I began what I thought would be my sixth novel, but everything I wrote turned out to be stories of my life. Disgusted by my lack of ability to control my imagination, I gave in and wrote what poured out. The more I wrote the more deeply I remembered. As I typed, first person present tense, it felt like I was typing from a theatre in my mind. I could taste, smell, feel, touch, see each happening as if for the first time. Some memories were very painful, full of horror. I kept the chapters short, allowing the energy of each memory to dictate what and how much I wrote.
After I had about 300 pages, I sent the manuscript to my editor who told me, “Nancy, the writing is fine, but I can’t figure out where I am in your life. How old are you? Where are you? Why does this chapter matter? You need to revise it so your writing is chronological.”
Once the chapters were arranged chronologically, I understood the arc of my memoir was about healing from trauma, abuse, and violence, beginning before I was born. Writing opened mental barriers long closed by pain and disbelief. The more I wrote, the more I understood how unknown forces acting on me had resulted in making bad decisions that I knew were bad at the time. Writing released body memories and freed me from the emotional and psychological grasp of lies told by family members. I understood that I was able to use my wounds to help heal the wounds of others.
I sent the new draft to my editor. She asked, “How are you going to end it? Happily ever doesn’t quite do it.” Finding a satisfying ending was agony. I wrote so many ending chapters, that had I been printing out each chapter I discarded, my wastepaper basket would have been overflowing.
I wanted to end the memoir with some sense of how “old age” was proving to be the best time of my life. I wanted the last chapter to be about love and loving. It came to me, there was only one way to end the book—with an experience I had with a very young child in a small Peruvian village. An encounter of love and warmth and total acceptance that still lives in my heart.
Nancy King is a widely published author and a professor emerita at the University of Delaware, where she has taught theater, drama, playwriting, creative writing, and multidisciplinary studies with an emphasis on world literature. She has published seven previous works of nonfiction and five novels. Her new memoir, Breaking the Silence, explores the power of stories in healing from trauma and abuse. Her career has emphasized the use of her own experience in being silenced to encourage students to find their voices and to express their thoughts, feelings, and experiences with authenticity, as a way to add meaning to their lives.