One of my characters in The Twesome Loop is an abuser. Readers have commented that they really hated him, which, of course was the idea. However, during the editing/revision process, I was asked to give some sort of an empathetic side to his character (a reason for his behavior). This I did and it ‘explained’ his motivation to some extent.
When I recently watched the Ted Bundy tapes (which are truly terrifying due to his charm & ‘normalcy’ to those who knew him) it made me think that in fiction we ‘explain’ character motives but in reality there may never be one that makes sense.
Today’s question is: Have you been asked to ‘explain’ a character trait?
Were you happy to explain it or do/did you feel it took something away from the narrative?
Click on the post heading and then scroll to the comments. Looking forward to everyone’s opinion and experiences.
I lost a loved one to suicide and felt that there were so many misconceptions—or plain lack of knowledge—about what survivors experience, I wanted to shed light and give voice this loss like no other. The book also examines the cultural complexities that come with this kind of loss, as the characters of East Indian descent. Writing the book was also a way for me to process my grief and transmute the pain into something artful, hopeful.
How did you come up with the title?
SIDE BY SIDE refers first and foremost to the closeness of the relationship between the siblings in the novel, Kavita and Sunil. But it also refers to the themes examined in the novel, such as love and grief, loss and healing, self-destruction and self-discovery, universal experiences that often occur side by side.
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
If the book is about anything, it’s empathy. The protagonist in the novel, Kavita, encounters ignorance and shame in many parts of her life after her brother’s death. But when she finally meets someone who treats her with empathy and she learns to give that empathy to herself, and later to others, her healing journey truly begins.
Where can readers find you on social media and do you have a blog?
Do you have plans or ideas for your next book? Is it a sequel or a stand alone?
My next book, CAUGHT IN A LIE, will be published by HarperCollins. It’s a mother-daughter story told in alternate timelines that delves into identity, belonging, and the cultural pressures placed upon women.
Of the characters you have created or envisioned, which is your favorite & why?
My favourite character in SIDE BY SIDE is Hawthorn, whom Kavita befriends at a bereavement group meeting in the third part of the book. To me, he is empathy. He is definitely the most aspirational character I’ve ever written. I wish I was more like him and I wish I knew more people like him too.
Do you plan your stories, or are you a seat of the pants style writer?
A bit of both, actually. I like having a skeleton outline, so I have some idea of where I’m going with the story. How I get there, though, is always a great surprise!
Do you find social media a great tool or a hindrance?
Depends on the day! I often find it distracting. But it’s wonderful to be able to connect with people and share what you’re going through. One of my new year’s resolutions is to be more active and engaged online. When things get busy, though, I definitely slack off. So, I’m trying to be more consistent with it. I guess social media has the potential to be both a great tool and a hindrance. Boundaries are important!
Anita Kushwaha grew up in Aylmer, Quebec. She holds an M.A. and Ph.D. in Human Geography from Carleton University and is a graduate of the Creative Writing Program at the Humber School for Writers. She is the author of a novella, The Escape Artist (Quattro Books, 2015). Her novel, CAUGHT IN A LIE, will be published by HarperCollins Canada in 2020. She lives in Ottawa.
SIDE BY SIDE Synopsis:
Kavita Gupta is a woman in transition. When her troubled older brother, Sunil, disappears, she does everything in her power to find him, convinced that she can save him. Ten days later, the police arrive at her door to inform her that Sunil’s body has been found. Her world is devastated. She finds herself in crisis mode, trying to keep the pieces of her life from falling apart even more. As she tries to cope with her loss, the support system around her begins to unravel. Her parents’ uneasy marriage seems more precarious. Her health is failing as her unprocessed trauma develops into more sinister conditions. Her marriage suffers as her husband is unable to relate to her loss. She bears her burden alone, but after hitting her lowest point, she knows she needs to find a better way of coping. Desperate for connection, she reaches out to a bereavement group, where she meets Hawthorn, a free-spirited young man with whom she discovers a deep connection through pain. After being blindsided by a devastating marital betrayal, she wonders if a fresh start is possible in the wake of tragedy. Will she escape her problems and start over? Or will she face the challenges of rebuilding the life she already has? Side by Side is a story about loss, growth and the search for meaning in the wake of tragedy, illuminated through one woman’s journey from harm to care.
