Thursday, December 17, 2015

Finding My Fiction Dream Again by Donna Galanti

All I want for Christmas is my true fiction dream.

Sometimes as writers we get lost. Sometimes we get caught by a spontaneous bug and follow inspiration to find our way. 

Stuck on the book I was writing recently, I resurrected an old manuscript that prompted me to drop my life and drive north. It’s a book rich with my own childhood, from a time when my parents owned and operated a campground in New Hampshire.

My writing spark had dimmed and I instinctively knew that this trip was necessary to fuel my passion again. I had lost the fiction dream, and living each day without my magic world was painful – like living behind endless clouds in a cold cage of reality. I wanted the dream back.

Grateful for an understanding family, I set off for an eight-hour drive to New Hampshire to the setting of a childhood home.

 In three days I:
*Cavaliered through six states
*Took a historical boat ride lake tour
*Toured a campground
*Hiked to the top of a mountain
*Navigated a gorge
*Shivered at the foot of snowy Mount Washington
*Drove the entire White Mountains National Forest highway
*Braked for moose
*Kayaked a lake

I pulled into the campground and was zapped back in time to the 1970s – and being nine-years-old. 


There I was as a child again, living each day in the moment. I swam in the pool, fished with my dad on Squam Lake, romped through the woods, collected dead butterflies and shotgun shells, played pinball machines, and spun 45 records on the jukebox in the recreation hall.

Returning was an emotional gut punch. I could be a child again in that place of innocence, a place where my mother was still alive. It also resurrected painful moments from childhood as well as joyous, and prompted this short piece from a harsh memory.

Holderness, NH, 1978, Winter
A flash of pain wacked my chest. Ice balls hurt!
“Go somewhere else, fat and ugly,” Tommy said, snickering with his older brother, Brian.
“No, it’s my bus stop too,” I said as another ice ball slammed into my arm. And another. They double teamed me.
Hurry up bus! But no yellow flashed around the corner, only the endless white spread everywhere.
They’d tied me up yesterday.
It’d been for fun (I thought). It must be cool to have brothers to play with, so I let them.
The rope scratched and then bit as Tommy pulled tighter.
“Double knot it,” Brian said. Tommy nodded with a laugh and jerked it harder against my wrists to the chair.
“Ow!” I yelled, kicking the edge of my chair. It wobbled but didn’t break.
“Just sit still.” Brian gave me a dirty look so I did.
Musty bits of dust fluttered up from around old chains and tires and shovels, making me sneeze out a big cloud of frosty air.
“Okay,” Tommy said. He and Brian smiled at each other. “We’ll be right back.”
I nodded.
And waited.
My fingers grew numb. The cold seeped through my red mittens. The light slanted across the one smeared window in the shed. A snowplow swooshed by at the bottom of the hill.
“Hey,” I called, not wanting to sound scared. But I was.
I wiggled my wrists. The rope sawed against them.
The light grew dim.
I wiggled more.
When were they coming back?
It was a game. That’s all.
But there was no stopping the tears that burst forth. No way would I let them catch me crying.
I yanked my wrists as hard as I could. Cramped my fingers to untie the knot.
The last light slipped away.
Shadows reached for me.
I ripped the rope away and ran home.
Aha! Wait until they come back. They meant to come back, right?
I told my mother what happened as she turned my bleeding, raw wrists around. No big deal. But the fire in her eyes told me otherwise as she ran next door.
Now here I was today, facing my enemy.
“Fat and ugly!”
Their laughter shot loud through the crisp air. I scooped up ice and snow, packed it down, and winged it right in Tommy’s face.
“Hey!” He yelled with surprise.
Red streaks cut across his cheek. 
Thwonk! Thwonk! They pelted me. I turned and ran.
“Come back!”
But I didn’t.
I ran to my special place as fast my chubby legs let me in my snow pants.
Swish swish.
I was the only sound in the forest. I spread out in the snow under a pine tree and let the silence fill me up. How long could I stay here? All day? If I did would I disappear?
From down the hill the school bus braked and shuddered then pulled away.
Snow fell soft like butterflies, melting on my nose.
I made a snow angel and looked up at the sky from my wings.
My body soon betrayed me.
Shivering, I tromped home.
I hoped the fire in my mother’s eyes would be the good kind.

