Friday, August 5, 2011

A Change in the Landscape

Boulder Bay, Alaska

A few weeks ago my family returned to the remote property we have on Kodiak Island. The journey includes a pleasant ferry ride through Prince William Sound and another, less enjoyable ride in our small boat the final 20 miles to our destination, Boulder Bay.

The small boat puts us in intimate contact with the frigid Alaskan waters. We suit up in various layers and stow everything in water-proof drybags. The ride can be wet and cold, with a wind-chill factor of nearly freezing. But despite that, the ride is also full of wonder.

Wonder at the way the sea is in constant motion. Wonder at the fish that jump, silver in the sunlight and the huge beds of kelp we dodge. Wonder, and laughter, at the fat clown-like puffins that, if they’ve fed well, cannot take flight with a full belly and instead skim along the water, wings flapping, feet pedaling. Wonder at the sudden blow of air as a whale takes a breath nearby and flips its tail skyward.

At our destination this year we also began to wonder where the channel into our lagoon had gone. The straight-forward channel we had the year before had vanished. We idled the boat in the bay and gazed at the lagoon and the small waves pounding against the beach. Eventually we found the channel, which now had a large, lazy curve in it.

The channel wasn’t the only thing to have changed in a year. The sandy banks of the beach had been violently eroded. Huge logs, once tossed upon the grassy verge, hung like broken beams over the beach, tottering on the brink of falling back to the sea. What fearsome power had done that to our peaceful beach?

Change is inevitable, as they say. Nothing and nobody stays static, and in fact, the definition of growth is change. Claire and I have mused about how we’ve changed over the years and with it, our stories. Both of us have the experience of nurturing the same stories for years. Years in which we’ve had pivotal life experiences: weddings, childbirth, careers, losses and gains that have shaped us into the people we are today.

What about our novels, though? Are they still the same stories we dreamed of or have they also morphed into something different? And was that satisfying, or frustrating, to realize the stories we always wanted to tell no longer existed in their same form?

Like the new curve in our channel at Boulder Bay, my writing has also made a curve. It was inevitable that changes would happen, just as it was inevitable that the channel was changed by the winter storms.

Just as I stood in the boat and searched the waters for our channel, puzzled at where it has gone, I also read my novel and am perplexed at its direction. Did I do something wrong, did my storytelling instincts momentarily go on the fritz? Worse, I question my writing ability, my desire to write fiction, and doubts seep in. The landscape has changed and I no longer recognize my story or the potential it has. I see a wasteland of words.

This is where a buoy or two are necessary. Buoys mark channels for boats of course, but writers need them too. Claire, in her ever-present optimism and her unbridled belief that I do, indeed, have a story to tell, became a buoy for me and reminded me of that. In essence, she said this is who we are now, we’ll never be the old selves we once were. So the stories we are meant to tell are the ones we have now, changed as they are along with us.

So a change in the landscape is inevitable when storms rage, but instead of giving up, or doubting the new view, I take heart at the challenge and remember: the story I’m meant to tell is the one I write.


  1. _Lovely_ post, Susan. I'm years behind you on my journey (barely starting!) but I know one day I'll come to that same point and probably have a giant moment of doubt. I'll try to remember this post when I do. [g]

    I believe sometimes we are not ready for the books we want to write ( least _I_ feel this way [g]). Confusion comes from looking back and seeing that we have changed and grown. Are we any closer to the books we want to write at this point? I think that depends - but I know that growth brings us closer to the books we are _meant_ to write.* If we keep trucking, at least, and stick with it, and all that good stuff. [g]

    * I like to think this is why all the great story ideas I had at 14 seem silly now. [g]

  2. Great post Susan and very good point. Now I'm into the rewrite stage I'm starting to get worried that I can't do this story justice and it's the people on the forum and their comments that help keep me going.
    I'm not sure if they're buoys or anchors, but they help hold my writing confidence together.

  3. My story has changed a good bit and I sometimes mourn the loss of the story I will never tell. But I believe that this story is better. And, yes, I think this is the story it was meant to be, I just didn't know it yet.

    I love you're story and your writing is brilliant. I can't wait to read it in whatever format it ends up.

  4. Such a lyric post, Susan! Change is inevitable, but it can bring greater understanding.

    Let me second Claire--you have a story to tell, all right. But I'll also say, I understand. My SF trilogy is still lingering in the background. I've worked on it for over 20 years. Someday, I'll go back to it, but for the moment, I'm concentrating on my conteporary story.

  5. Love your last line. So glad to find your blog. I love that you are from different genres

  6. Jill, lol! My current story IS the story I had a 14 years old. That's how long I've nurtured it and believe me, the original story no longer resembles the current one in any way, except for the characters. At the age of 14, what does one know about life? I could never have told the story then, so Claire is spot-on when she says the story I write now is the story that was meant to be.

  7. Jill - I feel exactly the same way. Whenever doubts creep in, it's good to have support from the Forum and from my blog partners. Buoys or anchors, I'll take 'em!

  8. S.P. - thank you! I sometimes mourn the loss of my story, too. Odd, that. It's so much better in many ways that it seems silly to mourn the old one. Perhaps I'm really mourning the changes life has brought to my perspective on things? I dunno.

  9. Thanks Zan Marie. :) Your trilogy will have its day and when the time comes, you'll be well-prepared to do it justice and tell the story it's meant to be. I've watched you for a few years now, grow and deepen as a writer and you're very capable of writing anything you put your heart into.

  10. Rebecca, welcome! Glad you found our blog. We're an interesting mix of genres with one thing in common: we love to write and we love to share our writing journeys.

  11. Lovely post Susan.
    I love puffins! I've only seen them at the Biodome, behind glass, unfortunately.
    If it helps at all, I'm dying to see Nathan's story in complete form!
    The stories we wrote at 14 are just as important, it seems to me. If I hadn't been writing romance then, I think I'd be floundering now.
    Amazing to think that Nathan's been with you that long [g]

  12. Deniz, the puffins are one of my favorites. They remind me of clowns with their colorful beaks and tufted eyebrows.

    At 14, my story was nothing like it is now. In fact, Nathan hardly figured in it. Carl was the protagonist. Funny how growing, living life, changes our perspective.

  13. Susan, I'm amazed that your story has stayed with you this long - proof that it needs telling!

    I had terrible ideas at 14, but you know what? I think there's a little part of my first characters still hanging around in the ones I'm writing now. I've thought that from the beginning. Heck, my current male MC even looks a lot like my first male MC. I like my current one better, though. He's much more 3-dimensional. [g]

    Continued luck and progress to you as always. :-)