Telling the story


You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.

– Anne Lamott


I have stories that I want to write.  Many based on real life experiences, real people I know.

But, as I’ve told a fellow writer a lot of people have to die before I can tell these stories.

Feelings may be hurt.  Lawsuits may be waged.

I don’t want to go through what Alison Mackenzie went through in Return to Peyton Place.

Alison’s book scandalized the small New England town. When she returned home, she received a rather chilly reception.

Part of my upbringing tells me that you shouldn’t air your dirty laundry in public.  I’m not so sure I’m airing family laundry, but there are some great stories.

One of my novels now in editing stage is based on a true story out of Washington, DC.  It’s got all the good stuff.  Politics, sex, intrigue.  As I wrote the novel, I kept the basic storyline, but changed locations, and characters and circumstances.  Truth is I could have recorded it word for word as it happened and the book would be better.  If less believable.

I don’t know if some of the people in the story are still around. Certainly, there’s little chance that any of them would now recognize the story.

I’ve said before that I had to learn that I write best when I write about experiences I’ve had, or people and places that I know.

In my novel version the above story was set in Southern Mississippi.  I did some research on names, and industries as well as other location details.  But I find that the story will work best if I move the setting back to Southwest Virginia.  That way I don’ t have to look up names of towns, or distances between.  I don’t have to learn new dialect or new industries.

Fortunately for my home town, this story cannot be connected to anyone there.

As far as I know.

The revision will also have the story being told by the Southwest Virginia writer that I mentioned the other day.

Again, not autobiographical at all.

I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to write all the stories I want to tell from over the years.  I wish that I’d kept better notes.

I wish also that I’d paid better attention at family gatherings and learned more about our ancestry.  Being the youngest of the youngest, I didn’t always see the value in hearing those stories.

My mistake.

Still, I have lots to draw on.  Lots of colorful characters.  Some not so colorful but still strong and courageous.

There are stories to be told.

And it looks like I’m the one to tell them.



    • Camilla Herold on November 12, 2014 at 8:55 am

    Michael, I have similar feelings about writing about southwest Virginia. One of my ideas is a novel about the Camelot period of the early 1960s there, when the country club was the center of the social life of people like my parents. All about the strong and brilliant facade that protected the status quo and covered the festering sore underneath. I would also like to write stories about some real people like Albert Mann and Joe Santolla. I knew Joe pretty well and have a lot of my own memories of him and his farm. I was in the car when we picked up Albert several times, but most of what I know about him is second-hand. I am not sure I am going to be the one that publishes them, but I would like, at the very least, to write them and own them.
    If I did the tell-all Camelot novel, I would embarrass people and probably make enemies. But there again, I would only write what I saw and heard, with no malice intended. I would be writing for my own catharsis.
    It does beg the question: should writers take any responsibility for that kind of fallout? Those who know the truth will see themselves in the thinly veiled novel. Can they sue? Should we care? In the end, what is more important, exposing the truth or continuing the illusion?

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