An Accidental Treasure

I have returned from my dad’s in Pennsylvania. The long drive was in its way relaxing. Reaching here again yesterday, it was a gorgeous upstate New York afternoon:

[Catskills, New York. Photo by me, September 16, 2019.]

Naturally I couldn’t resist taking a couple of pics on re-arrival.

[Catskills, New York. Photo by me, September 16, 2019.]

Uh, but one thing: yes, put on the hiking shoes, but never walk into those woods without also remembering… it’s miles and miles to anywhere and there, uh, may be bears 🐻 out there.😂

I can now get back to my manuscript. I am reading it out loud especially – which I could not do at my dad’s. While at his house, though, I started my re-read of my birthday present from him: Hemingway’s 1926 novel The Sun Also Rises.

I saw this in the editor’s introduction and marked off – on the photo I took; I never scribble in a book like that – an intriguing paragraph. Seeing this mentioned about Sun always makes me laugh. It is indeed well-known Hemingway based the book on those people: the characters were only VERY THINLY disguised “fictionalizations” – and upon the novel’s publication those people did NOT like what they saw of “themselves” on Hemingway’s pages:

[From the Editor’s Introduction to The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway, 1926. Photo by me, 2019.]

Thus why fictionalizing *easily* identifiable *living* people is, frankly, well, not very nice. Yet basing fictional characters on actual people is indispensible in this way: it makes those characters truly come alive in a way some vague “mishmash” of influences probably would not. For as a writer you know the person well: his/her voice and cadence regularly used, phrases he/she uses which mark them out, his/her general social demeanor, how he/she comports him/herself… and you aren’t likely to, say, get his/her hair color mixed up with another character’s. LOL!

In the end all of that I find helps me hopefully create a more consistently believeable person – which when writing a novel is vital. I will NEVER reveal from whom I get some of my major characters. But I have been honest in stating that I have based characters on myself, on my parents, on my uncle, and on one of my grandmother’s.

When I had started writing my first book secretly and often at five in the mornings in 2012-13, only that grandmother was long dead. Shortly after the third book of that “trilogy” – that could well be one massive book, too – was finished (but not yet published) in late 2015, however, my mother and my uncle had shockingly died as well. As we approach another October – he died October 12; she died October 26 – I am thinking again on how pleased I am that I wrote at length about them while they were still living. I suppose brother and sister dying just two weeks apart was in its way someone “up there” perhaps telling us all something: they were quite a pair as siblings over the course of their lives and it is hard to imagine one of them with us but not the other one:

[Excerpt from Passports: Atlantic Lives, 1994-1995, Copyright, 2013. On Kindle for iPhone/iPad. Click to expand.]

One of the best creative decisions I believe I ever made in terms of family memory was fitting so much of my parents, my (novelist) uncle, and a grandmother, into my first three books. Including them was necessary as they had been large parts of the two decades’ old happenings I was fictionalizing; but in a real sense, I wrote down a slew of personal recollections of them, or stories told to me of them, from over the years. While naturally I hope hope hope they make for great fiction for readers who of course never knew the real them, on the real side personally all of that reality I injected also forms for me now, and will for the rest of my life, an accidental treasure.

[0602, as dawn approaches. Photo by me, Catskills, New York, earlier this morning., September 18, 2019.]

Only much more deeply fictionalized versions and references to my mother – basically I moved her to “1787,” so to speak – and to my father appear in my two recent “period” novels: from 2017, and the new one out shortly. Other characters again are based on, or have major aspects of, certain living people I know or I have known in my life – and often I had great fun shifting them back to two centuries ago. “Stealing” from real people has always been done in “fiction,” and indeed in some ways it may be a private tribute: it immortalizes them.

[This morning, before another coffee. Photo by me, 2019. Tomorrow The Grace text Copyright © me, 2019.]

Just be really careful. Not everyone is going to be flattered by what you have written about “them.” So, unlike Hemingway, don’t make it TOO obvious who they are. LOL!

Have a good Wednesday, wherever you are. 🙂

2 thoughts on “An Accidental Treasure

    1. Absolutely! They aren’t the highest of mountains. It’s not the most spectacular of scenery. Yet there is just SOMETHING about this area – history, sense of community, and more. That is what grabs me. 🙂


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