The last Clare story, posted four months ago, landed me at a crossroad. Some things weren’t working, starting with maintaining the point of view of two teenage girls living now. The unnamed narrator was beginning to feel limiting and a little hokey. Most of all, because it’s based on a true story, whenever I tried to fictionalize things, I stuttered to come up with a better alternative than what really happened.
Should I stick with the original conception: YA fiction told in the present with all the details about the girls following current trends? Or settle for past tense and take the story to when the friends would be 28, the age when, in truth, the world changed for the characters in real life.
I really longed to write fiction. I wanted to stretch into a form I haven’t tried in years and the story lent itself to YA–a popular genera that maybe meant it would sell. I’d already done non-fiction and a full memoir and I honestly did not want to drag up heartbreaking details and incidents about myself and the Clare character.
I struggled back and forth this way for a couple of angst-filled weeks. I outlined, jotted notes, drove and walked around to think, and stared at the blank page on the computer screen. Fiction vs. memoir, or Wile E. Coyote vs Roadrunner. Wile was crashing again.
Finally I called in professional help, Maya Rock who, after working at a literary agency and writing a terrific YA novel herself, founded an editorial service. She agreed to take a look and I sent Clare off to her. A month later I received 11 single-spaced pages containing detailed notes, starting with an overview, then diving into each story. Interestingly enough, she judged the weakest story to be “Faith” as well as parts of “Moms at Rest.” “Faith” is entirely fiction; “Moms” is about 65% fiction. What worked in the other stories centered on a believable realism, an intimate voice, adult observations and descriptions, and a more comfortable point of view reflecting backward. Forget YA, Maya said because the last story, when the girls are 19, demanded follow-ups that would age them out. Finally, Maya mulled over whether I should go for fiction or make it a memoir.
“I’m leaning toward memoir,” Maya said.
Writers use their own and everyone else’s lives as bases for fiction all the time. Maya’s opinion underscored that these writers obviously possess a talent I don’t have, if only because I found it hard to come up with realistic alternatives to real events. When I did, the stories collapsed. Worse, I admitted the fictionalized Clare didn’t half compare to the real Clare, starting with failing to convey the complexity of her personality and its effect on everyone around her, most especially, and lingering still, me.
A day doesn’t go by when I don’t think about the girl who is Clare, and that I don’t feel guilty and lost because of what happened between us. The idea I had when I sat down to write the initial story was to use her ghost. But in subsequent stories, she insisted on being brought back to life. I fought it but, once more I followed her the way I always did when we were 16. And in the next stories I found the heart of what I wanted to explore–the true nature of friendship between two teenage girls–a time when you don’t know who you are but begin to make the choices that will inform your life. Our friendship was feverish, fervent and in some way savage. We couldn’t imagine anyone knowing or caring about us as much as we did each other. Clare and I stayed together until we couldn’t anymore and when our paths strayed apart something in us broke and, as is the nature of girlfriends, never quite mended. Then it became too late.
Maya and I exchanged a handful of emails in which she patiently talked me through things until I confessed: Clare is a memoir.
Where does that lead me now? Pretty much looking a lot like this:
I’ve begun to go back over the stories and replace fiction with truth. I have journals, letters, photographs, and pieces of Clare’s art to draw from. I have friends to check with, maybe her sister if I can find her and she’s willing to talk to me. I have enough drugs stockpiled to unearth the necessary feelings and events that haunt me and bring them back up again.
No longer at a crossroads, Clare takes my hand and pulls me into remembering when she and I lived for each other. We decided our fates long ago and a memoir won’t change that. But it’s real and maybe that brings peace.
P.S.: The first story I turn into memory is The Fashion of the Day. It is now Barefoot Girls. I left Fashion up in case anyone is interested in comparing them and telling me which one you think is better.