Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Girls in the Basement

I first heard that expression at an RWA National Conference. I’m not sure who was credited with it, but it’s a brilliant analogy. Then NINC adopted an article for their monthly newsletter titled the Care and Feeding of the Girls in the Basement, which reminded me that just because I had left them down there didn’t mean they were forgotten. Only that they weren’t ready for action yet.

I remember a conversation I had with my Dad about the idea. He passed this past year after a very long battle with Parkinsons. And he also suffered from dementia. But before things got bad he asked me about my writing. (My family mostly just accepts that I do it, loves to brag about it, and hopes it pays off.) But he asked about the process like he really wanted to understand how it all worked. I tried to explain to him about all these “girls” in the basement and how I pick what stories I’m going to tell.
Later when we eventually had to put him in assisted living I would visit him and he would say things like… “Is that witch still in the basement at your house?” My mother would shake her head to let me know that it wasn’t a good day for him, but I knew exactly what he meant. “Yeah Dad, she’s still there. Waiting.”

I recently called up a “girl” from the basement. An idea that had simmered down there for almost two, maybe three years. I know the characters. I know the story sort of. It sat down there because of the time period. (Victorian – which only recently has come back into play) It also sat down there because I knew I didn’t have the chops to pull it off. Four character POV. Just writing that scares the crap out of me.

Naturally, now is the worst time. I’m in midst of another proposal – which I should be focusing on. But it’s like I don’t have a choice. This “girl” is banging loudly and wants out. So I opened the door, let it into my head and now there is all this pressure on me to execute. Part of me is tempted to slam it back down, lock the door and never let this idea see the light of day. But of course I can’t.

So here I go again down a path that in reality is mostly likely to lead to failure. It’s an odd odd thing being a writer. I’m grateful I have a place to come like DWT and share stories that I know other writers will get.

I sent a silent prayer to my Dad last night to let him know the crazy suffragette, her detective maid, the Irish seaman who is afraid of water and the brilliant bastard lord are about to have their time in the sun.

Good luck guys. I hope I do right by you.


Karen W said...

You made me smile. And feel oddly enough, wistfull. I think the girls in my basement ran away out of frustration. Nah, they must be lurking around somewhere, cuz whenever I have to send in a synopsis for a contracted blind book, they show up and give me a story.

But like you, there's this story somewhere, about something - I don't know what yet - hiding. I can smell it, taste it, and almost FEEL that sucker, but it isn't ready to show its face in the sunlight yet. Someday. I hope. I trust.

I think when you have a story like you described, one that grabs you by the throat and won't let go, you HAVE to write it. Regardless of whether you feel like you can do it justice - I think you'll surprise yourself.

Good luck and if you need a read for suggestions or brainstorming, you know how to find me!

Alli said...

Stephanie, I understand what you went through with your dad - I'm going through the same thing with my dad right now. I love that he had an interest in your "girls in the basement".

My characters are there, the idea is growing but it hasn't "hit me" just yet. Instead of my girls banging on door, mine are trying to pick the lock with a hairpin.

Sinead M said...

Stephanie, I could not love that more.. The girls in the basement.
Personally, I think the best books come from the basement.
You should always let them out to play. Especially if they scare us.

Eileen said...

Steph, I'm so sorry about your Dad. I know how hard it is. It's been six years for me and I still miss conversations with my Daddy.

I know what you mean about those girls! I have a couple that keep creeping up the steps. They haven't started banging on the door yet, so I think it's not their time yet. Some day, though.

I love the characters you described! I can't wait to read them!

Molly O'Keefe said...

I'm with sinead - I couldn't love it more either. Sadly, my basement is pretty empty right now. I need to do more thinking...

good luck, Steph! Your characters sound fantastic! And clearly to some extent your heart is in historical...

Stephanie Doyle said...

Alli - my thoughts are with you. I know how tough a time that can be.

And Karen - your services will definitely be called upon. I need to finish the proposal I'm working on and then simply emerse myself in research.

When I emerge - I might have a British accent.

Cheerio everyone!

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