Various friends have read and commented on versions of a short story that began in September last and grew into something entirely different over the six months of its evolution. No one yet has had the nerve to tell me that it’s pap and ought never to see the light of day. They’re leaving that happy task up to the journals. However, one question each reader asked with a sense of astonishment is, Did you really do this?
No, of course not. It’s fiction, and the protagonist isn’t me. She’s well, not me at all. (Besides, it’s in third person, just how did that leap happen?)
But, my friends pushed, “Yeah, but which parts are real?”
This is a legit question because several of my readers live in the same town as the setting, and the setting is a character. This technique is not at all unusual, of course. It’s interesting to tap into a fictional replica of your world and memory, especially someone else’s rendition. Rather, I suspect it is the elements of a shared language, history, and place that provoke readers to question how genuine an experience it is:
Clarey and Imogen yattered, warbled, weered and wocked over one another like magpies. “Oh, yes, Uncle Halle, just see right here” and “look look look, this one and this and oh see” as each girl dumped her gritty, slippy goods out of her lunchbox onto the table for inspection. Imogen wiggled and wingled around and said, “We collected loads of Indian money and stones.” Clarey added, “We even found three arrowheads.”
An offshoot of Drakes Creek enclosed the elementary school I attended with many of the young children of Sumner County, Tennessee. On hot days, we would wade in the creek to catch crawdads and dig in the mud for Indian money —fossilized crinoids we mistakenly substituted for wampum beads and learned through older siblings and children was the currency among the Cherokee and Shawnee. To find an arrowhead in addition to collecting Indian money was to earn the envy and respect of many peers. I drew on this experience in the story along with the common habit of calling busy, chattering children magpies. The coincidence that magpies like to steal shiny objects was a lucky one.
Clarey and Imogen play quietly in other rooms, until, at least, I must revise again and send them out elsewhere. It is Benedicta who haunts me these days as work continues on developing the characters for the novel I set aside last summer. Benedicta ignores me and resists the role I ask her to play. I wish that she would adopt the persona of an early to mid-twentieth century woman, and it’s just not happening. Either I’ve read far too many translations of Aeschylus in preparation for this novel and engrossed myself in too much theory about Greek tragedy, or what I conceive is vastly different from what it insists on becoming. Benedicta et al. stroll around in peplos and chitons instead, which is unfortunate. I don’t know much about Greek clothing in the ancient world. Roman, yes. And I don’t feel like having to learn one more thing. Also, it’s not a goal to write a variant of Song of Achilles. Benedicta may turn out a bit unhinged with a wardrobe problem.
Benedicta watches over my shoulder as I type this and shakes her head, NO.