Lately, I've been thinking a lot about the subjects that draw me, and other writers to their work. Part of this is because I recently had an acquaintance hand me back my novel before she finished it. "You're such a happy person," she said (and it's true, I am. I'm completely immature and silly and so enthusiastic that a college roommate once asked me to tone it down.), "So why do you write such sad books?"
I could talk about Plato, and the purging of pity and terror that any good catharsis should give you. I could talk about "Let's Hear it for the Unhappy Ending," a piece I wrote for the Boston Globe where I showcased sad novels I adored. I could mention how I call comic romps "flu books"--lots of fun when you are sick or want something for the beach, but something that doesn't quite satisfy a soul like mine, which yearns for Wuthering Heights over Friends.
Like most of the writers I know, I write the kinds of books I want to read, books that I hope are deeply emotional (getting that blood on the page), thoughtful, full of questions about love and relationships, and also I want them to be like a punch to the heart. But being a worrier by nature, I write about people caught in terrible circumstances fighting for a way out, and sometimes some of the people aren't so nice. Mothers leave their kids and don't look back. Lovers cheat in ways so cruel they could shatter your heart. People who are perfectly healthy reach for the jar of peanut butter and die in your arms. I think of what plotlines draw me. NOT this one: a woman quits her job and moves to Kansas where she becomes a champion breadbaker and meets the man of her dreams. BUT I do like this one: when a woman's sister dies suddenly, she suspects her sister's husband of beating her to death and kidnaps their baby and goes on the road. OK, maybe that's a TAD melodramatic, but you see where I'm going.
I can be happy because I work it out in the books. It's my catharis. So, what I want to know, is what subjects draw you as a reader, and as a writer? What is the question you're always struggling to answer? And sigh-of-hope, is there anyone out there who also loves the thorny novels, the heartbreakers with only a faint glimmer of hopeful light in them?