Sunday, November 18, 2007

stepping into dark

Nothing slows me down like research. The trick with embedding information when you, as the writer, are not the source of the information, is all about how you assert your authority. How you appropriate what you just learned, making it sound as though you've known it a long time.

I backed myself into a situation where my narrator feels responsible for her little sister's childhood accident which happened on her watch. A fishhook snagged her sister in the eye, leaving her cornea lacerated and rendering her blind in that eye. This pivotal situation informs a lot of subsequent choices, including her decision not to have children. The narrator ultimately becomes a scientist, obsessing over cause-and-effect, studying eye trauma as she reinvents possible outcomes. On the page this looks like expertise (or, I hope it does):

There are four conventional ways to remove a fishhook. Of those there are two that typically result in minimal tissue damage. In the first, the retrograde method, the remover applies downward pressure to the shank of the hook, then backs it out along the point of entry. Not the best choice for eye penetration and a hysterical child, as it turns out. The second popular and less invasive method is called the string-yank technique. Picture it; you’ll be correct.

Method number three involves tools. In the needle cover technique a skilled practitioner presses an 18-gauge needle into the site, and then extracts both the fishhook and the needle. Option four was the one used to extract the fishhook from Cherry’s eye. But first they had to get her to stop grabbing at the shank and filleting her ocular tissue.

The section goes on to describe what happened immediately following the accident, and then visits the clinical particulars that ensue. It's all pretty scary to me, because I feel sometimes that I'm inviting mayhem into my subconscious. Once I wrote about a septic tank going awry, and the very next week my septic tank tanked. With an overly active little boy in my house, I hesitate to detail childhood trauma and give any energy to the trickster, who, in my superstitious mind, is just waiting for a chance to get his claws around the fates.

Yep, part of me is scolding me right now for being so dashboard Jesus about this, but the other part of me wants to fog out my computer with burning sage. The dark place, the scary place---keep it the hell away!

Chelsea. Take Chelsea Cain. She spends an awful lot of time writing about a serial killer. Chuck Palahniuk, he regularly visits the minds of terrorists, rapists and vengeful pugilists. All the good writers of my acquaintance dally in the "what if" of the dark side. I just finished Tom Perrotta's "Little Children." A marvelous romp through suburban decadence, deftly written with pathos, humor and grisly detail.

Even though it's important from a characterization perspective, the eye scene is really an aside--what I'm writing to avoid the scarier scene which involves the narrator's beloved cousin dying a cancer death. The swimming upstream part of this book is beginning. I doubt I'll be able to swim at a rate of 1200 words per day against that current.


  1. I read "Little Children" this past month and thought it was fantastic! I have high hopes for "The Abstinence Teacher" once my turn comes for the library copy.

    Miss you!

  2. Just picked it up!!! Love it, love it, love it. Lemme know if your library copy stalls, I'll send 'er along. Miss you too, Jen.



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