Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Holding a Memory

I find the strangest memories in my novels. Yes, it’s true. I’ll admit it. Some of the things in my books really happened to me. Like the eel story in Out on the Sound. My wife really did go screaming from the water, dragging this poor eel with her, with me doubled over laughing, telling her the whole time, “Just drop the pole.” She’s Charlie in the scene that went like this:

“Drop the pole! Just drop the pole!”
Charlie screamed back, “It’s the only weapon I have.”
“Stop running, it won’t hurt you.”
“I know all about eels. I’ve seen them bite the hands off divers on TV. Remember ‘The Deep!”
“Jacqueline Bisset, wet tee shirt, yes I remember The Deep.”
“Not the tits, the eel, you idiot.”

 Welcome to saltwater fishing, Okie. She also had the whole conversation with me about not liking to wade too far into the ocean, because things would eat you in there. I told her catfish would eat you too. Her answer, “Yeah, after you’re dead, not make you that way.” Her being born in Texas and growing up in Oklahoma has been a culture war with my east coast, Carolina Outer Banker roots. It has also been the source of many hours of laughter and fodder for my novels. I’m still trying to get used to that catch the catfish with your bare hand mentality in Oklahoma. Nope, not going to be doing that. Where I’m from you don’t stick your hand in a hole unless you know what’s in there. I love the guy talking about “reachin’ up in d’er and grabbin’ holt to a beaver, ‘bout ate me alive.” I imagine if I were a beaver and some strange hand came at me, I’d react adversely too. I’d at least want dinner first.

I’m telling this, after having to defend myself with the novel BEFORE IT STAINS. No, I did not cheat on my wife. No, she did not cheat on me. I wrote a book about relationships, and though there are some things in there I may have said or thought, the book is definitely not autobiographical. Yet, so many times there are parts of me in a book. The next novel to come out will be MOLLY: House on Fire. At the very beginning of the process for this book, I found a picture of me. I was at my parents’ house, digging through old pictures and I found this one. I left it in the drawer and I’m going to look for it when I go home again. At the time, I didn’t know it would surface in this book.

I’m standing on the end of a dock, on Gaston Lake in North Carolina. I am scrawny, probably six or seven, stringy dirty-blond hair down to my waist. I am tanned, in a bathing suit that is too big for me. (I was really skinny. That didn’t last long.) Oh, and the best part, I’m missing my two front teeth. I know this because of the huge grin on my face. I’m holding a catfish almost as big as me on a stringer. I caught that fish with a balled up piece of bread, stuck on a hook, weighted with a washer, and tied to a piece of twine. Catfish will bite anything. Good thing the line was tied to the dock, or I would have gone in with the fish. I remember one of the older boys had to help me bring it in.

As I was writing this book, I ventured back into the main character’s childhood. The image of that little girl, beaming back at the camera, kept resurfacing as I wrote. The picture ended up in the story, only it’s Molly with the fish, or is it? I’m certainly not a wealthy lawyer, with the life Molly leads now or in her past. So, don’t read anything into that, please. What I am is an adult that remembers things, the good and the bad things that a child just never forgets. There is a child in all of us that still hurts or laughs, because of things that were said and done in our youth. Catching that fish was a good memory for Molly and me.

Memories like that pop up in all my books. Some happy, some sad, and most of the time dressed up so thoroughly in fiction, no one would know unless I told them it was true. I like it when someone says the characters in a book fall in love too fast, too soon. I can honestly look at them and say that I fell in love with my wife the first time I saw her. I remember every second of that first meeting, nearly 25 years later. I had those inner monologues with myself before blowing the doors off that closet, leaving the hinges smoking. So, some of my characters have fallen that fast. It’s true, it really happens. Electricity does shoot up your arm, your knees go weak, and you loose the ability to form complete sentences. At least, it happened to me that way and that’s what happens to some of my characters. There is truth in fiction.

I’m often asked, “Is this you?” I get emails from people all the time, asking if something in a book is true. I also get emails telling me that I’ve written someone else’s life. People recognize themselves in a story I wrote and I don’t know how that happens. I guess we’re all part of some human experience. We carry baggage and hurts, laughter and dreams with us throughout our lives. Some of them must be shared. So, if you see yourself in a book, just know I see myself too. I’m in those books. I’m the hopeless romantic, closeted, straight girl, falling madly for the lesbian, and having to chase her down. I'm the woman who knew the first time she kissed her, that she was the one. I’m the girl who grew up playing on the beaches and sounds of the Outer Banks. I’m the teacher, the singer, the writer, the softball player, and the child. I’m a picture on a wall, a little girl with a big grin, holding a memory.