Wednesday, July 25, 2012

THE HEART IS A LIBRARY OF UNPUBLISHED NOVELS

It was mid-summer in 1999 when I told my wife that we needed to drive to San Francisco and visit the Sutro's ruins adjacent to the Cliff House. The bathhouse had opened in 1896 and burned to the ground in 1966. Carol asked why it was so important for us to visit the ruins that day. I had no answer but knew we had to go.

Later that morning, we pulled into the parking lot that sat above remnants of a concrete foundation, splashed by cool ocean waves. We walked down the trail, then sat on the weathered concrete. That's when it hit me, and I was unable to hold back the tears that had been building on the hike down.

As a young boy, my father had spent time in each of the seven pools. It was also a place where my grandfather had visited prior to returning to Armenia to help fund the Armenian resistance during the genocide. Several months after his departure, my grandmother received word that he had been murdered by Turkish soldiers.

As I sat on the dampened concrete, I knew that I had to write "Bloody Soil," an historical fiction novel, chronicling the journey of several families through hell.

After much research online and at the University of California Fresno's library, words began spilling out onto paper. Tears often welled as I tortured my characters much like family members had been, beginning in 1914. Some of my ancestors had reached Ellis Island, while others lay bloodied on rugged trails.

I believe all of us have had events in our lives that can be woven into novels. My manuscript, "Possum Belly Queen," is fiction, but a few of the characters are modeled after individuals I met while selling amusement park and carnival rides. I also created Armenian characters who will appear in future books. What I have discovered in my writing is that I should visit my personal library more often and browse through sixty, plus years of heartfelt material, some worthy of publication, some not.

Robert O'Hanneson

7 comments:

BillieJohn said...

Thank you, Bob, for sharing your moving comments.

Billie Johnson

Shalanna said...

Yes! You hit the nail on the cuticle. I draw on my experiences for my work. NICE WORK began as a sort of exploration of being "downsized" or laid off from my long-time programming job and the overheard phrase, "I could kill him!" We were sitting glumly in a restaurant when someone shrieked that just behind me, and slapped the other person. I think they were both servers. The manager hurried to take both of them off the floor, but not before it had made a spark. Soon Jacquidon came along as a character and the rest is history--er, her story.

MURDER BY THE MARFA LIGHTS (my other mystery) began with the setting. The mystery (ghost) lights that have haunted Marfa, Texas, since at least the late 1800s (as verified by ranchers and Native American tribes) are a great setting for a paranormal-flavored mystery. Add in some high-tech stuff that I had been wondering about and le voila.

I would even go so far as to say that if you do not draw on your personal experience consciously, it will seep in from the Girls in the Basement. You will end up using stuff that has percolated through your consciousness. You will find that you return to the same memes or eternal questions or settings again and again. I write to make sense of the world (in part, as well as to entertain and inform), so it's natural that I return to the same tropes in different forms. If your mind asks, with Heidegger, "Why is there something rather than nothing?" then this question will pop up and you will try to answer it as best you can in your fiction.

At least that's what I'm thinking right now.

Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

That was great, Bob. I loved your Possum Belly book, when is the next one coming?

William Doonan said...

Wow - your post made me want to go back to the library and start researching. Thanks, Robert!

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John Brantingham said...

The genocide is a subject that hasn't been dealt with often enough in American literature. I'm going to pick that novel up!

Eileen Obser said...

I spent part of my first honeymoon in San Francisco where -- I forgot until I read your blog -- I visited Cliff House and the ruins. My memoir of that period of my life includes much about SFO but not the ruins, where my young husband and I spent some time. It amazes me what writers can learn from reading our colleagues' blogs and tales of research. Thanks, Bob!