34. Stories: Burning Bridges To Cross

05/31/2021

When the first book of my memoir trilogy, Victory Is My Name, was published late last year, I invited some friends and close colleagues to read it online at a private web-page, or download the e-book there. I didn’t request feedback, though of course I was hoping for some. One of my longterm friends (we were best-friends as children and young teens) started to read the book and then stopped when it got to the hard parts. I believe it became too uncomfortable for her to read about some private feelings and events of my life that had never been visible in my cheerful optimistic nature as she  knew it. For me this was so disheartening, more than I can even begin to tell you.

Reading a book that’s historically or personally true requires embarking on a journey that may not be entirely safe, and certainly will not be entirely comfortable. But the reader always has an easy escape – just quit. Close the book and walk away. 

There were several friends who stopped reading when they got to the hard parts of my life. They were not abandoning me, they just instinctively and innocently did not want to go there. They didn’t want to know me that well. They liked me the way they had come to know me: cheerful, honest, not too complicated.

The dedicated “Real Readers,” deep readers, the kind who love and devour books as a normal part of their daily lives, those are the ones every writer wants to love us. But capturing them is like fishing the ocean with a bent pin on a string. And if we succeed, most of them will be strangers who are not handicapped by any prior perceptions of us. 

In every good book there will be a burning bridge the reader must cross, usually early-on, and in every great book, there will be many more ahead. That’s where the commitment is made, at the  first burning bridge, whether to cross into this journey or turn away. 

My readers and yours are out there, but they probably won’t be our family or friends, and this will hurt. But it’s because some parts of us will emerge through our writing that will disturb their old concept of who we are. They will suddenly see someone deeper or more complicated than they knew, which may shock them. Not-knowing was fine, and it was working for them. God bless them, for they probably loved their version of us very much, as they perceived us. Now if we turn out to be too much more than they knew, it disturbs their comfort. It might even cause them to take a deeper look at their own lives.

Here’s one truth out of many that I learned over and over in my 20 years as an ER caregiver, where we cared for every unimaginable level and form of humanity: You don’t know that person in front of you, no matter who it is. 

You don’t really know your parents, or your family as individuals, or your friends. You never met them until you met them. You never knew your parents when they were young, and yes, as sexually passionate, instinctively selfish, and earnestly foolish as you are, or were, when you were 20-something. You don’t know what emotional life-baggage they’ve carried, and struggled with, down the path to get this far. You don’t really want or need to know. 

That colleague who is confident, successful, and self-assured, may have been abused, abandoned, physically or emotionally starved and beaten as a child, and nobody knew. Maybe s/he is one of the brave ones who were strong enough to survive. Maybe whatever they had to overcome forced them to grow stronger and braver, and that force became instead what sustained them, became the scaffolding of the quiet confidence that you see now.

You don’t know how the filthy homeless alcoholic or drug addict on the ER gurney got here, with a bloody face from falling down drunk again, whose life my co-workers and I will save, again. You  don’t know their story. Everyone you meet may have crossed a few burning bridges to get to this place, where they now stand before you. You  don’t know their story.

As the pandemic begins to reluctantly subside and I venture out into my life again, I’ve made a new commitment to my book. I sent another email to one of the friends who stopped reading the book, and asked her to to give it a second chance. I said something like “Try not to see this odd little girl, latchkey kid growing up on the sad side of Dallas in the 1950’s, as someone you know. Don’t try to match her up with the woman you know me to be, now or ever, that’s not who she was then. Try to read it like a novel, an entertaining story with a protagonist and antagonist and other characters and events. I think you might quite enjoy it that way.” 

She did read the book again. Afterwards she sent me an email, and said she had read it straight through in two days. I was stunned, but not entirely surprised. She is a professional woman, dedicated and hard-working. She has always been a leader in her field, and like all strong women, knows how to make a commitment and get a job done. She wrote me an extraordinarily generous positive review, and a massive boulder of doubt and discouragement fell off my shoulders. The book was not so bad. It had been the commitment to the journey that was the block, the burning bridge that we are all naturally reluctant to cross. 

So here is the challenge: for your book or mine to succeed. For its gift to be shared and its truth be told, we’ve got to find a way to get both friends and strangers to take the risk, to brave the journey, for a good book is always a dangerous journey, and a great book will have many burning bridges to cross. But just beyond, there will be a discovery of something about ourselves and all of us.

You don’t know the person standing in front of you, no matter who it is. They might have an unexpected gift to give you. Only a few of us will dare to tell our story, but in every one of us, there is always more to the story.

