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Good Morning Nanty Glo!

       Wednesday, September 29 2004 

Jon Kennedy, webmaster

Dredging up the past

Usually, the phrase chosen for today's topic has a negative connotation. Past disappointments and failings are "dredged up" by a spouse to press an argument or open an old wound or air unresolved issues between the pair who make up a couple. But despite the more common negative connotation, I chose it as the most apt way to get my head around today's take on what it is we're most about here in the Nanty Glo Home Page postcards department. I think I've already dredged up as much of the past as is accessible in my grey matter for postcards here. But I also know that when I was writing my Nanty Glo novel manuscript, one of the best aspects of that was that one memory awakened in the process of telling a story would often open a flood of others, many of which I would marvel at as long-gone from my mental capacities. Writing fiction, the teachers of the genre tell us (and I often told my own writing classes) is like that. Find a hook—a "pregnant" thought—put it in writing, and the first phrase turns into a sentence, which turns into a paragraph, which turns into a whole page of new narrative on paper.

If and when the process is working.

Sometimes it works here in the creation of Jonal entries. A topical sentence or phrase may shake loose a whole essay's worth of points worth relating. "Dredging up the past" just "sounded" like such a phrase when it occurred to me.

An often fascinating point to my writer's mind is the relationship between memory, presumably of real "historical" events, and fiction. When you want to start writing fiction, I used to tell my classes, start with a memory from your actual past, but add "what if" to the mix. So I started my Nanty Glo novel with a memory of hitch-hiking home to Red Mill Road from Nanty Glo after a movie at the Capitol Theater. The most memorable of the rides I got were ones that became edgy because the driver of the car who offered a ride acted like he might have been drinking, or the passengers were talking trash that my innocent mind considered intimidating. That was the hook for my first chapter. What if that edgy ride of 10 minutes had turned into a real threat to my safety and well being? And what if that changed the course of my high school years from that point on. The edgy rides were real history in my teens, but the physical turn added to the first chapter from my imagination was fiction.

I've written here before about one of my favorite books of the past decade, Angela's Ashes. Since my mother whiled away some winter nights by reading Caddie Woodlawn aloud to our whole family, no other book had been so widely read in our family. Angela's Ashes is marketed as a memoir of growing up in Depression-era Ireland, but I've long suspected it's largely fiction. Frank McCort's "memories" are too vivid and begin too early in his life (virtually in his infancy) to be true to life. My guess is that he did a lot of "dredging" and bits and pieces of family history and story retelling got put down as fact. I'm not making any charges, but rather exploring what is and what isn't fiction. Even in his older years in the "memoir," Frank's stories are too whole to be true, in my thinking, so they must often be examples of adding a "what if" to an actual memory and turning that into a shrink-wrapped incident.

Most of our lives don't work that way.

Webmaster Jon Kennedy 


A man takes his Rottweiler to the vet and says, "My dog's cross-eyed; is there anything you can do for him?" "Well," says the vet, "let's have a look at him." So he picks the dog up and examines his eyes, then checks his teeth.

Finally, he says, "I'm going to have to put him down."

"What? Because he's cross-eyed?"

"No, because he's really heavy."

Sent by Mary Ann Losiewicz  

Thought for today

The church is prayer-conditioned.

Sent by Trudy Myers  

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