Wednesday, May 4, 2016

TALES OF A WRITER IN TRAINING

By E.E. Kennedy

There’s an old suitcase tucked away in a corner of my house that contains about a thousand photos. Any day now, I’ll get around to sorting them out according to era and family and putting them in orderly albums. Meanwhile, they remind me that I’ve been compiling stories all my life; I just didn’t realize it.

One of the pictures is of me in a swimsuit at the beach on Lake Champlain, near my hometown of Plattsburgh, NY. I’m about thirteen and very careful to stay out of the water. Why? Because the last time I was in the Lake, somebody in my church youth group had playfully thrown me in, and I’d inhaled about two quarts of water. I emerged, sputtering and angry and declaring that I hated swimming. I hated it so much that I failed the swimming test at the end of my senior year and was given a diploma that didn’t have a little gold seal on it. I didn’t care.

It’s not much of a surprise, therefore, that my character Amelia (in the Miss Prentice mysteries) has a similar phobia. It’s a kind of running joke about her; she can’t escape it. Even when she participates in summer stock theater, she finds herself unceremoniously shoved into a swimming pool. Someday, I must arrange to give give Amelia swimming lessons, as I had in college, so she can at least learn how to do the “dead man’s float.” (Not a bad mystery title, that!)

Also in college, I learned that being inoculated doesn’t necessarily protect you from contracting whooping cough (medical name: pertussis). It was already an antique disease when I caught it. The nurse at the university medical facility remarked when hearing the diagnosis, “It can’t be that. Nobody gets pertussis anymore!” But it was whooping cough, all right, complete with all the trimmings: intermittent bouts of coughing that seems to drive the air out of your lungs and violent jerking of the muscles around the ribs, not to mention fever and weakness. Not a fun experience, though I did recover completely. At the time, I remember thinking, I know why this is so deadly for babies and small children. You have to stop struggling against the cough, wait until the coughing stops and tell yourself that you’ll breathe eventually. It takes will power. Children don’t know how to do this and they panic, putting added stress on their little bodies.

As I wrote my Christian romance novella, The Applesauce War, I needed to portray a serious disease that could threaten my heroine in the early years of the 20th Century. I didn’t know much about consumption (tuberculosis) or typhoid, but all of a sudden I remembered, I did know about whooping cough! Verity’s symptoms begin in the middle of a crisis in her family. She’s helping to get in the apple crop, standing on a ladder, when she faints and is caught by the hired man. During her many long days in bed, as her family and sweetheart pray earnestly for her, she also realizes how a disease like this could mean death to an infant, just the way I did. She recovers slowly, as I did, and there’s a happy reconciliation of all differences at the end.

Also in that suitcase is a pair of little rubber figures (see photo), the last vestiges of a large family of small dolls I called my “little babies.” Each set included parents, a baby, a little boy, a teenage girl wearing saddleshoes and even a cocker spaniel. I had several sets of these all-pink rubber people and I adored them. Daily, I would pull out my shoebox full of them and enact stories in the little cubbyholes of my mother’s writing desk. I remember talking in different voices: squeaky for the children and deeper for the father and mother. One mom figure and one dad figure are all I have left. I love these two, largely because in their outdated formal wear and their ballroom dancing pose, they remind me of my parents. Also, because they remind me that I have been writing stories—albeit in my head—from my earliest years.

Experiences, all kinds, even terrible ones, can be treasures for a writer. Think of some of your memories. I’ll bet there’s a great story in at least one of them!
~~
Ellen Kennedy, aka E.E. Kennedy, is the author of the Miss Prentice mysteries about a high school English teacher. The titles include: Irregardless of Murder, Death Dangles a Participle, Murder in the Past Tense and Incomplete Sentence. She is working on the fifth, The Village Idiom. You can read sample chapters from all the books at www.missprenticecozymystery.com
Her inspirational short story, "Walk with a Stranger," is at http://twjmag.com/behind-the-mystery/walk-with-a-stranger
~~
Leave a comment and your email address and you'll be entered to win an e-copy of the newest Miss Prentice mystery, Incomplete Sentence!
 

11 comments:

  1. I love looking through old photographs. The sorting part is not such fun.

    marypres(AT)gmail(DOT)com

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  2. Talking about dolls reminds me of how my daughter used to sit for hours playing with her doll house people, talking for them and, if her sister or brother happened to be playing, telling them what to do and say also. Maybe this is why she loves reading today, she can still "play make believe"!

    steveandellengray(at)yahoo(dot)com

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  3. Ellen, thanks for sharing these stories. Yes, all of us are gathering material as we progress through life. Some of us--the writers-- put them on paper, while in others they simply live in our brain, waiting for something to bring them to the front.

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  4. Love this post! I totally relate to life long storytelling. It's also how I started. Isn't it grand?!

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  5. I sound like you. I've been creating stories since I was little too. I have pictures of me sitting on the stairs surrounded by all of my dolls and stuffed animals. And I always created full stories for my Barbie dolls to act out. Thanks for having the giveaway.

    harnessrose(at)yahoo(dot)com

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  6. I loved the stories you wrote. My mom was born with pertussis when she was born in the late 20's. My grandmother contracted it while she was carrying her. You are right about the stories through a person's life. bet I have a lot to tell with six brothers! Bev

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  7. Thanks for sharing and for motivating me with this post. After waiting many, many years, I finally have a grandchild. She recently turned two and I know that I need to 1. Record some of her precious moments and 2. Put in writing some of my memories of the events that made me who I am today. My favorite grandmother died when I was twelve years old and even though I have vivid memories of her as my grandmother, I really don't know what she was like in her early life. So, in case I don't have the chance to verbally tell her, I want Isabella to know what I was like as a teenager and young wife and mother. And even though I haven't traveled to far off places or met famous people, I do have a story of to tell!
    Connie
    cps1950(at)gmail(dot)com

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  8. This sounds like an interesting and fun read. I haven't read any of this series and I'm looking forward to reading.
    diannekc8(at)gmail(dot)com

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  9. This sounds like an interesting and fun read. I haven't read any of this series and I'm looking forward to reading.
    diannekc8(at)gmail(dot)com

    ReplyDelete
  10. I loved hearing your story about your treasured suitcase. I like going through old photographs. It is so much fun reliving the joy of those past days.

    I loved when my maternal great-grandmother told me in high school that there were stairs to the attic through her bedroom closet. Oh, the many times I vanished up those stairs whenever we visited. I found her older dresses, books (I still have the song book I found that was printed in the early 1900's), photos and hats. Lots of hats. I wish I had asked for some of her hats.
    My maternal grandmother had a chest that always sat at the end of her bed. She kept special momentos in there; such as her marriage license. Insurance policies, and artwork her grandchildren made. It wasn't until the eve of my wedding that I learned she had kept the Thank You Letters I had written to her (as a 5 years old) after Christmas while I was living in Germany. I now keep those letters tucked inside her Bible on my bookshelf.
    Lately since my mother has developed Lewy Body Dementia she has been going through the photo albums when I visit I telling me the story about each picture and who the people are. Sometimes she gets it right, sometimes she doesn't. I don't correct her because I like hearing the excitement and pleasure in her voice. She does know the stories behind each piece of jewelry. So precious.

    phoneticpanda(at)gmail (dot)com

    ReplyDelete
  11. I loved hearing your story about your treasured suitcase. I like going through old photographs. It is so much fun reliving the joy of those past days.

    I loved when my maternal great-grandmother told me in high school that there were stairs to the attic through her bedroom closet. Oh, the many times I vanished up those stairs whenever we visited. I found her older dresses, books (I still have the song book I found that was printed in the early 1900's), photos and hats. Lots of hats. I wish I had asked for some of her hats.
    My maternal grandmother had a chest that always sat at the end of her bed. She kept special momentos in there; such as her marriage license. Insurance policies, and artwork her grandchildren made. It wasn't until the eve of my wedding that I learned she had kept the Thank You Letters I had written to her (as a 5 years old) after Christmas while I was living in Germany. I now keep those letters tucked inside her Bible on my bookshelf.
    Lately since my mother has developed Lewy Body Dementia she has been going through the photo albums when I visit I telling me the story about each picture and who the people are. Sometimes she gets it right, sometimes she doesn't. I don't correct her because I like hearing the excitement and pleasure in her voice. She does know the stories behind each piece of jewelry. So precious.

    phoneticpanda(at)gmail (dot)com

    ReplyDelete