Monday, April 19, 2010

The Dreaded Body Scene

“What is the hardest scene you’ve ever had to write and why?”

Wow. Tough question. Let me think… Ah! Yes, I know – The Dreaded Body Scene. Now the question becomes how much to reveal without dropping a huge spoiler because the hardest scene I’ve written (so far) is in the second book – the one I’m currently racing to finish before my deadline smacks me in the face.

Hmm…the scene… This particular scene haunted me for weeks. Normally I don’t shy from writing about dead bodies. I’m not squeamish by any means, (though I keep the gory bits to a minimum, or at least try to, for others) but The Dreaded Body Scene was really hard for me to sit down and write. I’ll tell you why in a moment. As for the scene itself, let’s just say involves a body in the trunk of a car in a salvage yard and leave it at that.

Now, to address why The Dreaded Body Scene was so difficult… It wasn’t difficult from a literary or technical standpoint because I try not to be too graphic in my descriptions. No, this was difficult on a deeper, more personal, and emotional level. As many of you may (or may not) know, my mother passed away very unexpectedly in December. I won’t go into details but suffice it to say that I was present when she passed. Mom and I were very close and the last few months haven’t been easy, especially when combined with the added stress of a deadline. Within a week or so of Mom’s funeral, I was faced with writing – you guessed it – The Dreaded Body Scene and I chose to handle it as a professional, with grace and dignity.

In other words, I avoided it like the freaking plague for weeks.

However, I couldn’t keep avoiding it even though I sort of like my tags of [Refer to the DBS]. Events later in the book hinge on that scene and what is discovered/uncovered. I eventually found myself in a position where I couldn’t continue without actually tackling The Dreaded Body Scene. So…I did…and I survived.

It wasn’t easy. In fact it was the only scene I wrote that entire day. After writing it, I had to find my Happy Fluffy Place again so I binged on Walt Disney movies and turned to some friends for comfort and fun. Nothing counters the effects of a Dreaded Body Scene like fuzzy faces.

To the far right is Hercules, a Chow/Shepherd mix, who I recently re-inherited from my mother. He's about 13-years old now and not as spry as he used to be, but he's a good companion.

To the left, from the top, are Panic, Disorder, Chaos, and Nugget. Yes, the first three cats do live up to their names. They came as "a set" because they're siblings. Nugget, on the other hand, came later and is a special case. But, that is a story for another day.

Difficult scenes are going to happen, regardless of the "why" behind them. I think the better question would be how do we respond to and cope with them when they occur. For me, animation and warm fuzzy piles of fluff work best.

-- Jeannie


Joshua Corin said...

Jeannie, given how recent you had to deal with your mother's passing, it was very brave of you to persevere with your fiction's morbid subject matter the way you did.

In our stories we write about death so often that it almost becomes flip, but that's only because those deaths are mere words on a page, and no figment could ever or should ever compare to the real heartache of losing a loved one.

You have my sympathy and my respect.

Sophie Littlefield said...

aw, sugar. I too have had scenes that bumped along scraping fresh wounds. those definitely count as the tough days, the ones where you have to treat yourself gently to get the words done, but later when I went back i often found that there was some solace to be found in getting things on the page. not always but often enough to keep me going back. anyway, you are brave and that will only make your writing stronger.

Graham Brown said...

Hi Jeannie - the only thing that would have been odd is if such a scene was EASY to write - particularly after losing your mom but also in general, because for it to have impact to the readers it has to first have impact to us as writers.

By the way - The COVER is awesome - first time I've seen it. And I love your "furry" writing partners.


Rebecca Cantrell said...

What a wonderful, touching post, Jeannie. I teared up while reading it. And I very much agree with Josh about how strong and courageous you are.

Fuzzy companions can be a help. Mine just talk all the time, although I have no idea what they're saying (it sounds like, "Do it now!" but I never knwo what it is).

Charlene Ann Baumbich said...

I am sorry about the loss of your mother.

For a year after my mother's death (1975), I could not watch hospital scenes on TV. Glad I was not yet a writer back then! But since becoming an author (1991), I have cried my way through many scenes that evoke deep personal pain or joy. I agree with what Graham Brown said. I believe when we allow the pain to wash through us--out of our hearts, into our fingertips, onto the screen, ultimately to the eyes of the reader--they "feel" right along with us.

I love the way you told the story. Kornflake, my big red dog, often delivers my warm fuzzies! But here's one from me XO.

Terry Stonecrop said...

I'm sorry about your mother and you coped so well. Good for you.

Love the names of your fuzzy friends. :)

Jeannie Holmes said...

(I'm in a time crunch here with a major deadline breathing down my neck so I'm doing my best to get everyone in at once. Forgive me if I seem abrupt, but "stressed" doesn't begin to cover me today.)

Josh -- Thanks for your kind words. Sometimes we don't always show death the proper respect in our fiction, but I'm hoping what I've written has found a balance between the flippant and the emotional. If that makes sense.

Soph -- Thanks, girl. This entire second book has been a bugger to write, in all honesty, even before factoring in all my personal issues. I'm starting to see a light at the end of the tunnel, though. I keep telling myself to keep plugging away at the pages and I can have a full mental collapse later.

Graham -- Thanks, Graham. Once I finally did write the scene, and after spending a day with the Fuzz Patrol, I felt better, ironically. The last few months have been a major roller coaster -- Mom, new editor, new cover, and now today I find out a new release date. (Moving from June 22 to July 6.) When all this is over, I'm taking a month off for vacation. Geez. :)

Becky -- Aw, honey, I did mean to make anyone cry! I just answered the question. :) I think I'd go completely insane without my Fuzz Patrol. They can drive me nuts but I love 'em. They're just too darn cute.

Charlene - Thanks so much. I understand your feelings toward hospitals. Although my mother wasn't in on when she passed, I worked in plenty of them to know exactly what you mean. My agent has told me more than once through all of this "You'll finish the book when you finish it. Don't push yourself." That doesn't work for me. Focusing on the writing, even the Dreaded Body Scene when I wrote it, has helped me cope. I'll be a complete basket case by the time I'm done, I'm sure, but that won't be any big news to those who know me. (Stop snickering, Becky and Kelli.)

I love the name Kornflake, by the way. ;)

Terry -- Thanks. The Fuzz Patrol's names are stories unto themselves, and it's never dull around here. :)

Kelli Stanley said...

Jeannie, all I can say is: you are brave beyond words.

And, of course, I love you. :)


Jeannie Holmes said...

Thanks, Kelli. You know I love you, too, dahlin'. :)

Shane Gericke said...

I think your dear mother is smiling down on you for this most caring and lovely blog, Jeannie. Thank you for sharing with us. And accept my deepest condolences on your mom's passing. That she gave us you is a living testament that we will all continue to enjoy.