‘Righting’ Disturbing Childhood Incidents in our Novels.

Simple, really. Life experiences affect the way you write. And, as authors, you have the power to change, modify and/or right the pains you may have endured when younger.

Sometimes, when writing, you don’t even expect a terrifying childhood event to pop into your consciousness. Especially if that incident has nothing to do with the story’s plot line. But memories pop in, don’t they? When that happens, your fingers peck down on the keys and type a different scenario, a different outcome.

I won’t go into the gory details. But I’d like to share a disturbing memory.

It’s my fault. That’s what I thought as a ten-year old.

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Me with Buffy

 

After my friend discovered our missing eighteen-year-old Cocker Spaniel dead in the creek, she gave me a new puppy for my birthday, part Lab, part Beagle.

‘Buffy,’ named after the girl in 60’s show, Family Affair, was still young–two, I believe. I let her come with me across the quiet residential street to play with neighborhood friends. She was so happy before she ran in front of a parked car. The driver didn’t see her. (To this day, I accuse him of speeding, especially when he was driving past a group of kids  playing in a front yard.)

Not disclosing the images still in my mind, my dad called me from the vet clinic. “Carolyn,” he said, his voice choking with tears. “Since she’s your dog, you have a decision to make. She can live with three legs or we can put her to sleep.”

Back then, I had never seen a dog with three legs. My young, limited brain had to make a choice. Guilty Carolyn said, “Every time I look at her, I’ll remember my mistake.” Compassion Carolyn said, “I don’t want her to suffer.”

“Put her to sleep,” I whispered into the phone, because I didn’t have the life experience to tell me otherwise.

Later in life,  when I had children, I sat in the living room in our new house, my five-year old daughter next to me on our sofa. As we  watched my baby-grand piano being set up, she said, “Mommy, why does it only have three legs.”

Spontaneously, I said, “Because, sometimes, that’s all you need.”

Then, I thought of Buffy.

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Now, fifty years later, I’ve met many three-legged dogs.

In my latest WIP, THE MOONSHINE THICKET, the plot line doesn’t require a dog. Even so, eleven-year-old, Emma June has one.

Page 41: I’d asked Daddy why Choppers had the guts to forget he lost something so important as a leg. “Because, Jellybean, he got used to the change. He adapted,” Daddy said, then pointed to temple. “Choppers knew that, even with three legs, he still had plenty of life to live and enjoy.”

And there is was, a theme relevant to my novel. The new outcome put a different kind of smile on my face. Buffy (Choppers) is happy with three legs.

One way or another, aren’t we all three-legged dogs doing the best we can?

If you’ve had a memory-thumping moment while writing, I’d love to hear it! Please share!

Traveling Mercies (Anne Lamott),

Carolyn

Writing to heal-   http://www.apa.org/monitor/jun02/writing.aspx via @APA

How to Turn Traumatic Experiences Into Fuel For Your Writing  https://shar.es/1Efxfr via @sharethis

 

Published by

Carolyn Dennis-Willingham

Carolyn's first book, "No Hill for a Stepper", was published in 2001. Her second book, "The Last Bordello" was published in August 2016. Her third novel, set in 1928, is currently being edited. When she's not writing, you can find her at the boxing gym, with kids and grandkids, or throwing a ball for her persistent mini Aussie. Carolyn celebrates diversity and is an advocate for social and civil rights.

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