With regard to the direction I wanted to take Broken Child Mended Man, I had several choices. The book could’ve been very dark, but I wanted to steer clear of the victim mentality. Instead, I like to think of myself as the imperfect victor. It could’ve been melancholy, but who wants to read a book that only leaves them somber in the end? In short, I chose a mixture of hardiness, humor and some madness to reveal an enigmatic, yet personable writing style: 2 parts raw grit, 1 part inspiration and 1 part relatable. I tried "finesse," but it didn’t reflect me in the end.
I’ve published academic pieces, but I didn’t necessarily hone in on a writing style until I began my memoir project. The following books helped me discover my artistry as a writer:
I chose a more vulnerable route thanks to McCall’s Makes me Wanna Holler. His keeping-it-real style veers from the typical flawless characters portrayed in many childhood biographies. While McCall portrayed himself as a victim of his surroundings, I didn’t share his life sequences that led to his prison sentence and eventual redemption. The actions he engaged in were unforgivable to some of his audience as depicted in his brutal Amazon reviews, but I ultimately respected him for putting his reputation on the line. It was risky and even gutsy and that’s how I wanted to engage my readers. Accept me or not; this is who I am.
My adventures with the Hillside Gang could’ve easily been left out of the book, but I eventually convinced myself to leave it be to serve as a reprieve from the heaviness in the second section of the book. The good-naturedness throughout Huck Finn inspired the writing style for my adventures along the Virginia countryside. It was also helpful in terms of where I needed to interject humor throughout an otherwise serious story.
How do I most effectively let the audience enter my psyche? My writings most closely emulate Antwone Fisher’s. Albeit, more poetic, the feedback I’ve received thus far has most certainly made the impact I intended by allowing the readers into my childlike mind and grow with me as I was coming of age, which was comparable to Fisher's approach. Fisher was a less flawed character and he overcame his unfortunate circumstances in a well-described suburban setting. My book certainly left holes since I didn’t find my father or long-lost siblings. Fisher was in a much different and more complete spot than when I decided to unveil my past, but he was an astounding guide nonetheless.
How do I write about rural poverty in a compelling enough manner to make people care? The raw finesse in Armstrong’s Sounder fit the bill. Although I read this book somewhere between sixth and eighth grade, it had a profound impact in relation to my life. Every day was a struggle to survive, and that’s how I ultimately related to the sharecroppers in Sounder. I reread the book before completing Chapter 2: Virginia Raised.
I was an ugly child...or was I? I guess it depends on who you ask, but some convinced me that I was unworthy of acceptance. I refused to succumb to the conflicting and relentless critique of my black peers, but the damage they managed to inflict was seemingly everlasting. I sympathized with Morrison main character, Pecola Breedlove, if for no other reason than I just wanted to be accepted. I didn’t necessarily want blue eyes, but there were instances when I simply didn’t want to exist. If I were invisible, then I’d be impossible to judge. Then I could be the judge of my mahogany skin tone, weathered brown eyes, plum-colored lips, prominent nose, kinky hair and elfishly sexy ears and realize the unique handsomeness bestowed upon me. Unfortunately, that didn’t occur until my late 20s. It’s unusual for men to write about this level of insecurity, so I used the only inspiration that could empower me to overcome the fear of revisiting my most detrimental self-doubt.
There were several different directions I could’ve taken my writings, but this magnificently written work by McBride inspired me to take a more appreciative approach to my foster care experience. While there were certainly some dark moments throughout Broken Child Mended Man, the darkness didn’t consume the story.
I knew the writing process would have heavy moments that were going to be a challenge to deal with. The only way to combat my internal conflicts was to add an element of humor. Given my foster care experience, Who Would Have Thunk It could’ve had a solemn feel to it, but the Fraser siblings’ writing managed to effectively circumvent those feelings by interjecting chuckling elements throughout the book. While their humorous stories were much cleaner than my antics in Broken Child Mended Man, their book served as my inspiration to break up the hardships I experienced.
Out of all of the books I’ve read since truly discovering the joy of reading during my teenage years, I have yet to find an author who is as masterful at descriptive writing as Steinbeck. I didn’t go into as much exhaustive detail as Steinbeck is famous for, but his vivid descriptions served as a guiding light when describing Rappahannock County, VA and Philippi, WV.
Did my writing in Broken Child Mended Man remind you of other author’s you’ve read in the past? Let me know in the comments section.
Next Blog for the So You Want to Write a Book Series:
What I Left Out of Broken Child Mended Man…and Why
The Broken Child Mended Man e-book is available at several online booksellers: