ponder.
Mourning Dove started as a poem, written rather cathartically, in verse that sought to put into words the repercussions of a personal experience. I wrote the poem but never shared it, thinking it would be enough to write it and leave it in my journal. Then, in 2013, I saw a call for submissions in the San Francisco Writers Conferences’ contest. In looking at the categories, I decided to tell the abbreviated story behind the poem in the requisite 3,000-word limit and enter it as narrative nonfiction. Because I liked the images and rhythm of the poem, I began my piece with the poem’s first stanza. As I wrote the nonfiction story, I remained true to the feel and flow of the poem. I reached the word limit swiftly and submitted it to the contest, under the title Mastering Ambiguity (there’s a good reason for that title.)
Three months later, I received notice that Mastering Ambiguity was a finalist in the contest, and, as I live in Malibu, I decided to make the trip to the 2013, San Francisco Writers Conference and attend the luncheon where the winner would be announced.
Entering the auditorium, I saw thirty-five, eight seated tables spaced on the floor before a stage. As I found a seat, I told myself that if anything ever came of Mastering Ambiguity, I’d turn it into a full-length novel. Mastering Ambiguity wasn’t pronounced the winner at that luncheon, but it came in as the runner-up. Knowing I had a good story, I kept my pledge and set to work turning Mastering Ambiguity into a novel.
But how to turn a 3,000-word, nonfiction piece into a novel that is essentially a coming- of -age and then some, Southern family saga? It occurred to me that if I focused on a sense of place, in this case, the genteel side of 1970’s and 1980’s Memphis, replete with characters exemplary of old-world social mores, I’d have a solid foundation for a cause and effect story.
I began by defining the aim of Mourning Dove, which would help me suggest its point. Once I had what I wanted to say in hand, I settled upon Mourning Dove’s themes, knowing, if I let them lead, I could write the novel in scenes that would lead to gifting the reader with an overarching point.
When a writer settles upon a theme, or themes in a novel, the idea is to make them universal, so that the reader will identify from the vantage point of their own life. In Mourning Dove’s case, I wanted to expand upon the idea of a search, for I believe all of us are searching for something, be it a daily search or over a lifetime.
Once I knew the beginning and end of Mourning Dove, I wrote the following in a composition book I keep by my keyboard, and allowed it to guide me:
A search for place/home
A search for identity
A search for meaning/God.

From there, I wrote the story of two siblings who were born in Minnesota but moved abruptly during their formative years to the Deep South, where they entered the traditionally Southern environment as outsiders. From here, the novel took on a life of its own and became not only about discovery, but about displacement and the navigational tools one employs, while trying to fit into a culture.
For the most part, writers write from what they know. They use their own impressions and experiences as fodder to one degree or another, in the process of telling a story. I believe this is inevitable and inescapable, and in writing Mourning Dove, I portrayed Memphis as I experienced it. Because I now live in California, the geographical distance afforded an objective eye with a sense of nostalgia for an era now gone by. Late 1970’s through 1980’s Memphis was well worth writing about because I am of a generation raised by those many call “the old guard.” These were the people born to a culture steeped in Southern social mores and tradition, who held to its ways as if manners and form were the template to society, so much so that it verged on stifling.
My aim in writing Mourning Dove was along the lines of depicting the culture the siblings came to as outsiders to show how its influence contributed to their psychological wiring. Because we are all products of our upbringing, it raises the question of nature versus nurture in influencing how a life turns out. It’s a complicated amalgam that contributes to how individuals end up as they do, and in writing Mourning Dove, I wanted to tell the story of siblings who share the same history but come to disparate ends.
Because readers are intelligent beings, I wanted to take the reader through a series of one telling scene to the next, so that they could divine for themselves how what happened in the end came to be.
It’s a give and take in being a writer. If a writer gifts a reader with something to ponder, the reader will take away their own conclusion.

 

Mourning Dove by Claire Fullerton is a Faulkner Society listed, and winner of the Bronze medal for Southern Fiction by Reader’s Favorite.

Enter to win the audiobook of Mourning Dove: https://audiobookwormpromotions.com/mourning-dove/

https//www.clairefullerton.com

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Balance in A Writer’s Life

I exchanged messages this morning with Michelle James, whom I had the pleasure of meeting online years ago, when Dancing to an Irish Reel came out. This shows me the beauty of WordPress—there are wonderful friends here, and I’ve found the community to be extraordinarily engaging and supportive. And it’s not just about books that we talk about. Books may be the reason why we’re drawn to the page in the first place, but typically exchanges lead into other places, and this morning Michelle and I talked about Pilates.
Michelle and I both incorporate Pilates into our weekly schedule, and it caused me to think about why I do it. It’s because I spend so much time at this computer, and it occurred to me that a writer needs balance. In order to find balance, it takes the realization that balance is a requirement of a writer’s life.
I have a wheeled chair on a hardwood floor that fits up tightly under my desk. I am a little-bitty ol’ thing, and I’m in the habit of sitting Indian style (can I say this in this PC world? Apologies for any offense) for hours at a time. I go through phases when a project is pressing, even if the immediacy is of my own making. Looking back at the past five and a half years, it’s staggering to realize that I produced four novels, but part of the explanation is I got myself into it because one door opened then things happened at once, in a flurry that felt like putting out fires.
Which brings me back to the subject of Pilates. I’ll add ballet because I still go to class. I’m a believer in the adage that the mind and the body are one, and I’ve found that without finding a balance, I suffer. Without reading and writing, I am aimless, and without tempering the way I sit at my desk, there are particular areas in my lower back that tighten to the point where my whole body locks up. Basically, I have to undo what I create, after I spend so much times sitting in the form of a pretzel. But it’s more than that, really. It has something to do with needing to get out of my head and into my body, and I think it matters, with respect to grounding myself on God’s green earth.
I’m going to take this subject further and talk about a decision I made once I came up for air after completing the edits for my next book, which I wrote after Mourning Dove (This book is another Southern novel in the capable hands of my agent, and hopefully it will be signed somewhere!) Because I spent so much time during the week and then some in self-enforced isolation, save for the occasional social outing or doing whatever it takes to tend to home and hearth, I decided to switch priorities. I know a group of wonderful women who live near me in this seaside community, and every morning they meet to walk the beach. I had to wrestle with the hour of joining this group. 8:00 in the morning is a questionable hour to be up and out of the house, and I have a bad habit of getting coffee then going to my computer the second my feet hit the floor. Once at my computer, away I go.
My commitment to leaving the house was made in favor of physical and psychological balance. Once the decision was made, the effort was easy because I knew the stakes, otherwise. If I start the day by getting outside and walking by the ocean, it gives me a certain perspective. The enormity of the ocean; the people out walking their dogs; the surfers sizing up the waves; the conversation of friends; and the simple act of movement reminds me there’s a big world outside of my office, before it’s time to close myself off when I return to my desk.
I think balance is imperative in a writer’s life, and writer’s need to aim for it. It takes commitment to write, especially when one writes novels, but it also takes commitment to lead a well-balanced life.