I could've written my latest novel as traditional prose. The first editor I met with was a purist, and insisted I follow suit. "Forget all the other stuff. Forget the transcripts. Start with your first chapter!" she lectured. I enjoyed working with Aviva Layton. She's a consummate professional who's been editing and teaching for over forty years. Her narrative feedback was invaluable, but this particular suggestion didn't feel right.
I'd tested my first draft on ten other people by the time I'd met Aviva for the second draft. All of my first readers were selected because they were highly opinionated creative minds who never pulled any punches. Almost unanimously they agreed the transcripts added something special to the experience. But more than that, I felt an unconventional story required an unconventional telling. After all, the entire transcript idea sprang forth from a rather unconventional source.
When my grandmother, Harriet, showed early signs of Alzheimer's, my mother would travel once a month to Florida to be with her, get her affairs in order and check with the doctors. As one might imagine, the experience was incredibly draining - it's never easy to see the mind of one's parent deteriorate before one's eyes. One moment they may recognize you - the next they may not.
My grandmother would have moments thinking she was a younger version of herself, expecting her husband to come home. Then, she'd realize that her husband had passed twenty years earlier, and in watching her tears develop you couldn't help but to wonder if it was like losing him all over again.
My mother coped with all this by writing emails to her children every day. They detailed everything: the weather, the doctor appointments, the little victories of sharing a lucid talk with the woman who raised her. I couldn't keep up with them all, but I know that they're there should I need to visit them. Then it occurred to me that if anyone read them, they would have a very explicit personal window into a vulnerable time in my mother's life.
Most of us don't keep such a detailed personal record in email - we instead do it through our Twitter feeds and Facebook postings. Go to anyone's home page and you will be presented with an ALARMING amount of detail into one's personal story. And for those pieces that are missing, our minds automatically fill in the ______.
This concept fascinated me. At first I wanted to try and tell the entire God Thought story through nothing but social media postings, emails, transcripts and text messages. My hope was that a reader's mind would fill in the blanks and piece the mystery together. But I quickly learned that some of my more complicated scenes and ideas just wouldn't translate the way I wanted them to. Thus, the book evolved into a hybrid narrative that the majority of my test readers found intriguing - even if they weren't sure of where things were going at first.
It has been a grand experiment that I'm confident will pay off for most readers.
As for my mother, she continues to write every day. Her works have branched out to other subjects close to her heart, and she has had numerous poems published in various periodicals.
As I leave you with 13 days to go in my Kickstarter, and a heartfelt thank you to those who have contributed, I share a favorite poem by my mother regarding her mother - an unexpected inspiration for my book.
Since she's been away I miss my mother who now lives away though she still does know us when we come to stay. She's happy and does not seem to care about where where she is now nor how long she's been there. We once spoke on the phone about every day. She cannot answer it alone since her mind has been away. We are thankful that she's well though she's had a fall or two. And the fading of her mind is hard to get used to. She is still a caring mother who listens carefully, and thoughtfully smiles, loving us gently.
By Suzanne Cravens Published May 5, 2014, Post Bulletin, Rochester, MN.