The well.

June 16, 2011 § 2 Comments

My mother had a metaphor for how writers store and retrieve memory. She called it “the well.”

Every experience, whether good or bad, is thrown down into the well, and then, brought up again when it is needed to inform a story.

But memory is a great reviser of truth–especially a writer’s memory. So I’d say we toss memory into the ocean, where it is smoothed and polished and returned to us stripped of everything but what gives it meaning and significance.

Only the most significant memories survive the process. Many disappear beneath the water and are never seen again.

For me it is always easy to retrieve the people and places I knew when I was growing up.

When I was young my family spent the month of August, every August, on Partridge Lake in New Hampshire. My sister and I slept in the bunkhouse. The lake water was fiercely cold. There were guys living on the other side of the lake. An inordinate number of of my characters have lived there, vacationed there, met the guys on the other side of the lake.

Equally persistent is the housing development where I grew up. It was middle-class, the houses hastily thrown up, treeless, but so safe, that on summer nights we were allowed to roam the neighborhood, dodging in and out of the streetlamp light, rollerskating, sitting on the curb with friends and talking.


The songs of peepers.

The heat rising off the tar road.

Anytime anywhere, I can find my way back to Princeton Junction, New Jersey.

The Baltimore zoo. Living aboard a boat in the Florida Keys. All the places I’ve known are threaded like beads on a string. I can run them through my fingers and see each one of them clearly–and so can my characters.

Today I’m adding a page to this blog, Straw into gold, where I will post short fiction, or excerpts from longer works. Each will be followed by the real life experiences that spawned the story, and an attempt to explain the alchemy that transmutes life into fiction. The first piece is a short story titled Al. Click either hot link or the header on the sidebar.

Note: Dang it. I took the page down because I didn’t put much on it. Sorry you guys!

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