August Third Thursday Wrap-up: The Family Saga: Writing the Multigenerational Novel

by WLT Board Member Heather Barboza

How do you tell a story larger than any one person? Larger than any one generation? How can telling a multigenerational story be approached?

Fittingly, the WLT tackles these questions and more from multiple perspectives in this discussion featuring three Texas authors – Justin Deabler, Ruben Degollado, and Kimberly Garza – in conversation with Program Director Sam Babiak*, exploring the craft of writing the family saga.

I was surprised by the types of challenges which may arise writing in this genre and highly recommend you give the program a listen. Here are some of my takeaways from the conversation:

On the approach/process:

“If I was going to tell a family story, I couldn’t write it any other way than multigenerational.” -Ruben

“Searching questions, how do you construct/reconstruct a family history when there are gaps, when those people are gone?” -Justin

“It’s the interweaving in each other’s lives, either in facets seen and unseen.” -Kimberly

 On common themes/ questions that come up:

“Fueled on a personal level, everything in life is more exciting behind a closed door.” -Justin

“Some of the patterns I was exploring originated with stigma. Or had to do with a lack of opportunity that gets passed down. Exploring across generations what are the resonances.” -Justin

“I think of it as a party, we’re all getting together. When you’re at a party, you hear all the different voices, and it sounds like one. Because it is. It’s one family and you’re all together. When you know the people well enough you can tune into the individual voices.” -Ruben

“The family takes on its own character. There’s a cacophony. You’re all telling the same chisme. Gossip” -Ruben

“There’s something about the idea that each person is afforded their own story.” -Kimberly

“If you stop and look at the history of your people, you’ll see you’re just one story in an ongoing story.” -Kimberly

“I think there’s something really beautiful, almost subversive about telling all of their stories.” -Kimberly

On the pre-writing process:

 “My process was discovery. It’s the process of stitching it all together, stories that have their own voices that need to be told.” -Ruben

“It wasn’t ‘I am writing a novel.’ It was ‘I am writing a story.’” -Ruben

“In my mind they were always in the same universe. You would see them pop up in each other’s stories. I didn’t know it could be a novel.” -Kimberly

“My early writing process, I would say it started with psychic whispers. Moments of my past I never let go of but didn’t know why.” -Justin

“One of the challenges writing historically is when to be informed but let go.” -Justin

“You’re just trying to open yourself to the possibility that’s inside your head.” -Justin

On characters:

“Figuring out how to love your characters… That’s your job and your privilege as a writer.” -Justin

“It comes down to voice. My rule, it’s a tough rule to follow. No two narrators can sound exactly alike. To me, character and voice go hand in hand.” -Ruben

“My approach is to listen to people. When talking to people. When at the store. I encourage writers to listen.” -Ruben

“The classic question of, what do your characters want? Where they are coming from, where they want to be, is helpful to me.”  -Kimberly

On home and place/ common themes:

 “I had no other place to start except from place. I think of strangeness and home. My characters approach it all differently.” -Kimberly

“Don’t be afraid of writing your place.” -Ruben

“Sometimes it’s writing from a place of longing, because I don’t live in Texas now. I got lost trying to find this place I’d hung out so many times when I was young.” -Justin

On Challenges writing multigenerational novels:

 “The story can be ongoing. It doesn’t have to be over. It doesn’t need a conclusion. It doesn’t need a resolution.” -Kimberly

“I grappled with my own perception of what a book should have.” -Kimberly

“You have to have a unifying focus. Something has to ground you.” -Ruben

“Nobody wants it until they do.” -Justin

“Past and present are always coexisting with a character. You have privilege and opportunity to bear witness to a life.” -Justin

*Special note: This event occurred on Sam Babiak’s last day as Program Director. As a farewell gift, Sam was made a lifetime member of the Writers’ League of Texas. Part of the WLT family saga is that Sam will always be a part of our family! (We love you, Sam!)

Enjoy the program!

And be sure to RSVP for our next Third Thursday virtual program, scheduled for Thursday, September 21: WLT On the Craft of Writing: “Genre-Bending Fiction.” We hope to see you there!

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