It Always Starts with a Question

I once read somewhere that every good novel starts with a question (or 2 or 3, perhaps?) That resonated with me because I’m one of those people who never got past the 3-year-old’s penchant for asking “why?”

The Narrow Gate rolled up in my mind out of three questions I was asking myself:

What happens (in our culture where Marilyn Monroe’s size 12 dress is now considered “large” or “fat”) when a woman who is large cannot come to terms with it and love herself?

In a small town, where everyone knows your name, if you do something bad do you wear the shame forever or can you find forgiveness because people know you so well?

What if a parent favors or loves one child over another?

I already had a visual of Elise in my head and the words to the opening chapter were right there ready to be written. I never expected to tackle all three questions in one novel, but it just wove together and worked out that way.

So, how did I pick McDonald, PA…not exactly a sexy, cool location by most standards? Well, it’s the only small town I know pretty well and I had the advantage of having relatives who live there and could fill in the blanks for me regarding history and other details.

In my family, all babies and children were loved equally. I felt like I grew up with a mother and father and multiple extra mothers and fathers in my aunts and uncles, most of whom lived in McDonald. I didn’t experience dysfunction first hand, but often wondered what I might have come to be without that strong, supportive family….like a womb I could crawl back into at any time. Perhaps I would have been hungrier and come into my own as a writer sooner. Perhaps I would have struggled to be the risk taker I actually am today.

And always, like a quiet thread through my work, I’m drawn to the concept of forgiveness: forgiving yourself, forgiving others, struggling to forgive. I’m not sure why, but it trickles through my writing like a quietly flowing stream.

© 2023 by Janet Roberts