Last week, Hugh Howey wrote a blog piece about themes in his writing and it got me thinking about my own. I have enough of a sample to draw from now, so I should be able to find some major themes and one stuck out like a sore thumb.
Oh boy, that struck home big time. I suppose it’s something I’ve been dealing with my whole life. The presence of it in my writing shouldn’t surprise me, but the level to which it is intertwined in most of my stories was a little shocking.
This isn’t a woe is me story. I have it pretty good overall. But, I definitely find a sense of loss at the core of much of my writing.
Take, for example, Mary from my story, The Veil. As a silo resident, she obviously has to deal with loss on a number of levels, some of which existed before she was even born (the loss of a life outside of the underground can). But reading through the story, Mary lost her father when she was just a young child. For me, this was a profound event. No, I haven’t lost my father, but there were many times in my childhood when he just wasn’t there. When my family left Arizona to move to Illinois at the end of my sixth grade year, he had already been working and living in the suburbs of Chicago for a year. His job certainly kept him at the office later than I would have liked as a child as well.
How about my very first protagonist – Kirk McIntyre in Perfect Game? I can’t go too deep into his loss without spoiling the story, but his loss is deeply personal and will last forever. The entire story is molded by what happens after his loss during his junior year in high school.
Kristina in my Dead Sleep series has lost so much. Her family…her childhood…her innocence. All because of choices her father made. Choices that were out of her hands when she was nine years old.
In all of these cases, the loss suffered by the characters shapes the narrative. It pulls the characters in directions they wouldn’t have normally gone and dictates what their roles in the story will be.
Just as the losses suffered in my life. I already mentioned my father, but the losses I went through in the early part of my life changed me and made me who I am today – whether good or bad. My family was and is stable. My parents are still married – going to celebrate 45 years of marriage at the end of this year – but the life I was given was not grounded. The first place I really remember living was in Michigan, but I apparently lived in at least two other states before my brain started catching on. Before I hit third grade, I was in Arizona, and then Illinois after sixth.
The loss I was handed as a child was that of the life I had developed and gotten used to. My best friend in Michigan was Mikey. I remember climbing trees with him and playing in the laundry chute in his house, talking about He-Man and altogether having a blast.
I’ve seen Mikey one time since 1987. It wasn’t the same. The trees were suddenly too imposing to climb. The laundry chute was too small (and what were we thinking – that thing was dangerous!). He-Man was old news and we just didn’t have anything in common. I wish I could have remained friends, but the bonds of friendship fell apart somewhere between Ann Arbor and Phoenix.
In Arizona, I had an amazing group of friends – Adam, Brent, Ben, Josh, and Brad. We all went to church together, played pick-up football after Sunday worship, had sleepovers, went to church camp, rooted for the Denver Broncos, and were inseparable. I moved to Illinois and we lost something. I actually did see them a few more times throughout junior high and high school, but each time we reconnected, the strands of friendship were a bit more frayed.
I actually went to college with two of them, but by then we were different people. I even took multiple classes with one and we had a good friendship, but there was a chasm between the acquaintances we were in college compared to the buddies we were in the desert.
I wish I could have those friendships back. I wish the time I’d spent making and cultivating those friendships hadn’t been put to waste. That is the loss I felt.
That sense of loss – from my father to my friends to my way of life – is perhaps the most resounding theme I have found in my writing.
But, throughout it all, I’ve come to look at it all with a sense of humility. I am not bigger than my family or my situations. And when you can step back from it all, you can use it all as a learning opportunity. Yes, I write with loss as a central theme, but in the end, there are always different ways to fill the void. With each character, the loss is part of them, but it doesn’t consume them. They learn to adapt, to grow, to make something of their lives.
That’s the key. Loss is a part of all of our lives. My loss isn’t greater than anyone else’s, but hopefully writing through it can help others and entertain all at the same time.