Jackie Morse Kessler is the author of Hunger, about an anorexic girl who is chosen to be one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse--Famine. Her latest book, Rage, continues this series.
Writing What You Know
One of the adages authors are taught is to “write what you know.” Loosely translated, we should infuse our writing with our own experiences; that grounds our work and helps readers relate to the characters, even when we’re writing something fantastical. (See that? I did pay attention in my writing workshops!) When I wrote HUNGER, I had my personal experience with bulimia and poor self-image to help tell the story of Lisa and how she battled with anorexia. (Granted, I had significantly less experience with Horsemen of the Apocalypse, but hey, over-active imaginations can be extremely useful when you’re an author.) The writing process wound up being very cathartic for me—but then, having the story build inside for ten years before finally writing it might have had something to do with that.
When it was time to write RAGE, though, I had less to go on. This book would focus on self-injury, and that’s something I’d never done. So what’s an author to do?
The flip-side of the adage about writing what you know? Research the stuff you don’t know. (Hah—doing all those papers as an English and American Lit major in college was useful after all!) I spent a lot of time poring through interviews and questionnaire responses about self-injury. As I did this, the character of Missy Miller began to take shape—I saw this angry, misunderstood girl who was trying her best to just make it through the day, and on the days she couldn’t, she turned to her razor. When I finally understood the character, I started writing RAGE. (After I found my first line, that is; I have to have an opening line before I can get started. It’s just one of those quirky things.) While I didn’t have any personal experience with cutting myself, I absolutely know what it’s like to feel so overwhelmed that all you want to do is sit in the shower and rock and pray to God that everything magically gets manageable because the notion of doing anything more than just breathing is going to make you scream. Writing RAGE wasn’t cathartic at all. It was emotional, and upsetting, and it left me drained. Where HUNGER flowed, RAGE at times was like pulling teeth. I suppose it’s appropriate that a book about War would fight me along the way.
But doesn’t it always feel like the world is going to end when things go so very, very wrong?
And that, too, is writing what you know. It’s just a question of whether you really are going to end the world in the book...or maybe save it instead.
Jackie's next stop is The Book Smugglers at http://thebooksmugglers.com/.