The Persistence of Memory by Sharon Dean

Hi. Barb back to introduce our guest Sharon Dean. Her new book is The Wicked Bible. Sharon writes about memory and how it affects us both as readers and writers.

Take it away, Sharon!

The old adage “write what you know” might be better stated as “write what you remember.” I’ve lived in Oregon for ten years, by my novels are mostly set in the New England I remember. I remember the sound of spring peepers that I listened to in the predawn hours; the perfect head of broccoli in my summer garden that the woodchuck feasted on; the maple tree that cast a reddish glow into my parlor in the Fall; the quiet and sunshine after a snowstorm. I remember the taste of lobster and of steamed clams and of corn on the cob that’s difficult to grow in the drought-stricken West.

I’m surprised at the persistence of memory. By novel number 5, I realized I always have a scene in a cemetery, an image generated from my memories of putting flowers on the graves of my grandparents and, later, my parents. My novels often feature the hymns I grew up singing in a Protestant church even though one of my protagonists is an atheist. I incorporate scenes of bicycling, hiking, swimming, skiing, activities I used to be better at.

These are the larger patterns. Smaller things work their way into a scene, often coming as a surprise. I gloated when I gave a character the candy dish my sister inherited from our grandmother. I gloated again when I incorporated a photo of us as children that she hates, but I like. A high school teacher we called Swish because of the way her nylon stockings swished when she walked made an appearance. My cat Charlie with the different color eyes became Beethoven in my novel The Barn, which opens with an image of a barn I used to pass as a child that had a wooden cow’s head peeking from the rafters. The striped carpet that made us all dizzy when it appeared in my college library makes a cameo appearance in my latest novel, The Wicked Bible. I like to think that readers who know me might recognize the details I remember and that others remember about the cemeteries and churches and libraries of their childhood.

Memories shape how we write. They also shape how we read. Maybe someone loves a cemetery scene because she remembers reading gravestones. Someone else balks because he remembers watching his mother’s coffin being lowered into a grave. People might embrace the scene of a blizzard, remembering a week without power playing “the olden days” or might feel the terror of the day they were stranded in a storm on a highway.

Readers: Whether we read or write or do both, we are shaped by the persistence of memory. How much does memory persist in your writing or shape the way you read?

About Sharon

I came to writing mysteries from an academic world where I wrote scholarly books. The last one was an edition of letters written by the nineteenth-century novelist Constance Fenimore Woolson. I had to find those letters, find when she wrote them from where and to whom. It was a massive act of sleuthing. But it was good training for writing mysteries, for a scholar is a sleuth as much as Miss Marple or Perry Mason or all those teenage detective I loved in The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden.

Sharon L. Dean grew up in Massachusetts where she was immersed in the literature of New England. She lived and taught in New Hampshire before moving to Oregon. Her memories of the East persist in her three Susan Warner mysteries, her literary novel titled Leaving Freedom, and her new series featuring librarian and reluctant sleuth Deborah Strong.

About The Wicked Bible

After a winter when she solved the cold case of a high school friend found dead in a barn, Deborah Strong needs a distraction. She joins a conference, “Libraries: Where Have We Been, Where Are We Going?” that will be useful for her work as a librarian in the small town of Shelby. The setting at a picturesque college in New Hampshire should also be healing.

Deborah’s project for the week plunges her into a mystery that would delight most researchers. What are the connections between a Bible dubbed “The Wicked Bible,” a woman called “The Wickedest Woman in New York,” a book written by a nineteenth-century author, and a letter penned to the author? As she slowly unravels the connections, Deborah confronts an event from her own past and anticipates a future that could be as brilliant as New Hampshire’s September foliage.

14 Thoughts

  1. Think we all enjoy reading things that evoke memories. I know I do. It’s fun to take a walk down memory lane when a phrase, place or description brings back sweet memories. Even unpleasant memories give us reassurance as to how strong we are and how we over came them.

    “Wicked Bible” sounds like an awesome book. It’s now on my TBR list and I can’t wait for the opportunity to read it
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

  2. I don’t think I’ve ever paid attention to memory as I read. But writing, yes. If I’ve visited a place or a smell or touch.

    WICKED BIBLE sounds great!

  3. What a fascinating topic, Sharon. I ever thought about it before but now I see what you mean. I love reading space opera and I think it’s probably related to wonderful memories of watching Star Trek growing up.

  4. Memory is a funny thing. I do find that certain turns of phrase or images in books can spark memories. In my own writing, I occasionally use memory to deepen a scene that needs “something.”

    Wicked Bible sounds wonderful. Looking forward to a night by the fire and a good read.

  5. Great post, Sharon! The title alone made me want to read it, because like you, I’m a believer in the importance of memory in shaping my life as well as my writing. It frustrates me when I can’t remember something like the name of a movie or title of a book, but I’m heartened by the fact that I still have the deep well of long-term memory to draw upon. I’m also fascinated by the way different people can have very different memories of the same event. Thanks for your thought-provoking post.

    1. Thanks, Leslie. I never remember names of movies or books unless they are ones I read/saw long ago. But, yes, those long-term memories creep in whenever I write. I’ve been thinking today of how much I have memories of houses–the one I grew up in, the one my best friend in elementary school lived in, etc. etc. I keep retrieving them for settings in my novels.

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