Long ago, I discovered that you can’t force a situation. You can’t make someone love you. You can’t preach to others about your political or religious beliefs no matter how much in the right you think you are. You can’t force-feed a child who doesn’t like a certain food; and you can’t force yourself to write a scene that you know has no business being in your story.
So why do writers tell other writers to write when they hit a wall? Because writing can be therapeutic. You let that stream of consciousness go free, and maybe something in that sea of scribbles is worth salvaging.
I know that since I started writing my daily journal entries that I’ve had more ideas for this blog. But most of the time those jottings don’t really inspire much for Julius. In fact when I brainstorm on paper it feels forced.
I have a Facebook friend, whom I admire very much, and in the two communities that we belong to she has contributed quite a bit about her creative process. She comments quite a bit about the subconscious and how she allows it to run free. Because I am creature of control, I fought this at first. But I dropped my creative guard, abandoned my need to control, and let the subconscious speak and lead me down a path to help me with Julius.
Once I decided to listen, I knew I needed to flesh out the history of my characters. For example, for weeks my subconscious kept telling me that it didn’t make sense that my 38 year-old heroine had parents that were older than God. But I am stubborn and no matter how many times I tweaked the ages their ages, it still didn’t work. And then one night, the subconscious pointed out the obvious: She was raised by her grandparents. Now the math made sense. And she was raised by grandparents who were part of the CPUSA during the 1930s.
Okay, but what’s the connection with the Spanish Civil War? In all my drafts, the mother was an exiled Spanish communist. But having the grandmother exiled to America during the 1930s didn’t make sense for a number reasons. So I made her an American who followed the war because … her brother was an Abraham Lincoln Brigade volunteer and died in Spain. Aha. Now there’s an actual family connection and it makes sense that Alvah Bessie, a veteran of the brigades, was so admired by this family, and not just a mere obsession.
A digression for those wondering whether any of this is autobiographical. My mother, indeed, was a Spanish Republican with socialist leanings. My father, as a young boy in New York, followed what happened in Spain and sympathized with the Spanish Republic. When he was older, my father labeled himself as a Roosevelt New Deal Democrat. Neither of my parents were communists. Maybe, at best, fellow travelers (for a definition see F is For Fellow Travelers). And both admired the veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigades, especially Alvah Bessie (my father also happened to be a film buff and followed the plight of the Hollywood Ten).
Back to the subconscious … Now that it has helped me untangle Corinne’s family history and how it all ties in to her current one, I still had the predicament that my bad guy was not really that bad, more like a nuisance with annoying quirks. I made him a conservative blogger with the purpose to malign Julius—much like liberals attack Fox News. But that didn’t seem like it was enough. He had to be more unstable. I cried to my subconscious, “Help! What should I do to make this guy a complete creep?”
It took several days for me to figure it out, but it ties back to a comment that Corinne made to the ghost of Alvah Bessie. When I pictured the scenario and saw the tie-in to the scene I mentioned in Show Me, it all made sense.
Is the subconscious a muse? One definition of a muse is that it’s a guiding spirit. In Julius, Alvah is certainly Corinne’s muse, and maybe he’s mine as well. But I think my subconscious has been fooling around quite a bit with this story and now it’s finally ready to share key elements that were buried deep inside.