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.