When You’re The Killer: A Revelation On Writer’s Block

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In the past year I’ve been suffering from writers block when it came to my novel Miss Mary Mack and I couldn’t understand why?  I mean I could see the story clearly but I had trouble coming up with the right words.  Every scene was a struggle, which led to me abandoning the story several times.  Then one day I was having a discussion with a friend who was struggling with her teenage daughter while she came to the realization that their problems were rooted in the fact that they were both so similar.  If that isn’t the ultimate form of irony then I don’t know what is?  However as my writer’s block continued, I read several articles on why authors write themselves into their work and a shocking conclusion was reached: I was Miss Mary!!!

No, I don’t go around murdering people, (although those thoughts do pop up in my head from time to time) I took pieces of my life and sprinkled them throughout the story.  Miss Mary was in fact physically modeled after my first grade principal Miss Murray, who wore dark clothing that covered her body from head to toe.  She also was a disciplinarian which made her a terrifying figure in the first grade.  However she wasn’t evil, just tough.

I also had a fourth grade bus driver by the name of Miss Johnson who was sometimes called, Miss MaryShe didn’t really like driving a bus and insisted we all ride in silence.  Weird, huh?

Then there’s me, I’m not too fond of children, I mean don’t hate them, I just prefer not to be around them.  P.S. I come from a long line of women who were reluctant mothers.  So I was able to draw on that when it came time to summon the callousness required for a serial killer.  It was also then I realized that I was trying to make sense of my past.  And guess what?  Miss Mary is the perfect vehicle for that, I can run loose and do as much damage without really affecting anyone in the real world.  The big plus is that I can kill and not wind up in prison.  I guess this is what George R.R. Martin feels like every time he sits down at his computer.  LOL!

Okay, Get To The Point!

When your work hits too close to home, it can be difficult to navigate through the story.  If you have a real unresolved conflict in your own life, it may be near impossible to resolve the one in your story because you can’t imagine your characters finding peace.  You know, the apology that never came, the relationship that failed, or the never ending dysfunction of a family, can really damage your perception and almost make you blind to the obvious.  I know, I had this problem and the only way to get through it was to think my way logically.  I had to know what readers or in this case society expected from this book.  I had to be God and dole out punishment and correct injustices.  This doesn’t always happen in real life.  I also sometimes have to step back and let my characters go their own way.  For example, would a man care about an argument he had with his wife as he fought space aliens?  Probably not.  You have to let your characters be who they are and come to their own conclusions.  Once I did that, their world unfolded and things began making sense again.

A Final Thought

As with most things in life, writing isn’t about you.  Sure you can create worlds and characters but once you do so, they start to develop their own reality.  Try as you may, you are not of their world and vice versa.  Only a piece of you will live on in your work, but the rest of you gets to move on and make peace with the reality that is meant to be.

Bio: Rachel Rueben is author of YA, supernatural as well as romance books.  Her work can be found her on the Cereal Authors blog as well as Wattpad.  She is also a blogger at Writing By The Seat Of My Pants where she discusses self-publishing and rarely refers to herself in the third person.  😉

From Miss Mary Mack: A Meeting Of The Minds

Lilly From Miss Mary Mack
Image via Pixabay

Not knowing what to do, he went downstairs to ask and was met by the little girl he met outside in the chicken coop.  “Hi Oscar!  Why ain’t you in school with the other boys?”  Lilly asked.  Shrugging his shoulders, he answered, “I’m going tomorrow.”

“Good,” she said, “We don’t need anymore stupid boys in this place.”

“What about you?  Why aren’t you in school?” Oscar asked curiously.

“I don’t need it, I’m already smart.”  She declared.

Not believing her, he said, “Nuh uh, everybody has to go to school, Miss Mary said so.”

“She’s not the boss of me!”

“Oooh,” Oscar exclaimed, “You a devil child!”

“A what?” Lilly asked, rather dismayed.

“My momma used to say when a girl wasn’t right, she was a devil child.”

“That’s silly!  If I’m a devil, then you’re a devil too!”

Resisting the label, Oscar declared, “Nope!  I’m saved by the Lord, and one of his sheep.”

“You look more like a goat to me!”

“Baaah!” Oscar bleeted, having finished his closing argument.

Not quite sure what to make of him, Lilly began walking away and said, “Just another stupid boy.”

Miss Mary Mack: My Latest Um…Novel?

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The sound of little girls giggling and playing a hand clapping game could be heard all the way up to Old Man Oscar’s porch: “Miss Mary Mack, Mack, Mack…All dressed in black, black, black….She wore her buttons all down her back, back, back…”

“Whacha know ‘bout Miss Mary?” said the old man rocking while the children clapped along. Looking at him one of the little girls answered, “It’s just a song, there’s no Miss Mary!”

“Girl hush! I tell y’all it’s true, there was a Miss Mary and she used to run that ol’ orphanage near LaGrange road.”

