Since I was in my early 30s, I’ve known I had a story to tell, a memoir to write, but I’ve avoided it because fear and self-loathing have shackled me. This story I have to tell takes place in my ninth grade year in school. I was 14 going on 15. It was the year JFK was assassinated. It was the year of the Beatles. And it was the year all my ambitions dissolved into nothing, in part because of something an old man in my church—an old man with authority—said to me. This year was the effing end of my story!
But I needed to get this story out of my gut, spew it out, so to speak. Unfortunately, the process of memoir—writing a piece at a time and figuring out when you’ve got enough pieces what the theme actually is and then organizing those pieces based on that—runs counter to my very literal, very linear personal process. I fought the fight, but I lost. And continued to work on my Lisen of Solsta series, now done.
Then, about a year-and-a-half ago, I came up with a brilliant idea. What if I placed a character based entirely on me into a setting I know well—a YA fantasy? Was it possible? Could I do it? I began building my world and my protagonist—Mari, a 15-year-old fat girl with low self-esteem and a narcissistic mother, who finds an escape into an alternate reality of sorts and gains there what she lacks on earth. Where Lisen was the me I wished I’d been in my teens, Mari is me at 15.
Mari and I became friends. We talk nearly every night. We talk about the current movement of the story and where to take it next. When I’m stuck with a plot hole I can’t seem to climb out of, I turn to her. She is, essentially, my inner child, but in separating her from me ever so slightly, I have made it possible for me to talk to that child, respect that child, encourage that child. Now this is all psychological stuff which my therapist is applauding in me, but bit by bit a story has formed. And the one thing I have demanded of the story is to give Mari the redemption, the resolution, I never got. Because I’ve promised her this, and this is a promise I don’t want to break.
It hasn’t been the easiest of journeys. I’ve had to dig deep and give Mari all my flaws. But while doing so I’ve also discovered some wonderful things about her (me), and I like her. A lot. As I approached the end of the draft where I’d be sending it out to beta readers, my anxiety disorder ticked up to a constant attack. I’m dizzy and having palpitations with a queasy stomach. Now this anxiety disorder is the direct result of a life, especially as a very young child, spent with that narcissistic mother who knew how to care for me but had no interest in my personhood and was incapable of love. (It’s all in the book, or if not there, it will eventually show up in the series.)
The book is now out to my betas. This is always a difficult time for any writer. In this case for me, however, I have eviscerated myself on the page. It’s never been this personal before. And I held back telling my betas what this book was really about. Until now.
I lost it last night. I had to make the anxiety stop so I messaged each of them and told them to stop reading. They refused and asked to know why. I told them. Or am telling them now. It’s my story, all right. Mari Spencer is me. Chloe Spencer is my mother. All that stuff she does when Mari’s at home—that all happened to me.
So there you are, my confession. I have to do this, write my story down. I had to get all that vile, ugly stuff out of me before I die. And at my age, that ain’t so far away now. Blessed be, friends. It ain’t a sprint, it’s a marathon.