The prompt today is to use this zen garden as your inspiration.
Here is my response:
Shoulders slumped, feet heavy on the glistening pavement, Jocelyn makes her way home in light rain, which gradually soaks through her jacket and trickles down her back. The grey drizzle matches her mood, yet another day stuck inside the call center, reading by rote the same sales pitch over and over again. This hadn’t been her dream, she had believed she could find a career designing and tending gardens but no-one would hire an inexperienced student so she had make do with the first job offered and there she had stayed. Even after paying rent and all her bills she had a surplus, which was reflected in her savings account but she had nowhere to spend it. Holidays alone did not appeal, a fancy car would stayed parked in the under ground garage most of the time as she could walk to work in less than ten minutes and she wasn’t into fashion. She had made her small apartment a Japanese inspired haven with rich colours and objects; this was where she was happy. Opening the door she placed her lunch bag on the kitchen counter and headed straight for the shower, the warm water soothed her, her silk kimono feeling luxurious against her skin. After a light supper, she sat redefining her Zen garden, comforted by the slow motion of the small wooden tools, watching the fine grains of sand move and the careful placing of the miniature stones.
The sudden ring of the phone breaks her peaceful meditation.
“Is this Jocelyn Woo?”
“This is Jocelyn, who is calling?”
“Hello Jocelyn, my name is Harry Kyoto, I was given your number by George Ita at the Sumay Garden Center. He told me you were very talented at design when you worked with him in your summer holidays from college”.
“That was a while ago Mr. Kyoto but I do continue to design gardens in my spare time”.
“Yes, George has shown me some of your designs and that is why I am calling. I would like to offer you a job. Would you consider it?”
“Mr. Kyoto I would be absolutely delighted to accept. What position are you offering?”
“Well garden designer, of course, what else?”
Jocelyn felt dizzy with excitement, her heart was pounding – a dream come true when she had been at her lowest since moving to the city.
“When do you need me to start Mr. Kyoto? I only need to give two weeks notice”.
“That’s excellent news Jocelyn. So shall we say you will start on the sixteenth?”
“Thank you so much Mr. Kyoto, I’m really overwhelmed at your offer”.
“Well from the designs George showed me I think I am the lucky one, Jocelyn. Take care and I’ll see you soon”.
As she replaced the mouth piece, she couldn’t contain her excitement and let out a yell of pure joy – no more stuffy crowded tower block office with the constant gabble of voices saying the same thing over and over. She would be living her dream in two short weeks.
I would love to read your poem or short story inspired by this prompt – leave it in the comments.
Both. It exhausts me when I’m working on something long or complex but also energizes me when I have an idea I want to explore.
2. What is your writing Kryptonite?
Sometimes I get bogged down and want to quit writing that story, or that part of the story, because nothing is going right. I just have to wait, because the characters will work it out by themselves in my head and then I can go back to it.
3. Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?
I had 1 poem published under a pseudonym to protect a person who might have been offended by it. The publisher knew my real name and why I chose to do it this way. In all other cases I’ve used my real name.
4. What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?
I have many writer friends both inside the Writers Foundation of Strathcona County and outside of it. They inspire me to carry on by understanding the pitfalls and frustrations, by helping me improve my stories and by continuing to listen and share their expertise.
5. Do you want each book to stand alone, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?
Each of my 3 books, ‘Fragments of Lives’, ‘Colouring Our Lives’ and ‘Bloodlines’ stands alone. Even my contributions to magazines, periodicals, compilation books and even a workbook I co-authored are separate from all the others.
6. What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
Money well spent has gone for art work for covers, editing and publishing assistance. These are things I cannot do myself and finding the right person or people to do it for me was worth every penny.
7. What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
As a child I was allowed to read whenever and wherever I was. And to read anything that took my fancy. The stories fed what my mother told me was my ‘overactive imagination’. I knew at a young age that words had power as the stories affected me.
8. As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?
I have 2 spirit animals, neither of them specifically for me as a writer but both could be. The 2 diverse creatures are the she-wolf and the California Grey Whale. Both have tenacity, a lifelong affinity for protecting and caring for family and a gentleness within their peer group. When attacked or threatened they both can become aggressive in defending their family’s safety and their territorial boundaries. I have neither a mascot nor an avatar – both would be out of character for me.
