Writing Based on Experience

by | Sep 26, 2016 | Articles | 0 comments

Recently, I’ve been writing more about writing, giving some explanations about why I write what I write…or, in the case of the three novels I’m currently promoting, why I wrote what I wrote.

Brothers’ Hand, which takes place in the fictional town of Carverville, NY, is a case in point. Last week, I posted a bit on the background – why write a novel about an amputee? – and this week, I thought I’d go further and talk a little about my methods.

When a novelist writes a book, it sometimes requires personal experience. Not to say that these works of mine are autobiographical by any means, but there are certain things I have either done, or at least felt, that inform the work.

In Brothers’ Hand, the main character, Jerome Brothers, loses his hand in a fall. Rather than comply with his physical therapist’s suggestion that he consider prosthetic options, Jerome rather stubbornly refuses to consider the idea. He insists on remaining without his dominant hand, although I suppose he could change his mind someday.

Trying to put myself into this character’s shoes meant I couldn’t just sit and start writing it; I had to do some research. Here is a scene where Jerome struggles mightily with routine self-care:

The main problem was unscrewing the shampoo bottle, which was usually already wet by the time he tried to pick it up. He had to remind himself to open the shampoo before turning on the water, so he could grip it snugly in the crook of his arm, without it slipping out. He’d lost large blobs of shampoo as a result of this problem…And he had grown to hate brushing his teeth: putting the toothbrush down on the back part of the sink, unscrewing the toothpaste tube, squeezing toothpaste carefully onto the bristles while trying not to knock the brush over.

I have no problem admitting that, yes, I tried pretending I had no right arm, and both washing my hair in the shower and brushing my teeth completely left-handed. (I did not, however, have the nerve to try shaving left-handed!) Naturally, I wanted to experience what Jerome experienced as closely as I could, so I could describe it accurately, and I applied this to kitchen chores as well:

Reaching into the plastic bag—it sat upright on the counter, balancing only by virtue of gravity—he pulled out the cutting board, took out ham, Swiss cheese, and mayonnaise, laying each on the counter with the precision of a blind man. He opened each package neatly, pulling hard on the flaps to get the stickers to unstick themselves, then piled meat and cheese on one slice of bread.

Yes, I made a sandwich with only my left hand. And yes, it was not much fun. Writing about it was a lot easier than actually doing it.

So there you have it: sometimes I do research that includes reading, or phone calls, or speaking to people in person. But sometimes, I actually do something physically, to get the full effect. And in this case, I think it worked out.

*Brothers’ Hand is now getting a marketing campaign throughout New York state. If you would like to see it in your local library, feel free to contact me: I will personally send you a form that you can give to your librarian with all the info he or she will need to order a copy.

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