Seeing Themes & Obsessions In Novels

Close-up of a pencil drawing on a computer monitor

“There have been two great accidents in my life. One was the trolley, and the other was Diego. Diego was by far the worst.”–Frida Kahlo

Writers often don’t recognize their own embedded themes until after writing “the end”–and sometimes not even then. True revelations are often handed to us by reviewers, book clubs, and Goodreads. Only by looking back do we recognize our sore spots and consistent curiosity.

After finishing book three, when it became time to write a “think piece” on why I wrote that particular book (the why–besides fascination–being something I never truly see until well after I’ve chased ideas to the final page) the link for my novels jumped out like specters I’d avoided too long. Embedded in my stories of accidents, domestic homicide, infidelity, and adoption were enormous chunks of loneliness; the loneliness we can face, even in the midst of a seemingly intact group of family and friends.

As a child, the problems my parents faced kept me from being embraced by a larger community or neighborhood, whether cultural, religious or social. Thus, I find myself looking at families where affiliations and beliefs may provide comfort, or may create isolation.

Nor, by my third book, could I deny that exploring unintended consequences of actions fascinated me . . . “But I never meant for that to happen . . .”

The ‘but’ can be anything from a child’s bruise which resulted from that basket of laundry you left by the stairs, to a house stripped of all valuables, because you didn’t lock the door . . .or it can be your spouse lying in the ICU, fighting for their life, because road rage overcame good judgment.

Every move we make creates ripples within our circle of friends and family:
Tenderness and kindness engender waves of confidence and love.
Rage evokes fear and damage–sometimes as small as hurt feelings, sometimes avoidance, sometimes tiptoeing, and sometimes love is ripped apart.

In the worst of times, lives are forever altered. In my third novel, Accidents of Marriage, for the damage he caused, the husband and father in my book might as well have used a fist instead of his cutting words; a gun, instead of a speeding car.

And then there is guilt. Another of my perseverations. Working with batterers for many years taught me that change only comes when we face the damage we’ve brought–but admitting we’ve brought harm, especially to people we love, takes courage. In my work I found that I am always exploring how far we’ll go to avoid admitting culpability:

Will we lie?
Will we pile hurt onto already broken people?

How brave can we be?

I write to find the answers to these questions. I believe all fiction–whether atmospheric literary novels, science fiction, or romance– authors reveal themselves in unintended ways and the more vulnerability we allow ourselves (and the more authors take the eyes of their husband, mother, best friend off the work-in-progress) the more authentic the work.

And when a writer swears that no piece of their authentic self is on the page, I wonder why.

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One Comment

  1. JJ Robinson
    Posted August 22, 2015 at 10:00 am | Permalink

    I just discovered you! I love your books.

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