by Christopher Shearer
When Will Horner asked me to contribute to the “Awakenings” blog, I had to think about it, and when I thought about it, I realized I needed to think more. You see, the point of the blog is to talk about what “awakens your wonder,” and if I’m being honest with you and with myself, the answer to that would be everything. I don’t think there’s a single thing that happens that doesn’t make me feel something or leave an impression that someday might turn into a story. And that’s the way it works with most (possibly all) creative types. We are inspired by and reflect the world around us. Not just a part of it. All of it. But that’s not an acceptable answer. I can’t sit here any type “everything” and be done with it. How does that reveal anything? It’s too vague to hold any real meaning, no matter how true it may be. This left me searching for something more specific, something inside that ephemeral “everything” that I could latch onto and explore, but what? That question lead me to a rereading of many of my stories, and I discovered something there. I discovered a piece of “everything” that I seem to return to again and again, unknowingly until now. I discovered my memories there, in every story, just below the surface or sometimes blow-by-blow as things happened. But that discovery made me pause, because is that an acceptable answer? What’s special about memories? And aren’t they in themselves stories?
They are stories, I think, because what we remember is never exactly what happened. It can’t be. Our perception is always skewed by our desires, by our wants, our needs, by our lives and hopes and dreams. By us. What we remembered is never truly factual because it’s our memory of it, our interpretation. We place emphasis on certain things; we see things from angles specific to us. Our memories are part of us. They are our story, but is that story something that truly “awakens our wonder”? It is.
Thinking about it, I remembered many of the stories of Harlan Ellison, especially the novellas All the Lies That Are My Life and Pretty Maggie Money Eyes. Both of these, he claims, were straight out of his memories. And then I remembered an interview I watched once with Ray Bradbury, where he talked about the story that changed his life. That story, he said, was “The Lake,” which he based on a memory. He did the same, he claimed, with every story after it. Then I picked up Richard Matheson’s new novel, Generations, which is overtly autobiographical, and I realized this was something I could talk about, because if it’s good enough for the greats, then why wouldn’t it be good enough for me?
Looking over my stories, I realized it’s the common thread. My first published story grew out of my parents’ custody battle, my first Pushcart-nominated story grew out of an early morning walk in Columbus, Ohio’s Park of Roses, when I watched the snow melt. You see, even that moment was special, at least the way I see it. I wasn’t just wandering while stuff dripped around me. I was thinking about my life. I was feeling the cold and the wind and the wet, and that was making me feel something, face something. And when I think about it, every memory is like that. Maybe it’s because of its importance that I remember it or maybe everything that happens in life is that important. I don’t know. But I do know that nothing is simply a “fact.” There’s always more to it. There’s always us inside of it, and we see that, we know that in what we remember. We don’t—or at least I don’t—always notice it as it’s happening, but I do when I look back. And that’s where stories come from. They come from moments that are more than they seem at first glance, that carry more in them than you’d expect.
When I was little, probably two, maybe three, my family lived on a small farm in Palmyra, Pennsylvania, and I used to go out back and sit on this large rock that waited by the edge of the forest there. I’d sit there and think, and I remember seeing the shadows stretch and then take hold of each other. I remember the yellow eyes of beasts hidden in those trees. I remember the sounds and the smells, and I remember the way it made me feel. Now, is what I remember what happened? In one sense I know it isn’t. I was just a toddler sitting on a rock. But in another sense, it is, because it’s how I lived those moments. And stories come from what I lived, not from what necessarily was. And you only get that—get the full sense of that—in memories.
About the Guest Author
Christopher Shearer’s writing has appeared in Cemetery Dance, Horror World, Big Pulp, From the Fallout Shelter, the all-star anthology Dark Light, and many more. In the past five years, he has received three Penn State University Best Short Story Awards, a Demon Minds Best Short Story Award, and two Pushcart Prize Nominations. He works as an editor with Cemetery Dance Publications and reads for John Joseph Adams’s magazines, Nightmare and Lightspeed, as well as his upcoming anthologies. Chris is also a featured book reviewer on fearnet.com and co-chair of the Bram Stoker Award Long Fiction Jury. He attends Seton Hill University’s MFA program in Writing Popular Fiction where he is mentored by Tim Waggoner and Lawrence C. Connolly, and he is finishing his first novel.