I don’t remember what exactly triggered that question a few years ago. I was probably researching something weird or disturbing…maybe it was during the medical dictionary incident…but in any case whatever “not nice” information I was on the hunt for caused one of my parents to ask, “Why don’t you ever write nice things?”
(The medical dictionary incident, for reference, was because I couldn’t find what I needed on Google, so I asked my mom where the medical dictionary was…she asked why I needed it…I explained I needed to look up head injuries for a novel…and she just kind of blinked at me and pointed at the closet.)
Why don’t you ever write nice things?
I can’t remember what exactly my answer was. Likely I just shrugged. There’s also a large chance I answered with something like “because nice things are boring.” And that’s the truth for me. Nice things are perfectly nice, but they’re also perfectly boring for me to write about. I’ve tried to write humor before…I’ve tried to write happy little tales…and they never work for me. I have a lovely, nice life…but that doesn’t mean anyone would want to read a novel about it.
So what made me think of this? I’m currently doing research and starting to write the first draft of a novel about Jonestown and Peoples Temple — the cult that committed mass suicide by drinking Kool Aid laced with cyanide (and other poisons) on November 18, 1978.
Now…see…while I find this fascinating to research…while I get all nerdy about the psychology behind Peoples Temple, and how Jim Jones managed to convince over 900 people to drink poison, and just cults in general…the whole concept of me reading these things creeps out a lot of other people.
My roommates? Not so much. They’re used to me researching weird things.
My boyfriend? He’s a trooper. He seems to find it vaguely amusing when I do things like this.
My parents? I think I’ve desensitized them to the whole Erin’s-Googling-things-that-should-never-be-in-her-search-history-ever by now. If nothing else, they know it’s just best to smile and nod.
But people who aren’t writers, or who don’t deal with my research oddities on a regular basis are a little more open in their reactions when they see me reading a book written by, say, a Peoples Temple defector.
This is what first happened a few weeks ago. At dance class, while a performance I wasn’t going to be in was being ran through, I decided to entertain myself for a few moments by reading Six Years with God, a book written by Peoples Temple defector Jeannie Mills. One of my fellow dancers asked what I was reading, so I showed her the cover, where it said rather prominently that it was about Jim Jones and the Temple.
My fellow dancer’s eyes kind of widened and she just said, “…..Oh,” in a semi-disturbed voice.
Why can’t I write nice things?
And then this past Sunday, in between church services that I was ringing handbells in, I was reading a different book — Seductive Poison, written by Temple defector (and Jonestown survivor) Deborah Layton Blakely. One of my fellow bell choir members asked what I was reading, and I explained what it was…and she too just kind of took the smile-and-nod approach.
The fact of the matter is, nice things are boring for me to write about. And in order to write about the not-nice things I prefer to write about, particularly if those not-nice things are based on history or rather complicated psychological manipulations, research must be done.
It’s not my fault that I just get overly excited about the research! (That’s just my inner Ravenclaw.)
Regardless of what people say, I’m going to write what I want to write, nice or not. It’s my belief if there’s a story that is begging you to tell it, then you have to give that story a chance. This story about Jonestown has been brewing in me for several years now, and its only recently that a few characters came along to give the story a voice.
And so their story will be told.
**If you’re interested in reading about the story of Peoples Temple or about life inside Jonestown from the perspective of people who experience it first hand, I highly recommend both of the books I’ve mentioned above: Six Years with God (by Jeannie Mills) and Seductive Poison (by Deborah Layton Blakely).**