Thinking these were just the ramblings of an old man, the girls continued to play on. Meanwhile a skeptical little boy asked, “Oh yeah, how come I ain’t never heard of no Miss Mary?” Seeing a little bit of himself in the boy, the old man answered, “Befo’ yo time boy.” As he slowly rocked back and forth in his chair, the memories began flooding back. Having caught their attention the children came closer to the porch. Noticing he had an audience, the old man took a knife to a scar on his arm and pointed, “You see that there, those is boins (burns) I got fo eating befo’ sayin’ Grace. She grabbed a lit candle stick and just pressed it into my arm like it whattin nuthin’.” The children gasped in horror and now that the old man had their undivided attention, he felt obligated to finish what he had started.

Chocking up as he remembered the dust from old dirt road that led up to the ancient manor. Old man Oscar pulled on his collar feeling the blazing Alabama sun as he recalled the hard labor he was forced to do for the demanding matron, Miss Mary. Finding it hard to breathe, he began to take deep breaths as his hands shook, from the trauma at the hands of that unforgiving serpent. Hearing the sound of her leather strap as it whipped in the air before making contact with his skin, he had no choice but to take another sip of gin from his flask so he wouldn’t lose his composure in front of the children who were now demanding to know who this Miss Mary was.

Unlike most people old Man Oscar, considered the memory loss that old age bestowed upon him a blessing for a hard and sorrowful life. He had lost so many friends, and family over his 70 years, but it seemed God himself would not allow Oscar to completely forget Miss Mary, so reluctantly, he began the tale…

He was around 8 years old when his mother brought him to the orphanage ran by the First Apostle Church of Morecliff Hills. As she led him up the stairs Oscar’s mother promised, “Now, don’t fret I’ll be back for ya. This is only for a little while.” When they reached the top of the final step of the porch, she hugged him. Holding on tightly Oscar pulled on her blue cotton shawl, tears streamed down his mother’s eyes as she instructed him, “Now you be good for Miss Mary, she’s gonna take care of ya.” As on cue, a woman appeared from the porch door, as though summoned by all the sadness.  Clad in a black dress covering all her flesh, the woman looked like a ghost emerging from the shadows. Peering down at Oscar she asked, “The people ‘roun here call me Miss Mary, what’s your name?” as though she didn’t already know. What little Oscar didn’t understand was that this arrangement had been in the works for almost a year. Though Oscar’s mother promised to be back, Miss Mary knew she wouldn’t, most parents never returned. A few guilty ones might write a few letters but eventually, all contact would cease. This was why Miss Mary felt it was important to build a rapport with the children in the beginning to make the transition easier so she smiled and spoke sweetly to the young boy to keep him calm as his mother walked out of his life.

Bio: Rachel Rueben is author of YA, supernatural as well as romance books.  Her work can be found her on the Cereal Authors blog as well as Wattpad.  She is also a blogger at Writing By The Seat Of My Pants where she discusses self-publishing and rarely refers to herself in the third person.  😉

Where On Earth Did Miss Mary Come From?

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Last month I shared an excerpt of my recent novel Miss Mary Mack and I’m sure some of you are really confused.  I understand after Fedelta, Miss Mary seems very different and maybe even strange but I followed the muse and she took me in a different direction. A very different direction.

Miss Mary was based on an experience I had one hot, summer’s night.  In fact it was so hot that I decided to sleep with the window open and as I was falling asleep, I heard giggling and a little girl singing, “Miss Mary Mac, Mac, Mac all dressed in black…”  At first I thought I was dreaming but it was just some silly neighborhood kids who had snuck out and were playing around at 1 a.m.  Yeah, I live in that kind of neighborhood.  When I realized what was going on, I was angry but also, inspired.  I wondered, how would these kids have survived back in the days before child abuse was considered a bad thing?  What can I say, I was having a Stephen King moment!  As my mind swirled, it was then that I saw her.  A woman, standing at the end of my bed and she was dressed in a matronly 1930’s style dress with granny boots.  As she looked down on me, I could see the scowl on her face and I knew immediately what was going on.  The muse was speaking.  So I got up and scribbled on a piece of paper the words: Miss Mary Mack and went to bed.

The next day, I did write a brief paragraph outlining the idea but did nothing with it.  At that time, I just started writing for this blog and Fedelta was born, I was also finishing up Eternal Bond, so I didn’t have the time to start yet another project.  But fate has a funny way of making you do things because over the next few months, I started hearing stories about Orphan Trains on Youtube as well as ghost stories from the Civil War.  The spark that lit the flame was a story I read about a woman by the name of Rosa Carmichael who ran an orphanage and was alleged to have abused the children in her care.  So I sat down and grudgingly wrote a few paragraphs which I finally shared last month.

I don’t have any idea as to where this story is going, but I know it’s going to lead me down paths I’ve never explored before.  Most books do.  What a lot of readers don’t know is that sometimes our stories surprise us (the writers) as much as it does them.  Actually this is the fun part of writing where characters become real, and situations uncertain.  In any case, I hope you stay tuned for the next couple of excerpts from the book because something tells me that Miss Mary is going to be one of my most challenging characters yet.

Bio: Rachel Rueben is author of YA, supernatural as well as romance books.  Her work can be found her on the Cereal Authors blog as well as Wattpad.  She is also a blogger at Writing By The Seat Of My Pants where she discusses self-publishing and rarely refers to herself in the third person.  😉