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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Some Questions for Writers--Mining Your Memories

A high school buddy drove all the way up from Georgia to our small Illinois home town for a visit last weekend. She posted an invitation to get together on Facebook, I called another buddy to drive over with me and with a few others, we met at a Mexican restaurant. One guy even rented a car in St. Louis and drove over to visit with us and his family. But, just us girls, well, we spent a lot of time together in high school and while the afternoon wasn’t long enough to get everything said, there were some revelations and much laughter.
A good time was had by all. Suddenly, the thirty plus years didn’t matter. Pam blogged about it in her article and had some great advice for her fifteen year-old son, who took the pictures.  I know he was laughing at us and I’m glad. It’s good to see your parent having fun. The most important to me was “12. Most of the things you are worried about now will be forgotten in five years. Once you are in college, it won’t matter that you weren’t popular, looked like a geek, and missed the senior prom. You will have the opportunity to reinvent yourself.”
It’s true, isn’t it? We are all competent, accomplished women (and men) who survived and thrived, despite the desperate angst we may have felt during high school. Perhaps, because of what we endured during high school. While two of us at the table did not have children, we are leaving a legacy by the life we’ve led.
As we discussed various memories, we realized how much we’d forgotten. Incidents that were earth-shattering at seventeen had evidently been stored on neurons that were killed by alcohol, stress or neglect. And that’s okay.
But, my first question for everyone is: Why we choose to remember what we do? I remembered the KISS concert, but not that Rush was the opening act. I remember Debbie being there, but I didn’t remember Pam had gone too. It had been a major event in her life, right up with the David Cassidy concert we’d gone to years before. My parents had taken us to that one, but for KISS and a half dozen others, they’d handed me the keys and said go for it. They knew they’d raised me to be a good kid. Heaven knows, I wasn’t as wild as Mom had been in high school.
The guys that met us for a visit played in a band that achieved some notoriety in our area, with gigs at various teen clubs. I think they were a little surprised that nerdy Julee was such a corruptive influence on the Valedictorian and Salutatorian of the class. I felt a twinge of pride.
But, this brings me back to the question that I will rephrase from a writing point of view: What will your characters remember ten, twenty, thirty years from now? More importantly: Isn’t that what should be in your story? Pam said her parents would have freaked and not let her go if they’d known how much weed was smoked around us at that concert. Since I was the child of alcoholics, I really didn’t even notice. But that was an important sense memory for her and I can see how my characters would remember different aspects of the same event, from their different points of view.
As the afternoon progressed and the guys headed out, we got to some serious girl talk. The subject turned to boys (as it often did back then). For some reason, I mentioned my first date and the guy I went to prom with, but did not mention the guy I dated my junior year. I actually didn’t think about it until I was driving home. I don’t know why. It wasn’t like I was ashamed, though the principal all but admitted I didn’t get nominated for Who’s Who in American High Schools my junior year because of it. Which brings me to another question we need to think about with our characters: What are they not telling you?
I’ve tried to put that into my first novel, SEVEN DAYS. Both my hero and heroine did some stupid stuff in their college years. They are horrified when they realize who exactly they married. It’s a major plot point and there are some other secrets my characters are keeping that affect later stories as well. There was a sidebar article in Writer’s Digest a few years ago that mentioned it’s more fun to bring the audience in on their characters’ little secrets earlier in the story, rather than later. Think of the fun tension, as the reader wonders if the reveal will totally mess things up. That's what we want to do in fiction, after all, is mess things up. Don't want to make it too easy.
While my personal reveal on a Saturday afternoon over Mexican food wouldn’t have been earth shattering, I was interested in my reaction. I will use that, maybe not overtly in my novel, but as another layer of flavor, like the guacamole I didn’t get.
And I got to see Rush, circa 1976. My characters would think I was cool. And Pam, I would have totally had a crush on your son in high school. And thank you for admitting you too had a crush on Jon. All of those feelings and memories will get recycled in my fiction.

1 comment:

  1. I love this post Julee; it is very thought-provoking and insightful. And, as always, I love you the way you tie your life experiences into your writing. I often use real-life events, but fail to dig deeply enough into my characters' psyche. Yes, we were cool, even back in 1976; it just wasn't apparent - yet - to the rest of the world. As for Jon, I've always had a "thing" for musicians. I am still trying to get over it. ;-)