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The book is Victory Is My Name, a Memoir, Book One. It’s available in paperback at your favorite bookseller, both paper and ebook are at internet stores (Search by author, Victoria Chames) and any brick & mortar bookshop will order the book for you with no shipping charge. You can read a sampler here –  http://www.darkhorsepress.com/sampler-victory.html

If you’re interested in being a Beta Reader for Book Two: The West Bank, please contact me by email:  victory (at) darkhorsepress dot com. The first draft of Book 2: The West Bank is now in progress.


33. What To Remember, What To Forget

04/18/2021

When we are children, we live without thinking too much about it. When we’re happy we live like little squirrels dashing from tree to tree, from moment to moment, and a lot of what happens to us, the regular everyday things, we don’t really notice. Human beings can only remember things we have actually noticed, good or bad. I remember being embarrassed and ashamed of my old hand-me-down clothes. I remember being told I was too skinny, and I would never be pretty. I was thirteen. Things like that, I remember.

There are blank spaces that I don’t remember in the last days I was still with my birthmother Ann. I don’t remember seeing her in that boarded-up old house where we lived after the divorce happened. Daddy went somewhere and we went to the old house. I don’t know how long we lived there. I do remember being sad a lot, alone in the cold dark dusty empty house, sitting in front of the tiny gas heater that was the only heat we had. It was winter and the cold seeped through the boarded windows, over the windowsills, and flowed into the room like water. 

I don’t remember the rest of the house except the kitchen. There wasn’t any food in the fridge, so I went to the big Safeway and stole something to eat. I don’t remember where my brother or my birthmother slept, and I can’t remember seeing either of them there. They must have been there, but I can’t remember. In my mind’s eye I try to see them there, and I can’t. 

Then Daddy came one day and found me and took me out of there, and Helen brought me home to her place. They got married and legally claimed my brother and me, and then a whole different life began, and I remember millions of things about that. Things we did, clothes Helen sewed for me, all the different things she taught me– how to cook great things like homemade biscuits from scratch. I can remember every corner of the warm bright house, so full of happy optimism and generous love and lots of food. Oh, wonderful food. I’m crying now. I remember what a marvelous thing it was, suddenly to be warm, and to have my tummy feel so good and full.

Writing this memoir I’ve often wondered about how memory works, why we remember what we remember and forget what we forget. Some good things are forgotten because they seemed ordinary at the time, but wonderful and awful things take root in the mind and stay. What makes us remember things is feeling them. I know that sometimes the mind chooses to hide them from us to protect us from pain, but the dark stuff is still in there, someplace deep. 

Now that I’m grown, sometimes I’m brave enough to open the vault and let a thing come out into the light, and I write about it. It hurts so much that I cry and cry. But once I have written it, and faced it, and confessed that it’s true, I find that I am able to forgive it, and then I feel so much better, and not afraid of it anymore. I feel whole, like I know the wound can heal now.

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The trilogy, Victory Is My Name, Book 1: The Burning Barrel is available from Internet or brick and mortar bookshops. The e-book is available at your favorite web booksellers. Search by author, Victoria Chames.

If you are interested in being a Beta Readers for Book Two: The West Bank, please contact me through “Victory” at Darkhorse Press. The first draft of Book 2: The West Bank is now in progress. Thank you.


32. The Book Launch

04/08/2021

After delays and confusion and multiple snags, the first book of the trilogy is out, Victory Is My Name, Book One: The Burning Barrel. The Association of  Independent Authors & Publishers and other reliable sources advise me that my job now is to do promotion for it. With independent  small publishers, you don’t get the marketing package that the mega-publishers have. You have to do most of it yourself. It’s not my thing, and not a talent I have.

Nevertheless, I’m following one of the recommendations: sending email invitations to friends and colleagues with a link to an online copy of part or all of the book, to read for free. The plan I think is to spread the word that your book exists. I haven’t had the nerve to send it to any professional connections or hoped-for connections yet, but I’ve begun to send my invitation to a few friends.

One of them, one of my oldest friends, I had sent to this book to before, in its first draft. She is an exceptionally intelligent person, an English teacher, career educator, and retired School District Administrator. In other words, the ideal beta reader. She read the first few chapters and wrote a generous review, then stopped reading and went silent. That was several years ago.

This week I had the temerity (or audacity) to invite her again, to read my book. In the note I wrote that I understood that she had stopped when she got to the painful parts about my family, which had been close to hers when we were children. I asked her to try to read it again, not as a memoir, but as if it were just another novel, and to meet the characters in it that way, for the first time. She wrote back that she would.

For a lifetime I have wondered about how hard it is for all of us to look at the truth without flinching and turning away. What is it that we really fear? So much of the suffering and injury in my adult life, I could have prevented by facing the reality of it, turning away from the circumstance and seeking something else, instead of turning away from the truth that the endeavor had failed or was failing. Change itself is painful and frightening, and so we usually stay with the pain we know, rather than risk the unknown.

