A writer uses memories the way a jewelry maker uses rare metals and precious stones.
A less charitable view—a more Goblin Universe view—would be to say that writers use memories the way vampires or werewolves “use” hapless victims: they devour, digest and draw sustenance from them.
Jacqueline Jackson is a woman who writes books for kids. But her books are almost always fun for adults to read, too. Jacqueline has four children of her own, four daughters, Demi, Megan, Jillian and Elspeth. Many of Jacqueline’s experiences with her daughters end up in her fiction. Because all four of her daughters themselves love books and love writing, the girls sometimes have something to say about how their mother uses her own memories. Here is Jacqueline writing about a particular memory, with comments from Megan:
A couple of years ago I came across a box of chocolate-covered insects in a gourmet store. I thought it’d be a good joke to give them to the kids, they’d have fun taking them to school and showing their friends. So I bought the box and wrapped it and put it under the Christmas tree. I’ll let Megan proceed, for she read this bit and informed me scathingly I had it all wrong. Actually, she should start sooner: I’d written, “You could see the bees in the candies, and the ants,” and she wrote in the margin, “You couldn’t! They were wrapped in tinfoil and even when you opened it you could only see ants.” Well, as she continues:
“Demi said, ‘They’re real.’
“We laughed. ‘They’re malted milk,’ we said, and we argued a bit but Demi showed us hers—indeed, ants, that hadn’t been covered—floating mangled on hard chocolate. We were stricken but it was done, and after all, they were good. (It was too late for the sink, both of us had swallowed.)”
That last sentence was because in my account I had Jill running to wash her mouth out when she discovered her mistake. It just goes to show that if the event happens to you, your memory is apt to be more accurate than other people’s, even your mother’s. In defense, I hasten to add that I didn’t expect the girls to think the chocolate-covered insects were fake, and eat them, although there are, of course, cultures such as the Australian aborigines that relish insects. And Saint John there in the wilderness lived on locusts and wild honey; it always used to turn my stomach, back in Sunday School, to think of him munching down those creatures like potato chips.
from “Turn Not Pale, Beloved Snail,” by Jacqueline Jackson