Friday, March 11, 2011

When the ghosts come whispering tragedy; the quest for The Story no matter what?

Yesterday after writing a scene that left me drained and exhausted, I took to my bed for a nap. In that time between when I thought I couldn’t possibly nap and the time that I did fall asleep, I thought about The Graces Saga—the Virginia Kate story, and how she is the storyteller of her family’s lives. And why I was having such a hard time writing this third and final book in the Graces Trilogy.

The tragedies of my biological family in West Virginia are many—alcoholism, violence, murder (death row and release from death row to freedom), pain, a secret about my bio mom that I can’t say here because it is too private about something so terrible it rips out my heart to know it happened, early deaths too young, more secrets, suicide, abandonment, cruelty, tenderness, pride, heartache, loss, and in between all of this is the living and the love and family lost and gained and lost again. It’s the stuff of great and compelling fiction, but this is not fiction; this is family that I know only sketchy things about, of whom some I’ve never even met, and some only when I was a babe, and some I’ll never meet. Of stories I’ve heard whispered, and some partially told as if parts of a puzzle are tossed to me and I can’t complete the picture and never will.

When I began Virginia Kate’s story, I knew 95% of it would be fiction. I took the 5% that I found interesting and used that as a starting point:

--my biological mother gave up her three children one at a time to my stepmother (who did end up adopting all three of us) and my dad.
--I was born in West Virginia, and spent a lot of years in Louisiana—I wanted to honor and write about these two places that affected my life so much.
--my father is an alcoholic but unlike Frederick, he’s been sober 50 years. (My biomom is not an alcoholic, unlike Katie Ivene –Momma.)
--my Maw Maw was so interesting and “crazy” I had to fashion Mee Maw after her
puzzle not complete yet
--the snake polo is based on a real incident and is one of my favorite scenes in TG

That’s about it with “truths” that spurred off the writing of a fictionalized Appalachian family torn apart and put back together in another fashion—the puzzle pieces different but somehow fitting together all the same.

Yet. What I did not know and what has made this third book the most difficult are the things I thought were fiction that turned out to either have more truths to them than I ever would have imagined, and the things that happened after I’d written the book and then they “came to be true.” For the things I wrote about that hit upon truths I had no idea were truths, perhaps I’d overheard something as a little girl and my black holed brain released them as an adult through my fiction—even though it brought forth no memory as I wrote it—or perhaps I just guessed and in that way of fiction “truth is stranger than fiction” it happened as things happen to families, or perhaps just as Virginia Kate does, I have ghosts speaking to me who want their story told.

As for the things that have happened after I’ve written my books—such as the suicide of Katie Ivene’s brother by shooting himself in the head—I am torn up upset. How would I have known my own half-brother in West Virginia would do what Little Ben did? How? Else I’d have not written it. It’s too close and too personal and too tragic. Too late—it’s in the story. And writers sometimes have no soul when it comes to The Story -- we have no conscience -- we know no boundaries of decency. Writers can be heartless in their quest for The Story. Still, it is not without cost.

Lots of things are “too late it’s in the story” and I have to carry them forward, finish the story, write it. I can’t pretend it didn’t happen—that I didn’t write it. Two books are already published with these events and I have to complete the book. I do. I do.

What I thought this third book would focus on is turning on its head a bit. Other voices want to speak through VK: Katie Ivene (Momma), Rebekha (VK’s stepmom). And some of those scenes, particularly of Katie Ivene, are breaking my heart. Leaving me drained. As I try to keep them in fiction and grounded in fictionalized events, the truths that I have found out, or those that occurred since I began the trilogy, rear up. I dance around them. I try to avoid them—and I can’t avoid them all. It exhausts me. It leaves me wandering about the little log house feeling this sense of . . . of loss and pain and curiosity and all manner of questions unanswered. Maybe I am, through Virginia Kate, making up my own answers, and yet even so, I am still leaving many unanswered even in the books.

I’ll keep writing. I will finish. And when this third book is done, it is done. If there is ever a time I will write about my Virginia Kate again, it will be set in contemporary times. From where I sit today, I can’t see going back again, digging up and under and trying to do that dance of avoidance coupled with the need to tell the story as it arrives to me—pain or not.

There are some excerpts from Tender Graces / Secret Graces that say so much of what I’m feeling:

Momma never told stories much, since it hurt to do it. She said looking behind a person only makes them trip and fall. I understand why now in a way I didn’t as a girl.