I don’t have a neat philosophical wrap-up for this one. All I know is, we do what we can until we are able to do more. We make the same mistakes until we dare to look and see the truth, and somehow scrape up enough courage to try something else. Until we finally see that the progression of life is all about the next something-else, the next chapter. We leave something and we move forward ready or not, without knowing what will come next. Or else we don’t.

We human beings cherish the best of the past and we are shackled to the worst of it, and it’s terribly hard for all of us to release ourselves from ether. And yet the longer we hold on to the past, the longer we are delaying the emergence of the present and the future. The Big Truth, nobody tells you; you have to discover it yourself. Life is change, and the present is always where the future is forming itself. We are choosing it, knowingly or not. 

So I say, be aware if you can, of what you’re choosing, and forgive yourself for the times you could not be aware. Believe me, you did the best you could.

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Of the trilogy, Victory Is My Name, Book 1: The Burning Barrel is now available from Internet or brick and mortar bookshops. The e-book is available at your favorite web booksellers. Search by author, Victoria Chames.

If you are interested in being a Beta Reader for the first draft of Victory Is My Name, Book Two: The West Bank, now in progress., please contact me through “Victory” at Darkhorse Press. Thank you.

________________________________________________________________

Victory Is My Name, a Memoir – Book One: The Burning Barrel
E-book available now, paperback available Sept.21, 2020
more information, http://www.darkhorsepress.com/sampler-victory.html


30. To Tell The Truth

03/14/2021

In a few days I will be sending out the email book-launch announcement about my book, Victory Is My Name, a Memoir. The introduction says, “This  book will not be everybody’s cup of tea.”

Most of us who love to read do have a favorite flavor and brew. Maybe it’s romance novels with passion, sex, and reliable happy endings. Or Sci-Fi that transports the mind to another place with different possibilities than this messed-up world we’ve let build up around us here on planet Earth. Or detective mysteries– I do love British period-mysteries like Inspector Poirot, to just enjoy trying to guess who-done-it, knowing that the odd little man will always figure it out. For others, maybe it’s “Thrillers.” They sell like hotcakes. Or murder tales of Blood and guts galore. (No thanks, not my cup of tea.)

This book is not about any of that. Not a beach-book, not a tell-all, not entertainment. This book is a sincere attempt at literature, and this story, at risk of failing to win the approval of a great many readers, is about telling the truth. It’s about making mistakes, and doing the best you can with what you get. Life is not an even playing field. It’s not always fair. But my granny told me “Life never gives us more than we can bear” and because I was innocent enough to believe her, in my life ahead, I did do more than anyone else thought possible.

Even though it must be said that every novel carries some essential truths at its core, only memoir is obligated, expected, and pledged, to tell the truth. I don’t write fiction, not because I disapproved of it, I just have never needed to, because real life is always exploding with stories begging to be told and shared. We learn about life, in the long run, from life. Our own and each other’s, the true stories about real life that we as a social species are usually constrained not to tell.

But I say, Why not tell the truth? You can’t please everybody anyway. Trust me, I’ve tried, for the first 25 years of my life. It never worked. I did that, trying to hide and protect myself, so people wouldn’t hurt me. They hurt me anyway. (But that’s another story…)

If you read this book, you likely at times will be offended, annoyed, or fed up with this person, the storyteller/protagonists/myself, who was so stupid. You might cry real tears when she makes the same mistake you did. But you will likely be inspired some too, and heartened by her courage and her large and small victories that defied the odds, and prove in the end a truth beyond dispute: girls can.

In the last decade, memoir has become recognized as a serious literary genre that can take many different creative forms. Since books like Tobias Wolff’s This Boy’s Life and Mary Karr’s The Liar’s Club, authentic well-written memoirs are drawing a new crowd of readers, willing and even hungry for the truth.

I believe the world is ready for some truth. A different choice from the lies we are drowning in now. Many of us, like lemmings that have already gone off the cliff, are swimming in an ocean of confusion, longing for something we can believe in. Most of us have a disturbingly deep need to get our feet on the ground again, like back in the day, when ethics were clear, and we knew what was what.

But those days are gone. We need to start where we are, and meet each other honestly for the first time. That’s what Victory is about

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Of the trilogy, Victory Is My Name, Book 1: The Burning Barrel is now available from Internet or brick and mortar bookshops. The e-book is available at your favorite web booksellers. Search by author, Victoria Chames.

If you are interested in being a Beta Reader for the first draft of Victory Is My Name, Book Two: The West Bank, now in progress., please contact me through “Victory” at Darkhorse Press. Thank you.

________________________________________________________________

Victory Is My Name, a Memoir – Book One: The Burning Barrel
E-book available now, paperback available Sept.21, 2020
more information, http://www.darkhorsepress.com/sampler-victory.html


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