[As natural as it is to ask someone what they do for a living, how often is there the follow-up question of why? Occupations do not define us but the reason(s) of why we choose our careers reveal tremendous insight into who we are. Perhaps this might be even more significant for those in the fine arts who are both talented and personally passionate about their work. In this post, Cristina Alger (THIS WAS NOT THE PLAN and THE DARLINGS) offers the heartfelt truth about why she writes.]
Writing has always been a form of therapy for me. I’m a very private person. I have trouble discussing my internal life with psychiatrists, friends, family members. But fiction gives me a safe medium to explore my own feelings. In my first novel, THE DARLINGS, I wrote about the impact that the financial crisis has on one family. I actually wrote that novel in real time; I started working on it right after the collapse of Lehman Brothers (I was working as a corporate attorney at the time), so it all felt very fresh and raw to me. In my latest novel, THIS WAS NOT THE PLAN, Charlie, the protagonist, loses his wife in a traumatic and unexpected way. While I’ve always disliked discussing my own father’s death, I found it deeply cathartic to write about Charlie’s experience with loss and what it feels like to grieve when you still have to get up every day and be a parent and a positive role model for your kids. I once heard a writer say that the protagonist is a “portal into the reader’s brain.” In my case, I think my protagonists are portals into my own brain. I come away from my desk with a heightened appreciation for what really matters to me, what’s really capturing my interest at that point in my life. When I was writing THIS WAS NOT THE PLAN, I was really wrestling with my own grief (over losing my father) as well as my own fears that I wasn’t a good enough parent. Im not sure I realized how intense those struggles were for me until I wrote a 352 page novel about them in less than four months! It might sound silly, but Charlie made me feel like I wasn’t alone. He was facing the same challenges I was, and surviving them. There’s something empowering about pushing a character through a terrible trial – particularly one you relate to – and seeing them come out stronger on the other side.
[Please remember that THIS WAS NOT THE PLAN is available in paperback this Tuesday, October 18th or can be Pre-ordered here.]