Do You Hear Voices?

Is your world real or imagined?

The other day a distant relation sent me a thick packet with a copy of the history of our family reunions dating all the way back to the late 19th century and a ten page history, written in neat hand, of one branch of my family tree going back to the early 1600’s.

How thrilling it was to finally see a picture of my great-great grandfather Lucien as an old man and to read about the exploits of family members who escaped being scalped by Indians during the Revolutionary War and others who sadly died during the Civil War. My great-great-great-great grandmother was such a fine spinner that wealthy women paid top dollar for her work. Some family members drank too much, others were heroes and still others were exploited as children.

I knew a few of the stories through my mother but most of the history was new—yet as I read it I felt like I knew it all already. There was a satisfaction in reading it but not that sense of surprise I would have expected. My aunt told us of an unsettling dream she had about meeting many past generations in heaven. I remember my father and uncle teasing her about it, scoffing at the notion of heaven and not really wanting to discuss death since that branch tended to die young and they were all in that age window of being taken. My aunt died a few days later.

This sense of knowing the past through dead relatives, of knowing them though never having met them, is so similar to knowing the characters I write about. I’ve never been able to change a thing about a character once they appear in my mind. I’m only able to unearth deeper truths about them. It’s as if they’ve been there all along waiting for their stories to be told, not mine. When the story starts to go in a direction that isn’t true, the characters push back and demand I dig more.

Sometimes I worry that this or that thing may be too much for a reader or my characters to bear, but the characters won’t rest until I put them through the wringer. But am I putting them through the wringer or just transcribing their history? Do they live in another dimension? Will I meet them some day in heaven?

It’s odd to have this knowing and the desire to know more. Occasionally there is also a sense of being pat on the back, as if a character is whispering in my ear. Yes, that’s exactly as it was for me. Those are the best moments. And so strange. After I finish publishing this series about the Crenshaw and Weldon families I may fictionalize my family tree, but I find the line between fiction and reality blurring. I feel Buck Crenshaw and my great grandfather begging me to get things right, but what for?

Readers and writers: How real are your characters to you? How real is your past to you?


27 responses to “Do You Hear Voices?”

  1. I have not used anyone I know from the past (historicaly) as a character in my stories per se, but many of are a combination, a almalgamation, of those I know now, or have met in my own past.
    However…after reading this…. Hmmph…food for thought.
    Nice post, Paul.


    • Thanks, Paul. I don’t know much about genetics but it’s fascinating to me how much of a families characteristics can be passed along to generations. Is it nature or nurture? Both work for me. I wonder if we met our ancestors face to face how much in common we would share despite the ever changing technological devices and new theories.

      Thanks for reading and commenting! Much appreciated.



      • Adrienne, I posted (on a blog I no longer have) an article about epergenetics; you may find it ‘up your street’ as they say!
        Anyway I have my origanal draft on file if you would like to read it?
        You may even want to consider it as a ‘guest blog’ if you do such?
        If you wouldlike to read, email me, paulznewpostbox (at) gmail (dot) com


      • Oh–it did. Well, I was saying how difficult to write her story since it is her story. With the interest in WWII it would probably find some audience appeal, especially since she spent part of her time living in a castle working for farmers. One of Hitler’s plans not mentioned in history books. One of these days I will sit down and figure how to tell her story.


  2. I’m fascinated by your ability to know your ancestors so intuitively – wish I had that skill.

    Sadly I know very little about my family. No one kept diaries or memoirs and even photos are rare. About a year ago I started to write a fictionalized version of my parents’ lives when they were young, based on the stories they’d told me. After checking with an aunt, I found that almost none of what my mom had told was true. Whether a result of her lazy memory or trying to keep me from knowing her past, I’ll never know. And my father had left out the most interesting stories of his family, some of which his sister knew. So now the story I’m writing is totally fiction and based, by necessity, on the time period in which they grew up. Requiring research, which I love. And characters who only resemble my parents on the outside. Sort of. Well, you get it, right?


    • I could be fooling myself big time–but I choose not to think about that. 😉

      As I wrote this I kept thinking of that movie where the kid says: “I see dead people.”

      it’s a shame that your mother and father didn’t value or want to share their stories. My father was like that too. But my mother never tired of telling her stories. In a tribe she would have been a keeper of ancestral wisdom.

      Maybe the story you tell is closer to your family’s truth than you realize.

      Liked by 1 person

    • This may be a trick of the mind, it’s true, but for me the characters that come into my head don’t feel like they come from me exactly. That’s the fun of it, yet I yearn so deeply for them to be real somewhere that one day I will meet them face to face.

      Possible insanity. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: