Bittersweet Memories

Today I’m feeling nostalgic. I’ve been thinking about a writing project I started more than 10 years ago that I never finished. I don’t think I even wrote a whole chapter. In fact, I felt completely incapable of the task. I’m still not sure if I’m ready to tackle it.

I am a first-generation American. My mother is from Nicaragua, my father from Jamaica. They met in college in California and spent most of their married life in Ohio. I grew up in a small, all-white Catholic town called Russia. The locals called it Roo-she, so people wouldn’t get us confused with our cold war enemies. It’s close to Versailles (which we called Ver-Sales) and Houston (House-tun) and, well, maybe we just had a different way of talking there…

My parents died the year I turned 10. In Nicaragua. About a month before Sandanistas stormed the palace in Managua. My family had ties to the Samoza government, both favorable and unfavorable. My parents were getting along better than they had in a while, less arguing, more hand holding.

I know there’s a book in all this, it’s been begging to come out for years. But fear of painful memories has kept it buried, along with the fear of not being a good enough writer to tell the story in a compelling way.

Last night I finished reading Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford. It’s a war story, a love story, a story about American families with foreign roots. It’s beautifully told and it touched a chord deep inside of me. I couldn’t sleep. All night long these ideas kept waking me, screaming at me to get off my ass write them down.

I haven’t yet, but I’m going to try. It’s a story that may never be on the shelves of a book store, but it’s a story I have to write for me, for my children.

So why am I so scared?

12 thoughts on “Bittersweet Memories

  1. Sherrie, wow. I (obviously!) had no idea you had gone through all this. First, thanks for sharing it. And I think you’re right–if its calling, its time to look at it, give it a chance to come out. Are you thinking fiction or memoir…or just getting it down on paper? Just a thought, but as a way to let yourself in gently, you might look at one of those small, memoir writng classes that a lot of rec departments are offering. My mom is taking one right now. She’s had a ton of ups and downs in her life (mostly her childhood), but she was never much of a verbal storyteller. Anyway, the class uses a binder that has sort of pre-formatted sections–sort of like, today, try thinking about X or Y, and those seem like doors that are helping my mom take things small pieces at a time. I don’t know if this is what you’re looking for or whether it sounds good, but thought I’d toss it out for you.You’re being very brave. Give yourself a hug for that.

  2. Becky, I don’t think I can do it as a memoir. I need to be able to fictionalize parts and I certainly wouldn’t want to be another James Frey! I went through a period of reading Julia Alvarez and Victor Villasenor and trying to figure out how to approach the story. Part of what I liked in Hotel was how he split the story between 1942 and 1986, so the reader could see how the past influenced the “present.” Would Maas’ workbook help with working it out?

  3. Sherrie, I came to your blog because you left a nice comment on mine. But now I feel really subdued and moved by your story, or the story that you have not yet told. Then I was reading beckylevine’s post and I was thinking, “But this should really be a novel, taken to pieces and put together in a different way – fiction has the power to tell the truest truths” and then came your reply, so i’m guessing you agree. But gosh, how to get the distance you’ll surely need and yet maintain that raw closeness that you’ll also need?? Good luck, Sherrie – I hope you find the voice and form for such a story.

  4. Thanks, Nicola. I’ve had 30 years of distance and a lot more writing experience in the last 10. I had always thought it would be a memoir, but I think writing it as a novel gives me additional distance from it so I can actually approach it more truthfully as you said. I’m optimistic that I can actually get it down this time. And really, at this point, that’s the most important thing — to spit it all out.

  5. Wow, Sherrie. What an incredible story. I can definitely see it as a novel. I agree with Nicola… if you can keep the raw emotion and fictionalize parts where its necessary, it can be extraordinarily powerful and moving.

  6. Wow Sherrie — I hope you can get yourself up to writing your story. It would be good for you to get it written down. I wish you the best and I also want to say I’m sorry you lost your parents at such a young, delicate age. (((HUGS)))

  7. Sherrie–I think you're right about the memoir angle–I just wasn't sure what you were hoping to do. I'm not that far into the workbook, but here's what I'm seeing that he does. He takes the concepts from the main book, develops them with a bit of new material, then has you basically complete information for your own book or write scenes. Right now, for example, I'm working through the section on multi-layered characters. He has you pick a few dominant traits for your hero, then decide what the OPPOSITE of each trait would be, then write a scene in which the hero exhibits that opposite quality. I think things like this MIGHT help you change your memories into a story, might help you distance yourself just enough to truly write this all into a wonderful novel. If you want to talk more about the book, feel free to email me. I can skim through some more sections & tell you what goes on.

  8. I can’t even imagine your pain at such a young age. It must be difficult to get close to the past, to see the future of your story. But if you channel your emotions and your memories into this–you’ll find you have a powerful story that wants to be told. And in writing the story, you will find the courage.I wish you all the best with this. Hugs.

  9. It’s so hard to write on this kind of emotion, but that’s where the award-winning writing comes from. You are more than up to the task.And yes, thank you for sharing this!

  10. Wow … what a story. It gave me chills! You definitely have a powerful novel in there … it may take time to process and work through it all, but you’ll get there … and it’s going to be GOOD!!!

  11. Oh, Sherrie, how awful to lose your parents at such a young age. You will know when you are ready to delve into this subject for a book. I think it would be therapeutic, but obviously very difficult as well. Good luck!

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