When people ask what I write, I always answer fiction; then, I mumble a caveat, “I’m also working on a memoir.” Why I do this, I don’t know. Is there any writer’s law against writing nonfiction as well as fiction? Is it permissible to write in two entirely different genres?
No doubt, there are major differences in writing a memoir from, say, a short story or a novel. For one thing, a memoir is a reflection on a part or time of one’s life. It focuses on how the narrator was changed from the circumstances incurred. It deals with strong emotions. . .sometimes, even painful feelings that the writer experienced then and, perhaps, even now. Unlike fiction, the events are those that actually happened, the dialogue written from memory, the details recollected as best as they can be.
Yet, like fiction, writing memoir also involves disassociation, where the writer mentally drifts to a different time, a different place. Here is where a writer momentarily saunters into another sphere. . .a place where only the author is allowed to trespass. In this spot, a writer either relives a past life or existence, as in memoir, or visits a place of one’s own created making as in fiction.
Life has a way of calling to writers like a light breeze swaying a pine tree. When a story needs to be told, whether fiction or nonfiction, a true writer will pay heed, will listen closely. The beckoning seems to linger until the call is answered.
At least, this is what happened to me. For several years, I heard that voice, telling me I needed to put my story to paper. Why? Multiple reasons, I say. I needed a physical closure that only a completed memoir could bring. I longed to tell others my story, so that they might benefit from its words. It was time for me to openly and publicly express how my life was changed because of what I had faced.
Certainly, this does not, by any means, mean I will never return to my made-up worlds and created characters. As a writer, I know one thing for sure. I am obligated to listen to life’s call and to follow in whatever genre that might be.
I’ve been thinking lately why it is that I love writing fiction so much. Without a doubt, there is enjoyment in the whole creation process. Developing characters, designing a setting, escalating the tensions that lead to the ultimate conflict. . .all play a part in writing the short story or novel.
But contemplating the question even further, I came to the conclusion that there is no greater “high” then being your own creator. And who better to create then someone who also knows how to control.
Although I like to think that my characters come alive and lead their own lives on the page, if it were not for me, they would never even exist. Perhaps, this is why I sometimes feel a sense of guilt when I put a manuscript-in-process aside for whatever reason. I have the ability to control these lives. . . stop them short if I so desire. Why, I even have the ability to cut out a character if I find he or she just doesn’t quite hack what I’m looking for any longer.
Yes, indeed, it takes a creator to be a fiction writer, but just as importantly, it takes someone who likes being in control.
The idea for my story came from my daughter who is working on her doctorate in neuro-psych. Years ago, there was a mental hospital called Eloise in Detroit. I began to search for some old pictures of the asylum to prepare myself for the mood of the story. Once I had my protagonist and my setting, I was ready to find my antagonist who actually came to me quite easily: a psychotic schizophrenic patient, named Damien, accused of murdering one of the nurses at the asylum. Of course, Damien blames the occurrence on Miles, a voice that speaks to him. I wanted to end “Interview with a Patient – #0494772” with a horrifying twist. Shared Psychotic Disorder, also known as “the folly of two,” whereby a normal person begins to share in the delusions of the psychotic person provided me with the exact closure I was looking for.
My short story, “Tomorrow’s Children,” is an excerpt from a dystopian novel I have just completed. The first book in the trilogy is called After Shocks and explores life after a 9.8 earthquake has hit California, severing the Monterey Peninsula into the middle of the Pacific. The year is 2091, thirteen years after the quake has hit, and an oppressive form of government has taken control of the island. In “Tomorrow’s Children,” women are being forced to take their children to a Cryopreservation Center, where they will be frozen until further notice in efforts to control population control.
A few years ago, I read Margaret Atwood’s classic The Handmaid’s Tale while soon afterward vacationing in Monterey. At the same time, I was working on a thesis for my Master of Fine Arts when the chilling question came to me: What if a natural disaster had struck on the very land on which I had stood and had washed it out to sea?
As a writer, I have an underlying inclination toward dark themes. My writing style also deliberately looks for the twists in plot that add a multitude of tensions for my characters. It is then that I set them free, so-to-speak, and watch as they find ways to cope or not cope with life’s tribulations. I see myself as a scribe who quickly types up the dialogues and inner monologues of my characters, who I prefer to refer to as people, and often say, that if I were to see any of them on the street, I would recognize them immediately.
I was not content to write about just any island that floated into the Pacific, however. I wanted a whole new society to form and all of the ramifications thereof. At first, these were people glad to be alive, but in no time, as human nature will have it when there are no rules and guidelines to live by, the people started to turn on one another. A group of former military men from what was the Naval Postgraduate School, as well as some soldiers from what was the Presidio of Monterey, and several former police officers formed the National Association of Patrolling Officers, the NAPOS. In an effort to force the people to forget the origins from which they came, the Napocracy changed the people’s former names to that of stars and constellations; changed the names of the seasons; came up with codes, similar to laws, such as the Anti-Conception Law; and instituted such agencies as the Euthanasia Home, the Assisted Suicide Center, and the Cryopreservation Center.
“Tomorrow’s Children” seemed an apt name for the title of my short story as it reflects the uneasiness among the people of the island, called Domicile, as they wait in hope for a tomorrow in which their children will be thawed.