A blog about the amazing things teenagers do, about writing for teens, books for teens, and occasional forays into my world and the world of publishing.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Minning Memories

I'm vacationing with my family (if you can call going anywhere with four kids a vacation), so blogging will be spotty. Once I get back, I'm working on a "Teens Doing Great Things" post about an amazing 14-teen-year-old. Stay tuned for that, I will be worth it. And I promise my contest winners will be announced, contacted, and prized soon. (That means they will receive their prize.)

For today, I want to talk about Mining Memories. This is a concept I just read about today in Orson Scott Card's CHARACTERS AND VIEWPOINTS. It means going back to a specific place or time in your memory and seeing what you can glean for your writing. Since I'm visiting the town I grew up in, I thought this would be a perfect time for some memory mining.

I had a few minutes to myself today, so I decided to take a little detour down memory lane.

I went by my old grade school and saw the big rock fire place on the playground. I remembered third grade after my best friend moved away. I was so lonely. One day I took a branch and swept the leaves into a little path up to the fireplace. Then I made circles of leaves and pretended the rock fireplace was a castle with a beautiful garden all around it. In the middle of my pretending, two girls asked me what I was doing. After I told them the three of us played with the magic fireplace castle every recess until the leaves all blew away and the snow started to fall.

Then I drove by our rival high school to remember my first kiss. It was late at night, and we'd spent the evening dragging main in the back of a pick-up with a guy I had a crush on. (Small town, lots of pick-up trucks, liberal seat-belt laws.) Dragging main basically means you drive up and down main street, wasting a lot of gas, hanging out with your friends, and meeting new ones. (This was before texting or Facebook.) Anyway, we traded cars in the parking lot of his school, our rival high school. I had to leave fast because I was late for my curfew. He walked me to my car. After I got in, he leaned in the window and kissed me. As soon as he turned around my friends were squealing, "Did he kiss you? Did he kiss you?" I was stunned and trying to drive, and trying to act nonchalant, like it wasn't my first kiss. I couldn't answer them until we were half-way home.

I drove around the farms near my mom's house and remembered floating the canals, swimming at the swimming hole, and bridge jumping in the summer. I remembered long horse rides and bike rides on the dirt trails in the fields.

I drove by the farm that used to be my grandpa's and saw that the field where we once kept the milk cows is now a housing development. I remember all the hours I spent working beside my dad and my grandpa, and thought about how those fields had eventually claimed both of them.

Then I went to the little cemetery where my dad and my grandpa, and even my great-great-grandpa are buried. A place where so many of the last names are familiar.

All of these bits and pieces of my life are the sum of my experience and the basis for my imagination. I sometimes get scared when I hear the phrase "write what you know," because as a small-town Idaho farm girl, what do I know that would be of any interest to anyone?

Orson Scott Card says the process of mining memories isn't about taking the same exact situation and telling it the same exact way. It's putting new characters into the situation, or twisting the situation into something totally new. It's all about playing the "what if?"game.

So maybe one of my characters will get her first kiss in the parking lot of a rival high school, or maybe a lonely little girl will create her own world out of leaves in the playground. Or maybe one of my characters will witness a murder in the parking lot of a rival high school, and maybe a lonely little girl will discover a porthole to another world in an old fireplace that's shaped like a castle.

As I sat down to write this post, I realized I was sitting next to the old Royal typewriter that I hammered out stories on when I was eight or ten. As I type away on my laptop, I can't help but think of how far I've come since then. A part of me will always be that lonely little girl on the playground, or the girl a hurried first kiss in the parking lot, or the even the girl who just realized the most gorgeous guy at school is standing by the barn and she's wearing her milking clothes, (that's an entirely different story).

And even if I will never be the girl who lives in the big city, or if I never go to a fantasy world, I still have me and all of my experiences. I know a piece of myself will go into every character I create. And thanks to Orson Scott Card, now I know that will be okay.


  1. I have this book by Orson Scott Card, but I've yet to delve into it. Such a fantastic post! And so fun to relive those memories with you, even in short detail.

    Congrats, and can't wait to see your books on the shelves.

  2. There's something about typewriters that seems positively magical to me.