Tuesday, April 7, 2015

All That Matters Is That I'm Writing

There's a scene in the film Becoming Jane where a fictionalized Jane Austen is considering eloping, a scandalous action at that time, with irredeemable repercussions for a woman's reputation and her ability to function in "decent" society.

"If you do this thing, how will you write?" her sister asks.

Jane shrugs and continues her preparations.

Even though the reasons Jane ultimately changes her mind have nothing to with her writing, the scene touched a nerve for me. Would the Jane Austen of Becoming Jane ever have fulfilled her destiny had she been forced to live the pariah life she nearly chose? Would those six gems of English literature ever have been written?

Later in the film, when Jane turns down a marriage proposal from a wealthy man she does not love, she is asked how she will support herself. "Through my pen," she replies, an outrageously radical notion for a woman of her times.

There's a third scene, earlier in Becoming Jane, where Jane rudely dashes off mid-conversation to jot something down in her notebook.

"What is she doing?" Maggie Smith as the imperious Lady Gresham asks.

"Writing," her nephew replies.

"Can anything be done about it?" Lady Gresham retorts.

Nothing. Not for Jane. And, apparently, not for me.

Those three scenes reminded me of a scene of my own, from my novel The StarQuest (The Q'ntana Trilogy, Book II). In it, the main character must pass through The Coil, a serpentine tunnel in which she will be forced to face her deepest fears. To her surprise, and to mine the moment I wrote the words, her greatest fear is the loss of her storytelling ability.

"How can losing my stories be my nightmare?" she asks. "How can I put my stories before Ben [her son]? What kind of mother am I?"

In the moment of Q'nta's greatest despair, the moment when she realizes that she lost her stories years earlier, she has a painful epiphany.
"Now with increasing despair, I realized that stories had lost their place in my heart a long time ago, when I first lost Ben. Perhaps they might have returned once he did. But he was gone again before I could find out. The void I felt in the center of my chest, I was unnerved to discover, was from much more than Ben’s absence. It was from Story’s absence, an absence I had barely noticed and now grieved far more than I could bear."
Even so, Q'nta is not convinced. Stories may have reignited the moon's light back in her father's time, with The MoonQuest, but they won't bring her son back.

"Are you so sure?" the voice in her heart asks.

Like the Q’nta of my story, I found it inconceivable that writing could be the only thing that mattered to me. Like Q’nta, I have felt parental guilt over my choices. Unlike Q'nta, whose experiences in The Coil offer resolution, it's a question I continue to ask myself. I explored it several times in Acts of Surrender: A Writer's Memoir and many times since. I have been exploring it again since watching Becoming Jane.

In the end, though, as many times as I ask the question, the answer is always the same. It's the same answer Q'nta receives in The StarQuest:

"Your stories are your legacy...to your son, to your companions...to your people...to your land. Your stories are your hands and feet...your bones and skin...your heart and lungs. Your stories are the blood and air that course through you, giving you life. Your stories are life. Without them you are barely alive. Without them you have barely been alive. You were alive, once upon a time, Q’nta. You can be once more...if that is your choice. Is that your choice?"

It was, in the end, for Q'nta. It must be for me, too.

"Whatever’s scaring you now," one of Q'nta's companions urges, "you have to push through it, so we can face whatever’s next. You can’t let it destroy you. If it destroys you, it will destroy us, too." 
I sighed, then inhaled deeply. It felt as though I was breathing in all of the Coil, all of what had brought me here and all of whatever would be next. With a noisy wheeze, I let it all go and focused on those four words that underlay so much of my life and so much of who and what I was. 
"Once upon a time," I began haltingly. My throat closed. My chest tightened. I shut my eyes and continued. "Once upon a time, there was a bard named Q’nta who arrived in M’ranna from a far-distant place. Once upon a time there was an Elderbard named Q’nta. This is her story."
Q'nta's story is also my story. Whatever else is going on in my life, my stories must always come first. All that truly matters, today and every day, is that I'm writing.

• Follow Q'nta's journey in The StarQuest (The Q'ntana Trilogy, Book II), or start your Q'ntana journey with The MoonQuest: The Q'ntana Trilogy, Book I, winner of 6 literary awards and soon to be the first film in a trio of epic motion pictures.

• Follow my story in Acts of Surrender: A Writer's Memoir

The three Q'ntana books (The MoonQuest, The StarQuest, The SunQuest), my Acts of Surrender memoir and all my books, including my five for writers, are available on most Amazon sites, from select other online booksellers, from my website and from all major ebook stores.

Photo: Anne Hathaway as Jane Austen in Becoming Jane