Grandma Faith used to say, “Ghosts and spirits weave around the living in these mountains. They try to tell us things, warn us of what’s ahead, or try to move us on towards something we need to do. But most of all, they want us to remember.”

It’s come time again to return to what’s gone by.
Even the things that hurt.
Grandma Faith whispers, Be strong, little mite. Tell the stories.
Yes, Grandma, I will tell the stories.

So, like Virginia Kate, I will need to just tell her story as she tells her own to me. Even the things that hurt.

Dad, Ruth my adoptive mom, Johnny, me, Michael, Tommy, David-wearing the grown up tie and constant grin with my hands on his shoulders, in Baton Rouge-the final puzzle pieces fit to make the new family (we lost our David in 1994 to a heart attack)


rosaria said...

Oh, so much pain to relive or recreate the truth of the story. I spent three years just getting a first draft of my memoir, constantly drained and emotionally raw; and not until I went back in history, and recreated my mother's story that I was actually released from those pains.

I do understand. The fiction parts you fill in can be just as raw and demanding of you as the real stuff.

Diane said...

Great pictures and some good times to remember. Maybe your next series should be comedy????? This one is certainly very emotional and heavy for you. I'm sure you could do comedy, your blog posts usually have some great humor involved.... :O)

Kathryn Magendie said...

Rosaria- lawd yes. ...

Diane - maybe so! It's funny because today my publishers put up another of my "gentle rants" on their blog and it's so much lighter- no dark - than this post! - whew ... here

Small Footprints said...

I really believe that there are things we are supposed to discover in life. That discovery takes many forms ... and almost never how we think it will happen. Often we get answers for questions we never knew we had. We may think, at times, that we have a choice in what we discover ... but I believe that our only choice is in how long it will take us to accept the information. The other piece of the puzzle that we know nothing about is how our experience plays into another's discovery process.

Relax and breathe ...

Kelly Bryson said...

Thanks for this post. I've been thinking about how much truth is too much lately. It didn't help me figure anything out, but it's nice to know that I'm not the only one all wrapped up in the past!

john bord said...

There are questions that crawl the walls, hang from the rafters and ooze up from the cellar. Where is the answer, a quest is ongoing. Travels of the mind reveal doors that no handle to open, wrapped in chains and locks. Where are the keys?


Loved this post - so honest it almost hurt to read the words.
I think often we are only carriers or bearers of our stories. WE write the words we are told to write. They come from a deeper place than our subconscious.

So guess we should just keep on writing and see what comes out.

That's my plan.
Blessings to you on your mountain.
I picture you always on the porch with your red painted toes propped on the railing, having some sweet tea and letting life gently come to you.


Stephanie Faris said...

I've found when I'm calling on past experiences for my novels, I end up reliving that time and focusing on it more than I would normally. But, in a way it helps us well as documenting it for future generations.

Analisa said...

Because you put your heart in it, the tale is told with such heart. It keeps us coming back for more. We find our selves in the pages releasing the pain along with you and looking towards the joy. Thanks for being so real.

Glynis said...

A poignant post. I hope you find peace and completion at the end of writing the trilogy. x

Maizie said...

Thank you...thank you for speaking the truths and telling the stories and for having the guts to be tender with all the pain and the secrets. It is hearts like yours that remind us that there is joy and love and wonder to be found intertwined with the hurt and fear that keep us from wanting to look back. Thank you for loving the girl with the questions. Thank you for being the girl with the questions. You speak to my heart.

Jinksy said...

Grandma Faith used to say, “Ghosts and spirits weave around the living in these mountains. They try to tell us things, warn us of what’s ahead, or try to move us on towards something we need to do. But most of all, they want us to remember.”

This paragarph has moved me to ters!

Linda Hoye said...

Wonderful, honest, touching, and brave post, Kat. There is tragedy in my past as well and I am choosing to write memoir. Hmmm...perhaps fiction might have been a better choice, but in reading your post it seems that some of the same gut-wrenching feelings comes up no matter what one is writing about. It only matters that we are writing.

demery bader-saye said...

I really believe that there is healing in the telling of your story... It's like opening up a wound that never fully healed, cleaning it and giving it air and light. And, in the process, you're bringing hope and healing to others of us with family heartaches, addictions and wounds. What courage! Thank you :)