Sep 3, 2009

Why I Write

I began writing as a little girl and I never stopped. Writing stories was my door to Narnia, to a world where magic was real and good always won. Writing stories was my way of going on adventures, which were strictly forbidden by my controlling father. Good little girls do not go on adventures. They do not take risks. They do not kiss boys. Good little girls pray and get A’s and obey their parents without question.

I think storytelling is in my blood. My mother created stories as a way to escape her poverty-stricken childhood and I did the same. I liked the control of creation and then the joy of watching things happen. I was quite the bossy big sister, but my brothers and all of our friends loved to play with me because I created the best plot lines. Whether we were playing Barbies, GI Joe, dress-up or detectives, I set the story in motion and then we just adlibbed the rest. It was beautiful.

As I got older, I crawled further into my fantasy worlds. I wanted to write stories about mythical kingdoms and princesses that had to dress like boys to escape their captures. My female characters were stronger than I was. They overthrew their dictators. They ran away from home. They walked down the road less traveled to new lands, meeting extraordinary characters. They fought dragons and became heroes.

I attended Oral Roberts University in order to start a new chapter of my life. I had been dreaming of fleeing my father’s kingdom for years and I was finally able to do it. But I still wanted to be a good little girl so I went to a conservative, Christian school where I became a “fringe” student because I didn’t think that everything was a sin. I didn’t think that people should be shunned for having different beliefs. I didn’t think that one’s public image was more important than one’s heart and soul.

I found my fellow travelers. Many were in the English and Drama departments. Some were studying theology and Spanish and history and psychology. I found my fellow fringe students everywhere. I took classes that introduced me to Anglo Saxon poetry, the world of J.R.R. Tolkien, and the fairytales of George MacDonald. I learned that my favorite story, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, was written by an imperfect man who thought that heaven wasn’t be made out of gold. He believed that, just maybe, death wasn’t the end of the journey toward finding God.

During my senior year, I learned about modern fiction. I began reading Sylvia Plath, Alice Walker, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and Flannery O’Connor. I started to realize that I was a feminist. That realization changed everything.

I wanted to write stories that were true. I wanted to write about imperfect, real characters that fell down and then got back up again. I left my fantasies behind and took to the open road. I followed the footsteps of the beats, found the home of Maxine Hong Kingston, and opened my heart to the city of San Francisco.

It took me years to flesh out my written voice. The first, completed attempt of telling a true story is a Young Adult novel, Cast the First Stone, about two girls growing up in small town, Oklahoma. It’s a work of fiction, and yet it’s all true. The human connections are true and the struggle toward self-realization is true.

I’m working on a second book, Invisible Elephants, in which I become transparent as an author. I’m not hiding anything in this novel. All of the confusion and pain and beauty of being raised in a strict Christian home is revealed in this story.

If you live in the Chicago area, you’re invited to participate in my first official reading of Cast the First Stone. It will take place at Women and Children First on Sunday, Sept 13th, at 4:30. (It’s only 2 weeks away!) I am sharing the afternoon of literary debauchery with novelist, J. Adams Oaks. He wrote the amazing and engaging YA book, Why I Fight.

Hope to see you there!

1 comment: said...

I'm so proud of you, Gwen! You're doing it. Congrats on your upcoming reading. Keep the stories pouring out and if you ever wanna come over and play Barbies, I'll provide the dolls, you provide the plot line:)