Taking a subject that you know and translating it into fiction is both a challenge and doable. You contain the research that is integrated into the story. The narrative is not intended to be a memoir though it contains elements of your personal experience.
Following is a short story I wrote several years ago while working with my itinerant creative writing instructor. I’ve taken some elements of being brought up in the Catholic religion and this became the thread that wove the story together. The characters, place and circumstances are fiction.
© by Christine O’Brien
Clara’s fingers fidgeted behind her back while her friend, Barb, scoped the café for single men. Dressed in black from scarf to boot, Clara asked the counter person, “Which is better, the pumpkin pie or the chocolate mint bars?”
“I prefer the chocolate mint bars.”
“Alright then let’s go with one chocolate mint bar” she said as her righteous hands settled decisively on her broad hips.
Forget the damn diet she thought. Indulge is the word of the day, the week, oh well, the month, Clara succumbed. She recalled the partial and plenary indulgences of a Catholic grammar school upbringing. Having once again kicked your brother in the shins, showing sincere contrition, you were given a penance. “One Our Father and three Hail Mary’s,” the priest prescribed. Although the sin was forgiven, time in purgatory loomed after you died. If you did something above and beyond the ordinary, you could shorten the time you were waylaid in this half-way house. Partial indulgences were granted for small acts of kindness like helping an old man across the street. And then there was total removal of temporal punishment through a plenary indulgence which could only be granted by the Pope. Clara had a sudden image of those black-coated Italian women, their faded faces draped in lacy mantillas. The black rosary beads slid rapidly through their parchment fingers. They probably stacked up heaps of indulgences for themselves and their crazy families, Clara ruminated.
The locket of Our Lady of Perpetual Help swung forward as she leaned over, staring down into the glass-topped dessert counter. The locket contained a relic from some long-dead pope. Clara wouldn’t call herself religious, perhaps superstitious. “It can’t hurt to wear it,” she often told Barb who teased her about the locket.
“I’ll take that one,” she said, pointing to the smaller of the two chocolate mint bars.
Barb leaned in closer, pointing, “Get that one. It’s bigger. Then I can have a bite.”
Clara frowned, then said “Get your own. I don’t feel like sharing.”
“Be that way, selfish bitch,” Barb snipped.
“Was that really necessary? Can’t you for once just let me say ‘no’ without making me feel guilty about it?” Her efforts at converting Barb to at least one act of daily kindness always seemed to fall short. Clara was committed to the task though. She shrugged her plump shoulders and said “Forget it. Let’s sit outside.”
Clara remembered the sage advice from her mother when asked how she handled anger. “Anger is a waste of energy. I can’t be bothered with that.” In her slender days, Clara used to lose her temper at the drop of a hat. It seemed that there was always something to be angry about and she leapt for the bait. Then, in an epiphany of sorts, she got it. Anger was a man’s emotion. It was neither pretty nor acceptable in a woman. Clara learned to shrug it off…or better yet, stuff it with something gooey and sweet.
Clara’s mom was five feet tall. She weighed over 200 pounds at last weigh-in. When Clara was 15-years old, her father began to sneak into Clara’s bed at night. She wasn’t sure if she should feel proud or pestered. Her mother went into a baking frenzy in those days.
Clara turned back to the counter, “Would you please wrap that piece of pumpkin pie to go? For later.”
In this short story, 572 words, so much is conveyed using the vehicle of something intimately known by the author–a Catholic upbringing.
Within your past experience, find something around which you can build a story. Do you have a character or two in mind to facilitate the telling? A setting? A circumstance? Give it a try. Write it, then go back to edit, cultivate, refine, finalize. Spend time with it.