9. How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
I am not working, at the moment, on any one story or book. I have hundreds of as yet unpublished stories but most of them will remain that way as they would require a great deal of work to come to fruition. Rather than take part in NaNoWriMo I’ve challenged myself the either start or complete a story each day in November. So far this is happening.
10. What does literary success look like to you?
Literary success for me is to have my stories read and appreciated. I’d like to have more of my books in libraries and have an audience farther away from where I live.
11. What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
My latest book, ‘Bloodlines’ took a lot of research. I didn’t know that when I began it as I thought it was just going to be a short story. I started researching possible migration routes for the ancestors of the main female character, Hannah, and ran into a roadblock as I discovered that she could not be of gypsy origins as I had thought. That started a whole process of figuring out where her ancestors could have come from and led to several new characters needing to be introduced. By the time that story was ready to publish it was long enough to be a book on its own and I knew more about Chile, anthropology, bats, volcano cloud storms, old maps and other things than I ever intended to know. I did some of this research online and some using old maps. I enjoyed it but it took me thousands of hours during which I discarded most of what I learned as it was not applicable to this story.
12. How many hours a day/week do you write?
I have no set schedule but normally write early in the day while it is quiet and I am rested. I am easily distracted so need quiet and calmness to write.
13. How do you select the names of your characters?
The names of characters are really important. Quite often the first character’s name will just come into my head and I start with that. Names need to be evocative of the time period of the story, the age of the character, the geographical region they come from and somehow give the reader a sense of who they are as well as how they fit into the story. If a writer gets this wrong it upsets the balance of the story.
14. What was your hardest scene to write?
Endings are always hardest for me. It’s difficult to have set a tone of time, place and characters and then round it all up to complete what you’ve written about them. After reading my short stories people often ask “What happened next?” but I don’t know the answer as for me the story has ended.
15. Why did you choose to write in your particular field or genre? If you write more than one, how do you balance them?
I only write about people who could be real but aren’t. The settings are close to what most of us experience and the people who inhabit the spaces could be neighbours. Real life is fascinating and I enjoy portraying it in a new way, often with twist which is how real life usually happens.
16. How long have you been writing?
Many, many years – I think I took my first creative writing class about 25 years ago although I had attempted writing prior to that. Then I joined a small writers group, albeit one not really suited to me, before finding a group which were helpful and encouraging.
17. What inspires you?
There is inspiration in many things, a beautiful view of mountains or the ocean, an overheard piece of random conversation, a news story, someone’s outfit, a dream I’ve had, and any number of other things in normal life.
18. How do you find or make time to write?
For me there is little problem with time. I’m retired from a day job so can plan my time to allow me to do most of the things I want to do. I can write both on a computer or by hand if I’m on a plane or a passenger in a car or alone in my home. I’m never without pen and paper.
19. What projects are you working on at the present?
Just trying to get a few small stories prepared for a monthly newsletter I submit things to as well as one to read at a writers Christmas party. Having just published ‘Bloodlines’ I have no deadline looming.
20. What do your plans for future projects include?
I’m in that space where I haven’t planned the next phase of my writing. I’m hoping that one or more of the stories I’m writing in November will be worth pursuing and turns into something I can share with others in the new year.
21. Share a link to your author website.
I don’t have a personal website but am part of the website of the Writers Foundation of Strathcona County (WFSC).
Today’s prompt is this beautiful image. Let the image speak to you.
It drew me in and I wrote what it inspired in a stream of consciousness.
Curtains of rain fall. Thundering upon the pavement. Running in every direction. Splashes soak coat hems and legs alike. Rivulets steadily flow together. Along gutters and crevices. Cars drive past creating waves. Flooding shoes and boots. All heads are hooded and facing downward. Speech impossible. Eagerness to be home the driving force.
A glance sees a girl. Standing as if a statue. Tattered umbrella sheltering her head. Fanning raindrops in a circle around her. Thigh length boots below a flimsy dress. An opened coat. Not affected by the cold dampness. Gazing at trickles becoming a stream. Her skin deathly white. Radiates a glow. No sway of body. Or blink of eye. Ramrod posture.
Unable to bear the torrent. Turn away. Homeward bound. Unanswered question.