On Writing the Hard Stuff

You know those people you never see often enough, but when
you do get together, it’s like you found a little piece of yourself you’d
That’s how I felt enjoying a cup of tea with Heather Lende. We talked about
family, writing, and her new book, Find the Good.
One of the things I love about Heather is that she’s the same in person as she
is on the page—heartfelt and wise and full of hope. Without trying, she makes
you believe in your better self.
And yet as she’s quick to point out in the pages of her new
book, it’s in death that she finds her inspiration: For years, she has written
obituaries for the small-town newspaper in Haines, Alaska. “Bad doings bring
out the best in people,” she says in her book. Or as she explains to her
granddaughter, who wonders aloud where the stars come from, it’s darkness that
brings out the light.
In an odd way, it’s not all that different from what I heard
author Chris Abani say recently, his
idea that noir is the only actual genre that exists in fiction anymore, the
only way in which novelists can wrestle with the trauma of industrialization.
Applied to my work, the term noir makes me squirm. It sounds bleak, hopeless, cynical—and I’m
none of those things.
But there’s no denying what lands on the page: A boy whose
anger spirals toward self-destruction. A family that lands in the wilderness
for all the wrong reasons. A mother and daughter who dance like boxers around
the other’s longings and needs, obsessions filling in where they feel most
powerless against their hurts. In the novel I’m drafting now: a young man’s
senseless death; his mother’s anguish; anger fueled by racial hurts and
injustice, the stuff that fueled recent riots in Baltimore.

I can’t explain why I’m drawn to the hard stuff. The
difficult questions. The stakes that spill over from individual lives to touch
us all. The violence, the injustice. I can only believe as Heather does, that
bad things draw out the best in us, that darkness leads the way to the light. 
Co-founder of 49 Writers and founder of the
independent authors cooperative Running Fox Books, Deb
 has authored sixteen
books. Her most recent are Write
Your Best Book
, a practical guide to writing books that rise above the
rest; What
Every Author Should Know
, a comprehensive guide to book publishing and
promotion; and Cold
, a novel that
“captures the harsh beauty of the terrain as
well as the strain of self-doubt and complicated family bonds,” according to
lives and works on Hiland Mountain outside of Anchorage, Alaska, and at a cabin near the
Matanuska Glacier. 
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