The Honest Writer: Author Pam McGaffin
Why do you write and what are your goals as an author? Goals? I have only one right now: Finish the novel. I’m about three quarters of the way through the first draft of my first novel, and I aim to have a complete draft by the end of this year. There, I’m on record. I’ve wanted to write books and stories since I was a kid. I remember one star-filled summer evening in my backyard when I was so struck by the wonder of it all that I ran into the house and filled page after page of a notepad with a story about a girl who could fly. I don’t remember much about the plot, but I think it involved a character named Mrs. Muggins and included the ultimate in lazy endings, “It was all a dream.” I’m 54 now, and the stories I’ve written since have gotten more sophisticated (I hope). But I still try to capture in words those crystalline moments when beauty or insight grabs you by the shoulders and yells, “Hey, get this down!” I also write to work through problems and turning points in my life. Right now, I have more material than I want about parenting teen-agers who say stuff like, “Go away, Mom. No one likes you.” I think I might need a little more distance to write that one.
What’s important in your writing? Emotion, honesty, insight, change. I want my characters to be believable and relatable on some level, even if they’re not particularly likeable. I want the reader to become invested in this life or situation I’ve created and to care about what happens. Otherwise, what’s the point? My characters need to struggle with their feelings and come out of it changed, with a new way of seeing things. I want my characters and their lives to resonate in the reader’s mind afterwards, if only for a little while. I think we, as naked apes, have to try to make sense of ourselves and our actions, even though we often fail. I would hope that my stories add a bit of understanding to this mess we call life.
What inspired Boundaries? I must have a thing about backyards. I was in the backyard, which is a typical Seattle-sized postage stamp of space with a fence separating us from our neighbors’ small lots. I was staring into space (I consider this part of the writing process), watching a jet fly over. We live under the flight path to SeaTac airport, so I see a lot of jets. On this particular day, I tried to imagine the difference between my closed-in view on the ground and that of someone in the jet. Looking straight down from an airplane, you see a patchwork yards, rooftops, streets and trees, but no fences. The boundaries between people disappear. That idea somehow evolved into a story about a military wife struggling with the “what’s next?” of her aviator husband’s final homecoming. Since Boundaries appeared, I’ve been gratified (and relieved) to hear from several military wives and daughters that the story rings true.