Found Families, Conflict, And The Road To Hell

Of all her family members, my protagonist Tara’s stepdad, Pete, struggles the most with her supernatural pregnancy.

When I was writing early drafts, though, Pete was so supportive that it made for dull reading.

One suggestion I got to heighten the conflict was to show Pete feeling frustrated that he was raising this child who was not “his own.”

This view would lead to him to be more impatient and disbelieving when Tara claimed to not know how she became pregnant.

That would’ve been an easy place to go for conflict, but it didn’t appeal to me.
It struck me as too expected and unrealistic at the same time. It also didn’t interest me as much as the type of internal conflict Pete ultimately faces between his faith and his love for his daughter.

Great Expectations

The idea that Pete would see Tara as not really his daughter despite having raised her from when she was three, and so would feel more impatient with her or angry at her, seemed to me to be the expected conflict and also, ironically, contrary to reality.

As far as expected goes, it fit too well with the trope of the evil stepparent (though usually that’s the stepmother). I wanted a more complex reason than that, and I also wanted Pete to be a genuinely good person and good dad, not a stereotypical type of villain.

At the same time, the cultural view that biological or blood relations are closer and have better relationships than do people not connected by biology is often not true.

Some biological families are close and supportive, and if you have that, that’s terrific. Others, though, create far more stress and pain for one another than do the friends and families people choose and create on their own.

Finding Your Family

I feel lucky to have grown up in the family I did, though particularly as a teenager and a twenty-something, I saw mainly its flaws. I took for granted the very open definition of family that my parents had and only later realized how wonderful it was.

My brothers and I were close with many of our cousins, and our extended family frequently got together. Included in that family were several longtime friends of my parents. Those people often gave me the best advice I got when I was growing up and also served as cheerleaders for me when I was struggling.

Likewise, my mom, often quite critical of her own kids and so not necessarily the first person we went to with problems, offered help and support to some of my cousins. Sometimes it’s easier to play those roles with people who are not your own parents or children.

In creating my main character Tara’s family, I wanted to reflect those complexities and reflect the fact that you won’t always connect with your family of origin. 

Also, as is often the case in real life, Tara’s parents don’t have the knowledge or expertise to help her deal with what she needs to face. She must seek that elsewhere.

I liked exploring those other relationships Tara forms.

I also liked showing that her parents could grow and change when challenged with a difficult — actually, an unbelievable — situation, and that the parent/child relationships could evolve.

The Road To Hell

The saying about the road to hell being paved with good intentions stuck in my mind as I created Pete, though I don’t see him as going to hell by any means. (I also always remember an Ernest Hemingway character saying the road to hell was paved with unbought stuffed dogs, but that’s an entirely different article.)

In Pete, I created a character with deep faith in the Catholic Church. Pete grew up all over the world because his father was in the military. Catholicism was an anchor in his life. When he went to mass, no matter what language was spoken, he understood went to sit or stand or kneel and what was happening.

(I drew that part of Pete’s background from a visit to a church in Florence when I was traveling alone. I went in to see the architecture but stayed for a mass. Despite not knowing Italian, I could follow everything because it was the same pattern, prayers, and even songs that I had grown up with. Though no longer religious, I found it comforting to take part in the familiar ritual while in another country.)

As the possible meanings of Tara’s pregnancy are explored, it raises huge questions, fears, and doubts for Pete. He fears that there is some evil component to it that will hurt his daughter and challenge his faith, and he fears the child is meant to overturn the current order and undermine the Church. He also fears that his daughter has been gripped by some type of mental illness characterized by religious mania.

Pete struggles with all those fears, but what he’s really struggling with are two strong and opposing values that mean a great deal to him.

The first is supporting his child and trusting her judgment, and the second is being true to his faith and the church.

That’s exactly the type of conflict I find most compelling for a character.

Of course, I couldn’t have Pete simply sit around and think about these things, so in Book 2, The Unbelievers, he is forced to go on a quest with Cyril, whom he doesn’t trust and who behaved terribly toward Tara, to try to recover part of an ancient prophecy that may help both Tara and Pete figure out what’s going on. (Now there’s a run-on sentence.)

If you haven’t checked it out yet, you can find TheUnbelievers here in paperback, ebook, and audiobook editions.