I woke up this morning thinking of my mother’s roses. Or rather, I woke up remembering the two times her roses were destroyed. One time was when my sister was in the throes of breakdown, so she ripped up the roses, oblivious to the thorns that were shredding her arms and hands. Another time was when my great aunt, on the edge of dementia, plucked and destroyed every perfect bi-color bloom, convinced they needed dead-heading.
One act was an attack. The other a service.
There is actually a lot of mental illness in my family, and maybe one day I will write about the subject in a nuanced, sensitive way. In the meantime I write about madness, a fictive, gothic condition that too often may be the blackface version of mental illness.
Right now I am writing towards a tenuous but plausible connection between the murders that begin my novel and the fractured psychology that had to precede them. I have placed a grieving young mother with an ever-deepening depression in a Dark, Cold House with another young woman whose own mental disorder (marked by narcissism, amorality, and false beliefs) is poorly diagnosed and improperly treated. What could go wrong, as they say.
I’ve become very aware that my fictional urge is to exploit the darkness, to blow it up and exaggerate it, rather than explain it. However, to write the relationship between these women I’ll need to stretch. I’m planning to use irl experience as a grounding (though in the end it won’t be recognizable, I’m sure). It’s not responsible research, but it’s a start. In a generation’s time I don’t want to be that old lady who defends her writing by claiming “it was a different time” as she clings to the rickety scaffolding of genre conventions.