When the ghosts come whispering tragedy; the quest for The Story no matter what?

11 Mar

Yesterday after writing a scene that left me drained and exhausted, I took to my bed for a nap. In that time between when I thought I couldn’t possibly nap and the time that I did fall asleep, I thought about The Graces Saga—the Virginia Kate story, and how she is the storyteller of her family’s lives. And why I was having such a hard time writing this third and final book in the Graces Trilogy.

The tragedies of my biological family in West Virginia are many—alcoholism, violence, murder (death row and release from death row to freedom), pain, a secret about my bio mom that I can’t say here because it is too private about something so terrible it rips out my heart to know it happened, early deaths too young, more secrets, suicide, abandonment, cruelty, tenderness, pride, heartache, loss, and in between all of this is the living and the love and family lost and gained and lost again. It’s the stuff of great and compelling fiction, but this is not fiction; this is family that I know only sketchy things about, of whom some I’ve never even met, and some only when I was a babe, and some I’ll never meet. Of stories I’ve heard whispered, and some partially told as if parts of a puzzle are tossed to me and I can’t complete the picture and never will.

When I began Virginia Kate’s story, I knew 95% of it would be fiction. I took the 5% that I found interesting and used that as a starting point:

–my biological mother gave up her three children one at a time to my stepmother (who did end up adopting all three of us) and my dad.
–I was born in West Virginia, and spent a lot of years in Louisiana—I wanted to honor and write about these two places that affected my life so much.
–my father is an alcoholic but unlike Frederick, he’s been sober 50 years. (My biomom is not an alcoholic, unlike Katie Ivene –Momma.)
–my Maw Maw was so interesting and “crazy” I had to fashion Mee Maw after her

puzzle not complete yet

–the snake polo is based on a real incident and is one of my favorite scenes in TG

That’s about it with “truths” that spurred off the writing of a fictionalized Appalachian family torn apart and put back together in another fashion—the puzzle pieces different but somehow fitting together all the same.

Yet. What I did not know and what has made this third book the most difficult are the things I thought were fiction that turned out to either have more truths to them than I ever would have imagined, and the things that happened after I’d written the book and then they “came to be true.” For the things I wrote about that hit upon truths I had no idea were truths, perhaps I’d overheard something as a little girl and my black holed brain released them as an adult through my fiction—even though it brought forth no memory as I wrote it—or perhaps I just guessed and in that way of fiction “truth is stranger than fiction” it happened as things happen to families, or perhaps just as Virginia Kate does, I have ghosts speaking to me who want their story told.

As for the things that have happened after I’ve written my books—such as the suicide of Katie Ivene’s brother by shooting himself in the head—I am torn up upset. How would I have known my own half-brother in West Virginia would do what Little Ben did? How? Else I’d have not written it. It’s too close and too personal and too tragic. Too late—it’s in the story. And writers sometimes have no soul when it comes to The Story — we have no conscience — we know no boundaries of decency. Writers can be heartless in their quest for The Story. Still, it is not without cost.

Lots of things are “too late it’s in the story” and I have to carry them forward, finish the story, write it. I can’t pretend it didn’t happen—that I didn’t write it. Two books are already published with these events and I have to complete the book. I do. I do.

What I thought this third book would focus on is turning on its head a bit. Other voices want to speak through VK: Katie Ivene (Momma), Rebekha (VK’s stepmom). And some of those scenes, particularly of Katie Ivene, are breaking my heart. Leaving me drained. As I try to keep them in fiction and grounded in fictionalized events, the truths that I have found out, or those that occurred since I began the trilogy, rear up. I dance around them. I try to avoid them—and I can’t avoid them all. It exhausts me. It leaves me wandering about the little log house feeling this sense of . . . of loss and pain and curiosity and all manner of questions unanswered. Maybe I am, through Virginia Kate, making up my own answers, and yet even so, I am still leaving many unanswered even in the books.

I’ll keep writing. I will finish. And when this third book is done, it is done. If there is ever a time I will write about my Virginia Kate again, it will be set in contemporary times. From where I sit today, I can’t see going back again, digging up and under and trying to do that dance of avoidance coupled with the need to tell the story as it arrives to me—pain or not.

There are some excerpts from Tender Graces / Secret Graces that say so much of what I’m feeling:

Momma never told stories much, since it hurt to do it. She said looking behind a person only makes them trip and fall. I understand why now in a way I didn’t as a girl.

Grandma Faith used to say, “Ghosts and spirits weave around the living in these mountains. They try to tell us things, warn us of what’s ahead, or try to move us on towards something we need to do. But most of all, they want us to remember.”

It’s come time again to return to what’s gone by.
Even the things that hurt.
Grandma Faith whispers, Be strong, little mite. Tell the stories.
Yes, Grandma, I will tell the stories.

So, like Virginia Kate, I will need to just tell her story as she tells her own to me. Even the things that hurt.

Dad, Ruth my adoptive mom, Johnny, me, Michael, Tommy, David-wearing the grown up tie and constant grin with my hands on his shoulders, in Baton Rouge-the final puzzle pieces fit to make the new family (we lost our David in 1994 to a heart attack)
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