Thursday, July 3, 2014

Rossandra White on How She Found Her Writer's Voice



Hey all. Just want to say a quick thanks to everyone who left messages of support and encouragement to yesterday's post. It really meant a lot to me. Today, I'm welcoming Rossandra White to my blog, so she can talk about her early days in writing. Her memoir, Loveyoubye: Holding Fast, Letting Go, and Then There's The Dog, is available now. 

loveyoubye_Cover 19Sept2013.indd

I didn’t start writing until I was in my 40s. It was one of those middle of the night decisions. I figured maybe it was just time to finally record all those stories about growing up in a small Zambian copper mining town as well as all those trips we took up to the Congo, Malawi, Kenya and Tanzania. The time an elephant chased our car for five miles, forcing my dad to reverse down an excuse for a dirt road before the elephant gave up. The time we spent in the shadow of Mount Kilimanjaro with a crazy Belgian who kept wild animals for filmmakers’ use. What I didn’t realize was that I intuitively chose writing, “to take fuller possession of the reality of my life,” to paraphrase Ted Hughes. But it was hard.

The poor volunteer reviewer from National Writer’s Association who tried to help me with my 500-page manuscript penciled in the margins: “Oh nooo, not another flashback.” I started over with a library of how-to books. I took classes and learnt about structure, plot, conflict, pacing, and theme. I joined critique groups.

I started with the time I was poisoned by rebels as a six-year old in Zimbabwe and turned my messy tome into a young adult novel and sequel with two teenage protagonists: a black boy and a white girl. The story had political and spiritual overtones, lots of action, but the white girl and her family were essentially me and my family. The black protagonist represented Africa and her people.

Trotting it out to agents, I learnt that I hadn’t found the heart of the story. I kept writing. And then discovered that I hadn’t connected in any meaningful way to my characters. I had plot points, I had a climax. I had my people say words that revealed character and furthered the plot. But I didn’t know how they felt about all the conflicts they were going through. I didn’t know how they felt about each other—not in any meaningful way. That was because I had avoided my own feelings from the past. It was too painful. But in order to find the heart of my story I had to dig deep.

I immersed myself in the past and all those feelings I had suppressed. The white girl became more vulnerable, a little less reactive and rebellious, her mother more loving and sympathetic than my own distant mother had ever been, the father more fallible than I’d believed my own father to be. Overall every character grew, including Africa, a country with which I’ve always had a love-hate relationship. In the end, what I managed to produce was a fully realized coming-of-age story. Both for the protagonists, but especially for me. Through the power of words, I had set down roots in time and explored my own personal myths, uncovered their purpose and grounded myself in a way I might not have been able to do otherwise.

Bio: 

I'm a fourth generation South African, raised in Zambia until I was twenty-two when I emigrated to America. My memoir, Loveyoubye: Holding Fast, Letting Go, and Then There's The Dog, published April 2014, is my third book. The other two are YA novels: Monkey's Wedding and Mine Dances, which take place in Zimbabwe and Zambia. I've received many writing awards and my short stories have been published in Writer's Digest and Interstice, among others.  I live in Laguna Beach, California where I hike the hills and canyons with my Staffordshire Bull Terriers, Fergie and Jake. More information can be found on my website and blog at http://rossandrawhite.com/

8 comments:

  1. Thanks for sharing your story/experience toward publication. Every path is different, and inspirational.

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  2. That is quite a life to live and quite a writing journey. Good for you for persevering, Rossandra.

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  3. Good luck to Rossandra! I wish you many sales. Thanks for featuring another writer to watch for, Misha.

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  4. Awesome stuff, and wow, you went through most of the writing/revising stages I've been through too. Glad to know it happens to other people too. Your life has certainly been incredibly fascinating so far!!!

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  5. Wroting does seem to be the best way to learn to write - especially if you can get good feedback.

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  6. I love reading about another writer's process. Especially one whose book I enjoyed as much as "Love You Bye."

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  7. Interesting journey, thanks so much for sharing it with us. X

    shahwharton.com

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  8. Your journey inspires me, Rossandra

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Thanks for commenting! I love to read what you think.