Saturday, July 24, 2010

Guest Blog from writer Siobhan Fallon

I am thrilled to have Siobhan Fallon here today guestblogging on The Bird Sisters. Siobhan is an enormously talented writer. Her story collection You Know When the Men are Gone will be debuting next January 2011 from Amy Einhorn Books/Penguin. Siobhan's work has appeared in Poets & Writers, New Letters Magazine, among many, many others. She has won more writing contests than I can keep track of. Aside from being a FANTASTIC writer, Siobhan is a fantastic person. I am blessed to know her (and now so are you). Welcome Siobhan...



By Siobhan Fallon

There are times when I mistrust myself. There are times when I cannot differentiate between my fiction and my own memory.

Recently my husband was looking over one of my short stories and started chuckling. “Wow,” he said. “I remember when that happened.”

I bolted upright, fingers hesitating over keyboard. “When WHAT happened?” I asked.

He watched me, sensing that Evil Writer Wife was now occupying the body of his loving spouse. Evil Writer Wife who usually ignored him completely when perched at her computer, or sent squinted ‘how-dare-you-make-noise-when-I-am-working’ glances his way when he sneezed or poured himself a glass of milk.

“I remember when this happened,” he said softly, all humor removed from his voice, pointing at the page in front of him.

“But I made that up,” I said, and I even believed it.

Write what you know is that old writer’s adage. What if you know your own writing so well that parts of it eclipse your own life? The writing becomes more vivid, so reworked, so visualized, so imagined, that it obliterates whatever real event sparked it. It becomes the way something could have been, the more interesting and exciting version of events, but also the version that is separate from the self, the unwounded existence, translated into words on a page, safe at a distance.

Last week, my two and a half year old daughter, dressed in a Snow White gown, climbed up on a coffee table. Before I had a chance to yell, “Get down from there!” she tumbled backward and smashed her head through a window. Suddenly there was an inordinate amount of shattered glass, a gaping wound at the back of her head I could not look at, and my child reaching for me amid the princess tulle and blood.

That night, after the Emergency Room, after the nurses wrapped her in a sheet and held her down (it took two of them to restrain her twenty-nine thrashing pounds), after the doctor cleaned the wound and removed glass shards with tweezers, after he closed the gash with a staple gun reminiscent of Home Depot, after the day was done and my baby was in her crib, safe and asleep and hopefully having non-violent dreams, I had a singular and perhaps terrible epiphany. I stood at her closed door, one hand still on the knob, and I thought, “I can use this.” In an unspooling moment, I imagined the protagonist of my novel-in-progress touching a scar at the back of her head. The scene spun on, how my heroine had fallen through a restaurant window when she was a tiny girl, the glass, the blood, her father holding her in his arms, afraid that he would lose this small being he had created, holding her as her blood wet and then dried on his forearms, kneeling on a sidewalk and waiting for the ambulance to come. As an adult, when she is nervous, my heroine will touch the raised scar at the back of her head, feel the scalp that was once held together by staples, remember staring up at her father and hearing a siren in the distance.

Certainly I won’t forget the day my little kid got ten staples in the back of her head. But it made me aware of how my mind takes hold of reality and shakes it, peels it away from the ordinary. I stole a moment out of my life, a moment from my daughter, and refashioned it, made it something different, made it something I could control.

Made it fiction.

160 comments:

jenhaupt said...

What a beautiful post! And I can't wait to read The Bird Sisters.

Robin Antalek said...

What a reminder for all of us that we are made up of a million little stories.. a million little things that we notice .. a trembling hand, a hesitant response, the shy teen who waits on us in line, the man who scowls at his worn scuffed shoes on the subway as if he could wish them into something else. All of this, every bit of it, finds its way onto our pages whether we realize it or not. What a wonderful post... I'm happy your little girl is well. This too will become a part of her story...

Rebecca Rasmussen said...

Robin - out with your second book. This comment makes me want to read more more more of your work :)

Siobhan said...

Thank you, ladies. Robin is right-- there is so much possibility in fiction. Which is why I have such difficulty with nonfiction-- yikes, REALITY? I thought I'd have a lot of trouble with writing a blog, but it was fun trying to reveal some truth about myself instead of a character.
Thanks again, Rebecca. I look forward to you appearing on my blog some day...

Anne said...

Reveal truth - you're so good at that, Siobahn. This is a wonderful musing. And thanks for introducing me to this blog. I look forward to reading The Bird Sisters!

Erica Jamieson said...

So, here's a funny story. My parents were divorced when I was a teen and my father retained his friendship with a mutual writer friend as part of the divorce settlement. My mother refused to read most of his work. But one book she did make it through and somewhere between, oh, let's say page 150 and the end of the book, she found my father and a story right out of his life! I write a lot about my kids and family and they always say, that's not how it happened! Such is the gift of fiction, I can make me sound like mother extraordinaire even if they disagree! I am glad your daughter is fine (so scary) and what better use of the incident than to figure out where it lives on your pages! Thanks for sharing such a wonderful piece of the writer's life!

Rebecca Rasmussen said...

Thank you for supporting Siobhan, ladies. And of course me, too. Erica, I loved your story!

Charlotte said...

Siobhan, the blood and tulle is an image I won't soon forget. But take heart--probably there will be no raised scar. Not now. Staples are such cunning closers. The raised scars came from puckered stitches of another time. I had extensive scalp surgery involving many, many staples and there's not even a bump. But it still itches sometimes--she might feel that, your daughter. I'm so glad it wasn't more serious. Congratulations of your forthcoming book. I'm looking forward to reading it!

raisingamazingdaughters said...

This post was almost as compelling as that incident was. It should be no surprise, though, that the line between reality and fiction is blurry, though. I think what makes writers unique is the ability to view life through the pen (or computer as it may be these days). We deal with life by processing what we see, think, feel, and hear. That process results in the written word. It's just how writers get through the tumult that is life. From our lives are born our works. I write non-fiction more easily than fiction. I wish it was the other way around. I am in awe of those who can take what we see and weave it into a hybrid of life and fantasy.

Siobhan Fallon said...

Thank you Anne, Charlotte, Erica, Mom of raisingamazingdaughters (such a great blog, by the way!), and wonderful Rebecca. I am so happy to know that the scar won't be terribly tactile, and that so many of us writers pilfer bits of our lives (and our childrens') without leaving permanent damage :)

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"These are the days when Birds come back/a very few/a Bird or two/to take a backward look."

"These are the days when Birds come back/a very few/a Bird or two/to take a backward look."