Wendy, what did POSITIVELY BEAUTIFUL teach you about writing or about yourself?
So, I’m talking to my mother, and we’re brainstorming Positively Beautiful.
Me: “So, I need to figure out how Erin’s father dying when she was young would affect her.”
Me: (Wondering if she’s got me on mute again.) “I’ll research losing a parent at an early age, I’m sure there’s a ton of stuff out there.”
Mom: Deafening, meaningful silence. She’s definitely there. Why isn’t she talking?
Me: “What do you think? I mean, losing a dad at such a young age would be pretty traumatic, don’t you think? It would affect Erin in all sorts of ways.”
Mom: (Finally) “Are you serious, Wendy?”
Then it hits me. My father died when I was a baby. It’s not that I FORGOT about it, of course not, but I truly had not connected it to my story. My subconscious was at work again, and time after time I’ve learned the importance of recognizing and using these little flotsam from my lower brain. Catch that sucker and ride it to shore, because your subconscious is where all the juicy, meaty stuff hangs out. I’m not honestly sure if writers as a group just have more problems to work out than the average bear, but I’m a firm believer that writers have the best therapy in the world. We get to examine our subconscious on a daily basis and sometimes the most important thing about a subconscious jewel is not that you put it in your story, but WHY.
What advice would you most like to pass along to other writers?
I took a break from writing when my second son was born, and when I got back into it, I spent a lot of time scouring the internet looking for “what’s hot” and what was selling, trying to figure out what I needed to write to get a contract. Because basically, I had to either sell a book, or get a job. Nope, no pressure at all.
At the time dystopian was the biggest thing, and while I thoroughly enjoyed many dystopian books, I couldn’t think of anything I could write that would add anything fresh and new to that genre. The news story I read about the woman and her teenage daughters facing a BRCA gene mutation diagnosis kept surfacing like an insistent submarine sent from my subconscious, but I ignored it, because I NEEDED TO MAKE MONEY and contemporary was so not hot.
But ultimately, I could not ignore the story, because it was one I needed to tell. It was a story that I felt passionately about, and could get up every day and look forward to writing, because I truly cared about these characters and wanted to know what they were going to do next.
And that is the advice I would offer: Write the story that is burning in your heart, the one that keeps you awake at night, the one that will not go away. That is the story that you will write well, not the pallid, knock-off imitations of what everyone else is writing.
And you know what? Two years later, as this book is coming out, contemporary has suddenly become hot.
Life is good.
What are you working on now?
My next book, Reflecting Absence, will be out in 2016. It’s the hardest, scariest thing I’ve ever written (let me count the ways). Seriously, let me count the ways:
1. I’m alternating first person viewpoints of two girls fifteen years apart. We all know the importance of “voice,” but until I really had to put two first person voices in the same book, side by side, I didn’t understand HOW important voice truly is. My author voice, which had always been something I did subconsciously with a “flying by the seat of my pants” attitude had to be examined again and again.
2. One of the girls is a Muslim-American. I spent nine months attending weekly meetings at a Muslim Peace center whereupon I met some truly lovely people and discovered that much of what I thought I knew about Islam was wrong. Talk about starting from scratch.
3. My primary setting is in a town I had never been to when I started writing the book. (Subsequently corrected in a whirlwind visit that left me wishing I had moved there ten years ago.)
4. Part of the book takes place in the Twin Towers during the 9/11 attacks. ‘Nuff said.
As hard and scary as this book was to write for me, strangely enough it has given me confidence moving forward that I can write about ANYTHING. And that is a beautiful thing.
ABOUT THE BOOKPositively Beautiful by Wendy Mills
Bloomsbury USA Childrens
Erin Bailey's life changes forever the day her mom is diagnosed with breast cancer. It's always just been Erin and Mom, so living without her is not an option. Life takes another turn when the cancer is linked to a rare genetic mutation, and Erin must grapple with the decision of whether or not to have her own DNA tested. Her only outlets are flying lessons, where looking to the horizon calms her deepest fears, and her new friend Ashley, a girl she met in an online support group. But when a flash decision has Erin flying away to find her new friend, she embarks on a journey from the depths of despair to new love and a better understanding of the true meaning of beauty.
This thought-provoking story brings readers to the emotional brink and back again, as they experience Erin's fear, her frustration, and ultimately . . . her freedom.
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