What did I take away from this trip?
*The vivid feelings of childhood – the good and the bad – to enrich my writing.
*A chance to revisit my creative foundations that gifted me with the yearning to write again.
*The inspiration of a majestic setting to fill my soul.
*The connection from childhood to adulthood – and how the paths we travel drive who we are.
*As a parent now, an appreciation for my parents and their challenges of running a business and raising a child.
*That I write to understand and feel so not alone.
*Through writing I mend my past and forge my future.
*Remembered what I am in my heart: a storyteller.
So you could say I got my Christmas gift. The return of my true fiction dream. This time a new one tied up with a childhood bow, reflecting splintered sunshine through broken panes.
Merry Christmas to me.
Have you ever taken a trip into the past to follow creative inspiration? What did you find?


  1. Beautiful and heartbreaking, as childhood is. This is such an honest and truthful post and I have no doubt your fiction dream never left you, but needed you to dig to a deeper place to see it. Good writers are constantly exploring. Whether it be out in the world or deep in our hearts or into the mind of a stranger. We must explore. It takes us to new levels not only in our lives but with our craft. Sometimes it's really hard. If it wasn't hard, I don't think it would be any good. Take your memories, the good and bad, and use them, my friend. It all benefits the fiction because "fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth." (Camus) <3

  2. Jess, thanks for your thoughtful comment! I like to believe too that my dream wasn't gone but I indeed had to dig to find it again. And it's so true that we must keep exploring and are continually evolving as writers even if we don't know it - until we are in a new place and have to figure things out again. There is something of me in all my books and all my characters - and their events. I think this is what makes everyone's story so unique...and what I love. :)

  3. Great subject matter for a post.

    Just submitted a scene in my MG novel to my CPs based on my memories of a house on my walk to school as a kid that was always scary - had that dark, overgrown yard and bushes, bit run down, all around spooky look to to - all year round. We dared each other to ring its bell on Halloween. So far, getting positive feedback on the spooky vibes.

    I also did a memory lane tour of NH (Loon Mountain, Weirs Beach, Meredith, Wolfboro) this past summer. The trip inspired posts on my travel blog and it certainly is fuel for my novel writing.

  4. Debra, sounds like fodder for a spooky story indeed! I love how our childhood imaginations can feed into our adult writing. Ahh, been a long time since I was at Weirs Beach. Used to go there when we lived in NH. Thanks for sharing your blog about it!

  5. One of the assignments I was given by my amazing advisor An Na in my first semester of school was to pick a childhood memory--something very small, actually--to write about. I simply chose the creek I played in. Not a plot point, not anything really except I knew I could capture the emotion I felt in that place. And it turned into a full-blown short story--not an autobiographical one, although bits of it were taken from my life--and I was blown away at how quickly it formed with such a simple prompt. We are in all of our stories and all of our characters--pretty amazing.

    1. Jess, that is amazing! And actually my story above came from a prompt as well. Imagine the endless stories we could create if we took a small memory from our life each day and wrote about it - fictionalized or not. And what a way to recall those moments, digging into them to see it through all the senses. As a matter of fact, I may do just that to spur on creativity!

  6. Thank you so much for sharing this, Donna. You've stirred something deep in me.

  7. Thank you Caroline. This story just came forth in one sitting. It was powerful for me to remember and to write it from my 9 year old memory.

  8. I loved the story you wrote about the bullies. The things that happen to us as children leave lasting, deep trenches of feeling. You are a wonderful writer.

  9. Michael, thanks so much! And our childhood leaves deep impressions - good and bad. It truly came from a long forgotten and painful memory.


Thanks for adding to the mayhem!