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One of the workshops I’ll be hosting at the first Writer’s Retreat of San Buenas in Costa Rica early next year will be called “Dreams, Memories, and Imagination.” These blogs are a distillation of what I’ll be covering in that course.
Previously I offered a personal example of how I combined dreams and memories of my late mother into a novella called Things I Do When I’m Awake, recently published via my own imprint, Thrillville Press.
Here I will delve a little deeper into the process of sublimating complex emotions and messy memories into a professionally polished piece of work via an artistic filter.
“Just My Imagination Running Away with Me…”
As explained earlier, my latest work is a stylized synthesis of subconscious imagery and real life impressions, many involving my mother, who passed away this past September after suffering from severe schizophrenia for most of her tragic life.
When I visited her while she was living alone in Brooklyn in 1989, I was a twenty six year old aspiring author. I hadn’t seen her since I was a child, and even then, only briefly. When I found myself on my own at age 16, my curiosity about her grew, and eventually I tracked her down and resumed a correspondence, which resulted in this visit, the first of only two in my adult life (the second being in Miami, 1992).
Naturally there is much, much more to this story, spanning decades, most of it too personal to share, the rest extraneous to the topic at hand. (If interested, there is more information about the backstory of this book on my personal blog). My point is that my writing was actually therapeutic in dealing with this traumatic situation, which had no simple resolution and ultimately, no happy ending.
In fiction, we can often work through personal issues like this while simultaneously supplying an audience with an entertaining but insightful artistic “re-imagining” of these types of common tragedies that many strangers can identity with, even if the details differ.
The trick is contextualize the pain and suffering in such a way that it doesn’t come off as self-indulgent, but instead cathartic, both for the author and the audience.
For this novella, I actually repurposed entire passages from an unpublished novel of mine, which I wrote when returning from this trip way back in 1989, called Neon Rose. The reason I incorporated them into the new, fresh text was because they contained an immediacy I couldn’t duplicate, a quarter of a century later, with the same ring of truth. Plus I frankly thought these passages were the only parts of that manuscript worth saving (though an unrelated chapter was read on the air as a radio drama in 1990).
The old passages actually helped inspire the mood of the new novella, and I was able to “rescue” good work from total obscurity at the same time. I actually recommended this practice of “self plagiarism” in a previous blog.
But other than these few isolated instances, most of the novella is strictly a product of fantasy, blending dog-walking, graphic sex, monsters, madness and other “pulpy” elements that have absolutely nothing to do with my mother whatsoever.
The more layers, texture, and nuance you can weave into the tapestry of your story, the more intrigued readers will be.
Relying on your own experiences, instincts, and creativity will distinguish your work as an author, and gradually build a viable brand name both you and your audience can count on.
IMAGE: WILL VIHARO/DYER WILK
New Orleans, LA