In my writing group,we use an exercise called fastwrite. Here's how it goes: a prompt is given, a timer is set, pen goes to page, and ten minutes later words populate paper. The goal is to keep the flow of words streaming until time is up. The writer is encouraged to write whatever comes to mind. The exercise provokes stream-of-consciousness thoughts without editing.
My fastwrite began with worldly concerns, but as I wrote, needing to use up time and paper, I journeyed into more and more detail. I envisioned the tracing of my tiny fingers along the inside of my mother's belly. I imagined my eyes trying to focus. What did I touch? How did it feel? What muffled voices did I hear?
In the course of the exercise, my dad started to breathe onto the page. He suddenly had flesh, hair, clothing. He had fingers that traced my mother's skin. He became something more than an eviscerated (meaning void of vital force) memory of my mom's. He began to move in my head, instead of being a fixed image in a photograph. The most astounding part of this is that I discovered that he knew I existed. Perhaps he tried to connect with me. I don't know for sure, but I like to think that maybe he did. I've had three children and have some knowledge of what happens between a fetus and a father.
When I was growing up, my mother talked about my dad. Showed me things that belonged to him. Even assigned my looks and mannerisms to him. But, he remained nothing more than a two dimensional image. I touched his shirt, his ring, his hat, his gun; yet the concept of a human being had not registered.
After the exercise had been completed I found that I could not stop writing about my dad. I began to learn about the components of a good story: scene, plot, character development, point of view. From that first writing to now, I've gathered my resources and written the story. Learning from such people as C. Michael Curtis, Lee Martin, Crystal Wilkinson, Hallie Ephron, Matthew Goodman, and many more talented authors and teachers, at writing workshops I've attended. Reading craft books and novels that reflect the type of story I want to use to shape my own story. It has all led to "He Asked Her to Dance."
All these years later, I have developed a story based on truth, but fictionalized. After years of oral history told to me and by me, I realize that my parents' story is as unique as I was; growing up in a family of toe-heads, without a dad, and being a brown-haired, brown-eyed child who felt very different from those around me.