|Scott Fitzgerald Gray|
I think that all of us as writers maintain a strange and wonderful umbilicus of memory that connects us to the people we used to be. Sometimes those lines are strong. We remember the things that hurt us, the things that scarred us, and we tell of those things as a means of healing. Sometimes those lines are subtle and tenuous. A thought comes to mind when sketching out a story. An image works its way into a bit of description and seems familiar somehow. We find ourselves writing character story effortlessly, only to realize that the reason it comes so quickly, so easily, is because we already know these characters. We’ve collected them, along with the trinkets and shards and tokens of every moment that’s ever passed through us.
We Can Be Heroes, my most recent novel, is a book that’s been a long time in the writing for me. Not in the sense that I labored over it for years and years, knocking off draft after failed draft, but in the sense that the story and I go back a long, long way. The book was written as a kind of homage to my experience of high school, and being a particular kind of fantasy/sci-fi geek and gamer, and developing the core friendships that let me figure out what my life was supposed to look like. It’s a book whose first-person narrator is a kind of Through-the-Looking-Glass version of me as I was in high school, and whose events are detailed as having actually happened — even though they pretty obviously didn’t. But the Inside the Writers’ Studio secret behind the book is that every bit of its fiction is an actual touchstone to my own life. With the exception of some bits of backstory, there’s not a single thing in the book that actually happened as written — but at the same time, the feel of that particular part of my life and the way that feeling layers itself into memory infects every part of the story’s dramatic DNA.
The setting of the book is a kind of impressionist triptych of the rural countryside, the small town, and the high school that defined my adolescence. The characters in the book are gestalt versions of the friends who helped shape my life during the last years of that adolescence. The humor in the book is our humor, and the way that humor inflects the characters’ view of the world is exactly how it shaped our viewpoint a lot of years ago. The brief passages of gaming culture in the book will look real to anyone who’s ever been a gamer, because they are real. The unrequited romance between Scott and almost-girlfriend Molly that underpins the novel’s emotional throughline should feel real to anyone who’s ever suffered through the relationship meatgrinder that high school can be, because that throughline is built on the painfully reconstructed angst of my own inability to ever… actually, never mind about that.
The larger point is that as writers, we tend to collect things without realizing it. Most of us are aware of the conscious ideas, whether simply filed away in our heads or jotted down as rough notes in some form. Books we want to write ourselves. Books we wish other people would write for us. Things we want to know more about but never seem to have the time to study. But above and below that level of conscious creative possibility, all writers collect bits of information and ephemera. Things we know, things we wonder about. Stray thoughts that never manage to percolate up into consciousness, but which embed themselves into the strata foundations of our creativity like layers in the fossil record.
Whether we know it or not, I think that everything we write begins and ends with our own experience. And although much of the time this remains a subconscious process, it’s good to remind ourselves of it once in a while. It’s good to be able to say and acknowledge that the stories at the heart of our own life are worth telling.
GIVEAWAY! Scott is giving away a copy of We Can Be Heroes to one lucky reader. Just leave a comment on this post and your name goes in the hat!
~Scott Fitzgerald Gray