Wednesday, October 12, 2016


Novels and short stories by definition are fiction, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t contain bits of reality. Sometimes an author can introduce reality into her fiction by using her memories—personal, and probably slightly biased, facts. I guess a purist would say memories and facts are often distinctly different. I don’t want to argue the point today.

Turning my memories into a thriller, I Saw You in Beirut.
I combined several of my memories with facts and lots of fiction. The University of Wisconsin-Madison was awash with Iranian students protesting the Shah in the late 1970s. I was a professor there and the graduate advisor of one of these students. Conversations with her and her friends served the basis of creating the fiery character Farideh in I Saw You in Beirut.

For example, in an early scene in I Saw You in Beirut, Farideh takes a knife, which she was using to slice a cake, and threatens an annoying fellow grad student. Unfortunately, the incident really happened in my lab, but I changed the names to protect the guilty. I thought this incident was a #way to show not tell about Farideh’s temperment. 

Collecting memories for a short story collection?
Before I wrote The Good Old Days? A Collection of Stories, I talked to dozens of people about their memories, especially of their childhoods and adolescences. Thus each of my stories has a different perspective, but they all address historical or social problems in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960, a time that many refer to as the good old days. I think these vignettes demonstrate past events are often funny, but many would rather remember than relive the events.

Here are two examples of the memories that triggered stories: Do you remember your first bra? (Sorry guys, you missed that experience.) Did it look a bit like Madonna’s costume with two cones of foam strung together with straps? Enjoy the humorous memories in I Look Like Papa.

Many towns in the Midwest and New England are awash with grand Victorian ladies (large houses with endless brightly-painted decorations). As an old man remembers his glory days as a high school athlete in Dirty Dave, he also reveals secrets about domestic violence in these so-called grand homes.

We all have memories usable in fiction. Perhaps, you can remember with horror a car accident or the death of a love one. You could use your painful memories of you raw emotions to make a scene in a novel memorable to others.

Why don’t you search you memory for ideas for your next novel or short story?

I Saw You in Beirut Blurb: Sara Almquist’s past, as a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and as a globetrotting epidemiologist, provides clues for the extraction of a nuclear scientist from Iran.

The Good Old Days? A Collection of Stories Blurb: Are many nostalgic accounts of the good old days examples of selective forgetfulness? Before you argue the point, read these fourteen short stories.