The Art of Writing About Current Affairs
Valerie O. Patterson on Addressing Important Political and Social Events
By Valerie O. Patterson
Published: February 25, 2013
Valerie O. Patterson grew up near a military base on the Gulf Coast of Florida. She often draws inspiration for her writing from that place of her childhood. TCBR is honored to launch her two-week OPERATION OLEANDER blog tour with this fascinating article which taks a look at processing emotion through the art of writing.
All writers know that a risk exists in writing about current affairs, whether fiction or non-fiction, particularly when the event has a high impact. Often our first reaction is an emotional one, and we lack distance to take into account the context or implications of what’s really happened.
The 9/11 attack on the Twin Towers is a good example. For years afterward people debated whether it was “too soon” to write about it. The New York landscape was still scarred. Millions of us were “witnesses” who recalled where we were and what we were doing at 8:46 a.m. on that clear Tuesday morning. We saw the second plane crash into the South Tower live on television and then the collapse of both towers. People continued (and continue) to grieve the loss of life, and the shock of an attack of that scale on civilians reverberated through our collective psyche. What writer felt he or she could take that on and write a novel against such a huge backdrop?
Of course, as writers, we wade into that pool, because we process emotion and understand belief through the art of writing. But it takes time. We too need space and perspective.
For me the key to writing about a significant event—9/11 or war—is to focus on the specific impact on an individual by using telling details. In fiction we can’t write the entire landscape of war and its impact. (All right, if you’re Tolstoy, you can.) But we can focus in and live the experience of one individual or several individuals. In making the war real for that person, in making the emotions come forth for that person, we may be able to touch the universal.
In OPERATION OLEANDER, I hadn’t started out to write a book about war. I had read a book by my friend Kathryn Erskine who wrote the novel, QUAKING, which is about a girl who lives with pacifist members of the Society of Friends (Quakers). It prompted me to think what life would be like for a girl in a military family during armed conflict. How does the absence (in this case) of her father affect her and her family on base? How does she remain connected? How do the views of others who disagree with the involvement of the US in the conflict have an impact on her? What choices does she make when confronted with tragedy, especially when her actions may have contributed to it? The book evolved over several years. It did not come fast or easily. After a good year and a half and three drafts, the story of a teen that sees the horror of war from a distance—and makes an effort to help those affected—took shape. It deals with one girl and her decisions. I hope that Jess’s story rings true, and that it allows an insight or raises questions about the larger world and how we might respond to events ourselves.
Ms. Patterson holds an MFA in Children’s Literature from Hollins University. Her first novel for teens, The Other Side of Blue, was published by Clarion/HMH in 2009. She is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, Mystery Writers of America, the Children’s Literature Association, and the Authors Guild. An attorney by day, she lives with her husband in Leesburg, Virginia. For more information about her life and work, visit her website: http://www.valerieopatterson.com/
Add this book to your collection: Operation Oleander
Enjoy the entire tour:
Tues, Feb 26 – I Read Banned Books
Wed, Feb 27 – The Book Monsters
Thurs, Feb 28 – Media Darlings
Fri, Mar 1 – Lauren’s Crammed Bookshelf
Mon, Mar 4 – Cracking the Cover
Tues, Mar 5 – Mother Daughter Book Club
Wed, Mar 6 – Mundie Moms
Thur, Mar 7 – My Friend Amy
Fri, Mar 8 – 5 Minutes for Books
If Valerie O. Patterson’s ”The Art of Writing About Current Affairs” was right up your alley, we think you’ll enjoy receiving tips for writing from Jordan Jacob’s article, The Art of Writing About What You Know & Love, too!