Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A Father's Day Retrospective

Two days past Father's Day and I'm now ready to write about it. My parents divorced when I was seven and my father lapsed back into the scalawag life he'd known before marrying my mother. She was supposed to be his savior, the one who'd keep him on the straight and narrow while he morphed into a husband and father. It worked for a few years, but his wandering eye caught another and he slipped back into his old ways.

Did I mention that among his many talents--and yes, he was quite talented--he could swallow swords and other long, sharp objects. After my mom packed up her two daughters, my dad hitched up with a circus in Hawaii and left us with my uncle and aunt. When the circus tent folded, he came home, begged my mom back and my younger sister Angela resulted.

My novel in progress, The Sword Swallower's Daughter, began as a love story about a daughter lamenting the loss of a father who bailed out of her life when she was seven. Sound familiar? The first version received adulation from agents who praised my writing, but wouldn't make an offer of representation. The story was just too soft for the edgy title. I let the novel sit for a year, then picked it up again last January and hacked out the gooey sections. In their place are new scenes, a protagonist who grows through the story with flashbacks that reveal a horrifying secret she's kept to herself for 30 years. The original version contained a lot of both my dad and myself in the characters. The new version is still much of him, but nothing of me. The protagonist in this story is scarred from something far worse than her father's disappearance from her life.

Here is the intro to the first chapter of the original version. It's still there, but it's no longer the opening paragraph. I love this section for how it truly describes the daddy I once had.

Other fathers looked like Ward Cleaver in suits with white shirts and skinny ties and drove huge cars with bulging bumpers to work in offices or stores. They took their wives out for dinner on Saturday nights and left the kids home with babysitters to watch TV and eat pizza. My father was Italian and had an eagle tattooed across his chest and a pierced ear. He drove a 650 cc Triumph Bonneville motorcycle to work at an Esso service station and went out nearly every night without my mom. Some kids went to the Colorado River and water-skied on weekends; my sisters and I hung out at the beach where Daddy entertained beach-goers with his sword swallowing act. When I think of my daddy, I remember him like this.

You can read a bit more of that opening on my author's website at www.carolynburnsbass.com/fiction.

So anyway. Father's day 2010 is behind us. It lingers in my heart always. What about you?