Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Where Do the Ideas Come From?

I’ve written from dreams and from nightmares.  I’ve been inspired by books and newspapers and images.  Sometimes stories come from nowhere at all.  Writing from life is most complicated for me.  I know infinitely more than I can convey about the characters in my life, the myriad of threads don’t always distill well into themes, and sometimes I am too deep inside of my life to see the story clearly.  I suppose that’s why when it comes to writing, I’ve had the most success taking bits of real life, blending them with imagination, and turning them into fiction. 

My novella, Murmurs of the River, is the story of Magda in Post-Cold War Poland as she searches for the truth about what happened to her mother after her arrest by the secret police.  When giving this elevator pitch about Murmurs of the River, people always want to know where the story came from.  Am I Polish?  Was my mother arrested?  No and no.  But I am the same age as Magda and I lived in Poland during 1994 and 1995, the time the book is set.  In some ways I have a unique perspective on Poland because (despite some great friends) I was an outsider there.  This enabled me to write the grocery store scene you can read at http://www.translationnexus.com/, but I didn’t grow up in Poland and don’t pretend to know everything there is to know about being Polish.   

Regarding the truth of Murmurs of the River—I hope people who recognize pieces of themselves are flattered.  The picture above is of my real skater friends, but the novella is not a memoir and I don’t want it to be one.  As a reader, I always want the story I’m reading to be true.  I find myself Googling characters looking for more details, but ultimately, I don’t want these stories to be factual because it is the perfection of the books that makes the characters seem true and real.  Outside that world, they would be someone else and part of the story I so loved would be lost.  Our time is preoccupied with truth in memoir when perhaps we should be talking about facts.  We all know the examples and I won’t rehash them here.  What I will say is that the best I can hope for is in changing the facts in their memoirs, those writers were trying to speak to the greater truth of their stories.

I cannot tell the story of the Polish experience, it is not mine to tell, but I can tell the story of my fictional character as well as possible and maybe even get close to the truth.  I can only hope Murmurs of the River (and the selection that appears in Soul’s Road) will pique your curiosity enough about Poland and the Post-Cold War era to ask questions and to want to learn more.  I can hope the book will make you less lonely or inspire you to reach out to someone in need.  I can hope you will spend an afternoon simply enjoying the writing I’ve put years into.

Stories come from wherever they damned well please.  As a storyteller, I consider myself lucky to grasp whatever ethereal bits I can before they evaporate and use them to seek out the truth of human experience using whatever details I have to create.

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