December 8, 2009

Search Your Feelings

A writer and nothing else:  a man alone in a room with the English language, trying to get human feelings right.
~John K. Hutchens, New York Herald Tribune, 10 September 1961
 I am getting The Inn ready for submission, diving into another edit. It is the sequel to The Orchard and centers around Elizabeth Embry, Alisen's older, snobby, successful sister. It had to be different because Elizabeth is such a different character from Alisen. Alisen was so open and searching. Elizabeth is closed and cautious, skeptical. Alisen had never been away from home. Elizabeth is hardly ever home. Alisen had innocence. Elizabeth has been there, done that. It was very interesting, finding her story. But they both had their childhood, shared the pain of the loss of their mother, and, though Elizabeth's awareness of it is latent, are looking for home... a place to belong.
The Inn has been my most difficult novel to write so far. It was my first novel without a definite inspiration (The Orchard was based on Jane Austen's Persuasion) and so I still worry about where it goes, plot and conflict. But I do love the emotion, because Elizabeth is so guarded. I loved having her true feelings forced to the page. So, while I struggle with the twist and timing, here is a snippet of emotion I do like. The X's are to eliminate a spoiler.

She flipped on the entry light and looked around.  The cathedral ceilings made the room feel extra large, or maybe she just felt small tonight.  The furniture was simply arranged in front of the fireplace on the right wall, and the back windows overlooking the golf course were black, only reflecting the room and her own image.  She took a deep breath and headed for her bedroom.
She hung up the dress in her closet, set down her bag, and sat on the bed.  Her heart began to thud a little too uncomfortably and she took another breath.  Gripping her phone, she pressed the button.
“Hello, Paul.”
“Liz.  How are you?” 
She pictured his smile. 
She breathed as she spoke, trying to hide the rapid movement she felt from her heart to her throat.  “I’m good.  I’m sorry I couldn’t return your call earlier.  I’ve been on the road.”
“Where to this time?”
“Actually, not too far.  XXXXXXXXX.”
There was a pause.  “Well, that’s great.”
“Yes, it is.”  She tried not to overdo the enthusiasm as she smiled.  “It was lovely.”
“Good, Liz.  Man, its great to hear your voice.”
Something occurred to her.  She looked at the clock.  “Are you still in Hong Kong?”
He laughed quietly.  “No.  I’m in Maine.  I opened a restaurant here a while back.”
“Oh.”  She hadn’t expected that.  “It’s still late, though.  I’m sorry.”  He didn’t say anything.  “Should I call back in the morning?”
“No, no, of course not.”
“So, Maine?”
“Yes.  An old friend of mine offered me a chance at his place and I couldn’t turn it down.  I missed the homeland.  And the restaurant is doing really well…”
He sounded as if there was more.  She waited, gently biting her manicured thumbnail.  “And…?”
He took a deep breath and she pictured him scratching his hair back and forth as he raised his eyebrows.  “…and, I’m getting married, Liz.”
She blinked and felt heat rising up her neck, then her face.  She didn’t breathe as her mind flipped like a deck of cards, too fast to land on something to say.
“I wanted to tell you… before you heard it from somebody else.”
She nodded, somehow finding her voice.  “Anyone I know?”
“No, no.  She’s a schoolteacher here in Maine.  She’s… she’s really great, Liz.”  His voice was gentle, not boasting. 
Elizabeth swallowed, hoping that would affect the water accumulating in her lower lids.  It didn’t.  “I hope she is.” 
They were silent for a few stretched moments.  Finally, he spoke.
“Liz… I,” he cleared his throat, “take care of yourself, okay?”
She nodded.  She was good at that.  “Paul?”  A rough rock lodged in her throat. 
 She felt the hot, unwelcome sting of a tear escape down her cheek.  “I hope everything works out… with the restaurant, and… everything.”
“Thanks, Liz.”  He paused.  “Liz?”
Couldn’t she just go, now?  “Uh-huh?”
He hesitated, then whispered low, “You’re more than you think you are.”
Her hand came to her stomach as if she’d been hit, and she tried to swallow.  He had said those words to her before, in a much different situation.  She had to let them sink in once more. 
Finally, she whispered back, “Goodbye, Paul.”
She hit cancel and dropped the phone.  She sat there holding her stomach, holding back the tears, steadying her breathing.
 Twenty minutes later, she slowly got up and changed into her nightgown, skimming past the shimmering red kimono robe, noting to herself that she could never wear it again, and hating herself for being that sentimental.
She climbed into bed, set her alarm, pulled the light covers up, and closed her eyes.  An hour later, the silent sobs came when she was too tired to fight them any longer.
And she knew her cries weren’t just for him.

Emotion is such a personal thing to write. How do you take words and form them into feelings, while staying true to the character? Share your thoughts.


M. Gray said...

Thanks for sharing this segment, Krista. It was so sad! And I love sad!

How do I convey emotion in writing? For me, I first need to be charged with the emotion--which usually means music coinciding with the emotion the character is feeling or else watching a movie or reading a book that leaves me overly emotional. That's how I get inspired. I find if I try to write before I feel the emotion, the words are meaningless and I just walk away. My book, working title The Ethos, is a Suspense so I listened to a LOT of beat driven, edgy music this past year. But I love a variety of stories and music so it's nice to find your music on your web site! I want to learn more about your books! I was actually thinking about asking you to see if you wanted to have an email exchange interview for my blog. I've only done one other interview with Sarah M Eden and Aubrey Mace but we did it in a chat room and I'd love to get more in depth with you. What do you think? I was thinking it could be fun and a great way for you to get your name out. :) Let me know if you're interested. My email is

Krista said...

M., you are so great. I think I would love to do an interview! It will be a very "green" interview
(I don't mean recycing, I mean I am so new to this I feel pre-new), but I will be in touch. Thanks!

M. Gray said...

I tagged you on my blog today. And no stress about the interview... now that I've tagged you I feel like I'm stalking you! So we could do an interview now or further down the road. It's up to you.

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