“Half in love with easeful death….”

Darkling I listen; and, for many a time

I have been half in love with easeful Death,

Call’d him soft names in many a mused rhyme,

To take into the air my quiet breath;  (Ode to a Nightingale, John Keats)

I’m doing this NaNoWriMo write-a-novel-in-thirty-days thing.  It’s quite an exercise, for a non-fiction writer like me to just throw my hat into a fictitious ring and say, “whatever comes out, comes out.”

Last night after Shabbos I went back into my manuscript frenzy and got over the 5000 word hump.  Then I noticed something odd:  every one of the characters in my novel is modeled after someone in my life who has died violently.  One of my protagonists is even an amalgam of two different men who committed suicide by shooting themselves.

The two children in the plot, I knew from their very beginnings.

The Pretzel Lady cadaver plays herself.  I hope she is now resting in a lot more peace than I gave her, poor thing.  She was my cadaver in medical school.

I wonder if other novelists resort to such macabre strategies, mining their lives for dead people to resurrect?  But surely most people don’t know so many dead people as I do.  Or do they?

I’m not talking about the “normal” kind of death that impacts everyone’s life sooner or later.  It is natural for grandparents, and then parents, to age and die.  It is also natural for people to have long terminal illnesses, and then die.

What I’m talking about is specifically suicide, homicide, and accidental death.  The kind of thing an emergency room doctor sees over and over again.  In fact, when you see these things on a daily basis, they begin to populate your thoughts and your dreams.  So why shouldn’t they populate a novel, should you chance to write one?

It is the most natural thing on earth, for me anyway.  If I need a life to put down on paper, I reach out into my catalog of lives that have been shucked off like overcoats no longer needed.  But I’m sensing that I need to put a stop to this thread, because my mind in its current state could easily begin to perseverate on ideas far more unhealthy than these that I’ve already trotted out.

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  1. Maybe, these…

    Accidental Tourist – Anne Tyler
    The Lovely Bones

    There’s nothing wrong with thinking and writing about death. I know I’m ‘over the top’ a lot these days, but I would read it. Can you write about tragic, uncompromising, painful death? Its a really powerful subject and if you have a voice, there’s a contribution to be made.

    There was a HBO movie I think with Emma Thompson, wife of Kenneth Braunagh, about that kind of death. I think if you write it, it might cleanse you.

    The awareness of any death, my own sudden death, has made each moment so precious to me. It takes enormous courage to write that way.

    “…when you see these things on a daily basis, they begin to populate your thoughts and your dreams.” Write Exactly That!

    I’ve had psychotherapy patients who suicided. I know your experience is different than mine. You’ve seen the bodies, I’ve only seen the minds. But be courageous. Great literature requires courage.

    You’re doing much better than I. At the moment, all I can do is contain my excitement…writing is so orgasmic. Maybe I’ll be able to channel the energy, with time. You’re way ahead of me. I should be learning from you!

    Just keep going


    • Thanks, Jonah. This is great chizuk (encouragement). I really appreciate it. Last night oi wrote the fictionalized true story of my own very nearly successful suicide attempt, by a totally unique method. I was repulsed by The Great Light and sent back, with an admonishment. I’ve written it in the first person before, but this time it’s coming from the voice of a fictionalized character and I think it’s much more powerful. Our maybe I’ve just matured more as a writer, or more time has gone over the dam, who knows. The Lovely Bones is a great book. I agree with you, this stuff has to be written full blast, red lined on the meter.

  2. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/23/movies/23hold.html


    “A good work of literature i “What Dreams May Come” by Richard Matheson.

    A classic novel of love after death, from one our greatest fantasy writers. The premise is deceptively simple: Chris Neilson has died in a car accident, but his life-force–his spirit–is still conscious of this plane of reality. And he is still too in love with his wife, Ann, to completely let go. She in turn does not want to go on living without him, as each regards the other as their soul mate. What Chris will do to get back with Ann after she dies makes for one of the most unusual love stories ever told. Even though the story can be enjoyed as pure fantasy, what makes What Dreams May Come unique is how the author spent years researching the subject of life after death. (An exhaustive bibliography is included to verify this.) And while Matheson admits that the characters are of course fictional, he also states that “With few exceptions, every other detail is derived exclusively from research.” Whether, after reading this novel, one believes in life after death is of course a matter of opinion. At least you’ll entertain the possibility that, even though we may not live forever, true love can be eternal.

    A movie by the same name with Robin Williams was based on this book.”

    And on and on.

  3. I agree that you don’t want to hyper-focus on death, as it could turn your moods dark. But maybe you are giving these people a second, better opportunity for life than they had in this one. Maybe that’s what you long for, on some level.

    I think we all put people we know into what we write – or at least people bearing a very strong resemblance, or people who pull traits from many people. Like you said, just don’t get too mired down in it.

  4. Perhaps there isn’t a dark reason for selecting these individuals. Perhaps you are giving them a new life – a new voice – one that they didn’t have in their own lives. Maybe you are cleansing yourself of your own horror and of their horror by giving them a new chance at “life”.

    I think this book is a good thing. But don’t try to control the characters, let them dictate their story to you. I think you may find this very therapeutic.

    NaNoWriMo is an ambitious endeavor for anyone. Good luck! 🙂


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