Red CPR engines stormed by, just beyond the platform, shaking the window of the little dormer I stood in. My sister and I held each other and laughed at the thunder of what had become routine. The little nook of my Canadian Pacific Railway home, in which my sister and I enacted many doll-house mysteries, jutted out over my dad’s office below. I gazed out again onto a prairie filled with wild tiger lilies and watched my dad retrieve the P-shaped hoop on which he had clipped the orders for the train. He walked it back to his office. He waved up at me. I smiled. Also from my nook, I heard my dad greet my mom in our home below, and I imagined the embrace, the sweet pause in a busy day to hold each other. The yeasty aroma of my mom’s baking wafted up to my little fortress, and the roll of laughter below elicited my own giggle as I pictured my dad sneaking a fresh roll from behind my mom’s back.
I wonder what the previous owners saw when they looked out the screen window. Did they see a loving, hardworking, and trustworthy father? Did they hear a mom and dad who loved each other and had fun together? Or did they see a dark scene, causing fear and mistrust to hammer in their hearts?
Sometimes I still get caught in the trap of thinking that I cannot write authentic fiction because I had no major obstacles to overcome in childhood. I was loved, encouraged, and affirmed. My parents provided for my siblings and me, kept their promises, and gained my trust early in life. They surrounded me with every genre of literature and music, which we enjoyed in the evenings, along with games and the freedom to explore outdoors through the trees, brooks, and meadows of our town. They took our family camping all across Canada and the States every summer. All manner of guests dined in our home, from the lost and drifting on the edge of town to the itinerant preacher and from farmers to professors and everyone in between. I saw an idyllic life from my screen door; struggle and conflict never shadowed my life – that was only what the grownups talked about.
I have to remind myself that every screen door opens onto a real world. I grew up with authenticity, even though it did not include trauma. My viewpoint is real, needed, and unique. However, I want my writing to connect with people who may have lived amongst thorns rather than in a bed of roses. How do I write conflict when I’ve lived in such peace and tranquillity? The same way other authors do.
Research. Bodie and Brock Thoene’s “Zion Chronicles” feature characters who struggle to survive in Israel after the horrors of the holocaust. The authors did not live through these troubled times, but they researched the history to create characters who lived within the unbelievable events of those days.
They also interviewed people who endured those dark days. First person accounts add credibility to any kind of narrative.
Read. In addition to interviewing people, we can access reams of information on issues such as how trust must be rebuilt after abuse or how trauma can cause long-term anxiety. These topics can be explored and studied in every genre now, from poetry to news, and from fiction to memoir, self-help, and professional journals.
Realize. Each of us has experienced some kind of internal struggle, even if we haven’t had to deal with an external crisis. Perhaps the betrayal of a trusted authority in the workplace or church has jaded our perceptions or dealing with a special needs child has informed our outlook. In any case, mining deep into our own souls can help us write with relevance.
Whether we squint through a torn and battered screen door onto a broken childhood or gaze onto an idyllic and happy scene, we have a real and authentic voice that will meet a felt-need somewhere. Our dark world needs voices that have come from a place of freedom, innocence, and light just as much as it longs to hear from those who have overcome tragedy. We all have to do our research, read extensively, and realize that we do have a voice and enough internal hurdles to write in such a way that transforms lives.
If Pam Mytroen could spend all day in her kitchen baking pies, brownies, and making turkey dinner for friends, she would. But Murray Pura once told her to write first and then bake—advice that she is trying to stick with these days, except, of course, when her grandchildren stop in for milk and cookies.