Some days – some weeks – all you want is fuzzy puppies and cotton candy, or, at the very least, a story that gives you a happy ending.
Last week I started reading a book by an author I particularly like. It was billed as a love story so I had high hopes. But there was a stalker and a dead ex-wife and lots of angst and even a slimy government official. While I expected an escapist romp, I had to force myself to finish the book. Finish it I did, partly because I will go wherever this particular author takes me, but also because I wanted to see how things ended up. Maybe the sun would come out and things would brighten up. Maybe the characters would redeem themselves and cheer up. If that’s the mark of a good book – that we care enough about the characters to keep reading – then the author did something right. Unfortunately, I wasn’t as invested in the characters as much as I wondered if they’d go through any character growth, and if the tone would lift as the story concluded. It didn’t. No fuzzy puppies or cotton candy there. And certainly not the happy ending I envisioned.
Around the time I read that book, the list of Oscar nominated films came out and we started doing our annual movie marathon. We try to see as many of the nominated films as we can because it makes awards night fun (though it leaves me feeling slightly guilt-ridden because I know many good movies never make the short list just as many good books are never nominated for awards). Still, date nights in January and February are good diversions when the weather’s bleak. We’ve seen quite a few of the movies and with the exception of two (Hidden Figures and Lion) the tone of many has been grim. No fuzzy puppies or cotton candy there either.
I began to feel grim myself. That could be because, along with my choices in movies and books, I’ve been watching the news. Way too much of the news. And I’ve been worrying about the state of our world, particularly the mindset of a recently elected official with a love of Twitter.
Writing began to feel hard. (For excellent tips on how to keep writing during hard times read this post by Kristine Kathryn Rusch: http://kriswrites.com/2017/02/01/business-musings-writing-in-difficult-times/ ) I began questioning the legitimacy of my current project, a Laura Tobias novel. It’s a romp of a story about a woman who happens to win a lottery and uses some of the cash to promote herself as a Dessert Diva, a TV cooking star famous for – you guessed it – desserts. Of course she has problems (it wouldn’t be a novel if she didn’t) but it’s not grim, there’s no stalker or dead wife, no ‘the-world’s-about-to-end’ scenario. It’s set in Spain. There’s good wine and nice scenery. A hot love interest. There’s humor. Some of it’s even a little wacky.
How, I wondered, could I write something so frivolous when events in the world felt so weighty? When the world is struggling with terrorism, and issues around immigration, climate change and economics to name just a few? Maybe I should write another serious book. I’ve done my share. My latest Langston release, In Plain Sight, addresses terrorism from a teen perspective. I often gravitate to serious topics and serious books. I like reading them and I like writing them too. At least I do sometimes.
But sometimes you don’t just want fuzzy puppies and cotton candy, you need them. Sometimes a break from reality is a gift. It’s a gift to read and it’s a gift to write. So I’m giving myself permission to take a break from real life and I’m spending part of my writing day in Spain where my larger-than-life character breaks into a convent in search of a top secret and highly coveted angel cookie recipe. Will she or won’t she get caught? I’m leaning to yes, though I’m not entirely sure. But I do know one thing: caught or not, she’ll get her happily-ever-after. She’ll also rescue a stray Greyhound and she’ll bake dessert. Plenty of dessert. It’s not fuzzy puppies or cotton candy but it’s close.
And that’s good enough for me.