Tag Archives: writing process

How do your memories influence your fiction writing?

“Any sorrow can be borne if it can be made into a story,” said Danish author Isak Dinesen (Out of Africa). 

8_Wells-LiteratureEmpathyMany of my friends are writers. Most of them I know very well. Well enough that when I read some of their work I occasionally recognize autobiographical events, people or places, but these “true” events and such have been fictionalized and told as if they have happened in the lives of the story’s characters. Every author writes from his or her personal experiences, and I believe the more you know about an author the better you can understand that author’s perspective and ideas and what they may be trying to get across to the reader.

In my experience, I’ve never written a story or novel from a preconceived outline or plot diagram. Things change too rapidly, and life may give me another idea that will work better, and the story writes itself like a runaway train. Cities and towns have souls and memories and stories just waiting to be mined.

I am guilty of stealing other’s life experiences as well, and giving them to my characters, changing them up a little.  A red-headed male friend once told me about being chased by a rooster every time he stepped foot in his grandparents’ yard. Seems the rooster was after his red hair, and his grandma shouted to that rooster, “Don’t you spur my baby you peckerwood”. That ended up being in the history of my protagonist in a manuscript – the red-headed boy was too easily remembered.

Humor is everywhere. My daughter’s boyfriend was learning to tie a necktie, and the stress he put himself through developed into a short story. He asked me if I knew how to tie a Windsor knot and I said to look up ties in the Encyclopedia (this was  in the olden days before Google) and he returned, downtrodden, and told me, “it said ‘see railroad'”.

My husband and I walked around Jackson Square in New Orleans late one evening. Fortune tellers and tarot card readers sat around at tables draped with fabric, candles burning, as they lured customers to their tables for readings. Suddenly a young man rounded the corner and had a python wrapped around his body. We walked a little faster around the Square, the man and python following us for a long while. This experience gave me a short story series.

Sadness and sorrow, as well as shock, are always singed in our memories. In my childhood I remember a little friend drowned in her father’s minnow trough. She was about 5 or 6 years old, as was I. My parents went to the wake and took me with them. I had no idea what had occurred until we arrived at the ramshackle house on the outskirts of Hattiesburg MS and saw people peering into a long wooden box on the dining room table. Children climbed on chairs to have a look. I did not want to miss out on whatever they saw in there so I mounted a chair and looked in and was stunned to see my friend, her little body perfectly still in a pretty pink dress, her lips blue, sleeping in that box. That scene will never leave me. I’ve included the scene in one of my novels.

There are so many scenes from my childhood that I’ve used in numerous places in fiction, hiding them in different places than they occured, most times, or they hide themselves, or take a turn you did not expect. When you are going in one direction and think you know where the characters are headed, they just may surprise you and hop on a freight train!

What are some of the events tattooed in your soul? (I promise I won’t steal it, although I may change it up a bit so you won’t recognize it!)

Writers are inspirational … we support & encourage each other!

Thanks to my friend Ellen Prewitt for inviting me to join in Luann Castle’s Writer Site conversation on the creative process. Yes, we’re breaking more rules here .  .  . while I am a writer, I also create many other things as part of what gives my life meaning. These days, what I’m creating is my own shop: Uptown Needle & Craftworks (please “Like” my FB page), so I wanted to share with you a little about the process.

First, I want to share a little (well, a lot, actually) about how I got to this day.

I have not posted on my blog in a while. I stepped off one train and jumped on another in my life vocation. After many years as Episcopal clergy, squeezing in time for writer, sewist and artistic pursuits, I awoke one morning and felt a call to begin a new life dedicated to creativity. I turned 65 one month ago. Having breakfast one morning in a well-known New Orleans bakery while visiting family, I asked my companions to take a walk around the Magazine Street neighborhood. Right next door to the bakery was a yellow house with a very small sign: For lease; commercial. I pulled out my cell phone and snapped a photo of the phone number on the sign. My inner critic immediately chattered away. It’s probably too pricey for you. You have no business doing this at your age.

I argued back. If not now, when? If I wait five years I may not have the same energy and passions I do now. I’m energetic and committed to making a life change. I signed a two year lease and quit my job on the same day. Some say I’ve retired. I say I’ve re-fired.

For every creative I know, that inner critic is always on the job. No matter if we write, paint or sculpt – that tiny tyrant wants to be in charge. As I’ve grown older, that voice has become smaller and smaller. Today it is a mere leaf falling out of place. I completed my first novel when I was 15 years old. I’ve completed 4 more since then. Not one was accepted for publication. Not that I haven’t tried – one was very close to being a finalist in Amazon’s Great American Novel Contest. And it could be published already if I had the time, energy and funds to do about two year’s of edits. All are sitting in boxes until I have the time to edit each one – I will do this, later. And I still write. The stories are there, but my interests reflect my personality type. I’m an INFP on the Myers Briggs personality inventory chart. One description of this personality type reads, “you’re like a new puppy, always into something new.” That’s me. I write, edit, write some more. Sometimes I work on one of my novel manuscripts; sometimes I write a short story. Because there’s always a story. And sometimes I sew, paint or make something new.

I ride the train, “The City of New Orleans”, back and forth from my home to my new business site. In observing the people on the train I can see stories everywhere. But at this time in my life, my career change is my story. It takes courage, confidence and a little bit of moxie to outwit the critic and keep your heart, fingers and brain in sync with your passion – your true self’s deepest desire. When we overcome negative energy, the world wants to hear what we have to say. And real life makes for the greatest stories. Especially when our words come from that deep place called our true self.

When I think of all this as it applies to writing, I first have a picture in my head. Ex.: I found two chairs. Functional, but not perfect. Ordinary. Then I give them a little bit of attention, add some emotion, some color, some gorgeous fabric – voila! Entirely new chairs. Life is like that. Pay attention. Create something new. Gather your courage. You’ll amaze yourself. But back to the initial questions I’m supposed to answer:

  1. What am I working on at the moment? At the moment I’m grieving over having to leave my writing critique group after years of sharing with them in numerous phenomenal successes as well as a few dismal failures – they are all excellent writers and I will miss them. I am leaving Memphis to open my own creative arts studio in New Orleans – which will include creative writing classes. I will continue to work on short stories, as everyone knows New Orleans is full of them, from the woman walking down the street, body painted entirely in silver, to the little boy tapping his heart out for spare change of tourists in the French Quarter. Who are they, and what is inside them that drives them to live their dreams in this city?
  2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?  My work does not fall into a genre, other than the broad category of Southern writing and creativity based on my own life experiences. Working in several forms, whether in clay or textiles, I find that I always include words in my work. Like every writer, I’m in love with words and the myriads of possible usage and meanings.
  3. Why do I create what I do? According to my mother (she died several years ago), my soul has compelled me to create since birth. When a small child I made up stories with my paper dolls (this really tells my age). I created family dramas and named my Betsy McCall paper dolls different names (these paper dolls were printed each month in McCall’s magazine). Southern families are chock full of characters, and Southern writers can easily overlap fictional characters with people they have known, or people in their families – although we certainly do not have the franchise on this process.
  4. How does my writing/creative process work? All depends on what I am creating – sometimes a story or character takes up residence in my head when I’m at a traffic light or in a coffee shop. However, in order to write, to focus on a character and a story, I must have a quiet place and a non-anxious state of being. To fall into that “dream state” as Robert Olen Butler calls it, so that I become my character and exist in the milieu that I write about.

What do you need in order to create?