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  • Writer's pictureMj Pettengill

From the Author's Pen: When the Stories Find Me

Girls, Friends, CC0
Girls, Friends, CC0

Stories are entities. Some are patient; while, others are not. They will seek out the storyteller, not stopping until she is found.

During my journey, I have learned that it is up to me to be found, and when this finally occurs, I must be ready to step into the truth. It is time to roll up my sleeves and be prepared to make my way through years of blood and guts. The process is often messy, indeed. The good news is that the culmination offers great relief. At first, I was confused. I didn’t plan on being a historical whistleblower. I didn’t even realize that that was what I was about to embark on until I was in quite deep. I am aware that much of the history in textbooks is watered down and altered, but its extent was not evident until I discovered the 298. I have shared this before, but as I dig deeper into the writing process of The Crows’ Path, the fourth book in the EIG Series, I comprehend my purpose even more than I did before. Not that everything or everyone makes the cut, I understand the importance of being open to what shows itself. It reminds me of being in front of a classroom of eager children who are all raising their hands and eagerly saying, “Pick me.” Freewriting, the narrative of many of these characters, brings me straight to the ones who are meant to speak, to share their stories. Some remain in my “Darlings” folder, but their act of showing up was not a mistake or in vain. They often lead me to the real story that had been hunting me down. These characters are out there scouting the storyteller. My sources are primarily diaries, journals, newspaper articles, and vital statistics. I hear the voices of the people directly. Most of what I read has been lost along the way, waiting for me to show up. The most recent book is no different. I came across the circumstances while crafting The Angels’ Lament, the second book in the series. While roaming the Five Points district in New York, sharing August’s story, I discovered what would be written in the future. I wasn’t certain when this would enter the stage, but I knew it would show up. The entity—the story—presents itself and then waits. When I am fully prepared to invest in it, the disclosure begins. So far, it has been emotionally exhausting. In the early stages of this kind of research, I experienced more shock than I do now. As I carry on, becoming exposed to more and more harrowing social situations in our nation’s past, I have come to expect it.

The emotions have shifted from shock to deep sadness. There was so much suffering before us that, in an attempt to protect those in charge, was ongoing and never appropriately addressed. The trauma that has not been recognized continues to weave its way through history, through the generations.

Initially, I did not know it, but I signed up for it. Each narrator in these books represents real people. They are the voices of the past—our ancestors. By learning about them without judgment, we are freeing them from an otherwise dark and wretched past. When I mention without judgment, I mean that we were not there. We can try to imagine what transpired, but we cannot fully know the breadth of the situations. What we can do through acknowledgment is honor their experiences. I have a strict rule about not owning their pain. If I feel anger or shock through discovery, I allow it to pass through me. We cannot and will not be able to correct and heal what we do not know. Much of the horrific acts that I have uncovered are still in practice today, just under the guise of a different agency or other hidden agendas. It’s simple logic that behavior left unchecked has no reason to be terminated. The life of paupers brought me to my knees. When I followed in the footsteps of those who left Ireland during the Exile and Famine, I was overwhelmed for weeks, possibly months. I had to talk to one of my people when reading about the conditions and stories surrounding the mills (Fall River) in the 1870s. Again, here I am, navigating court cases, depositions, diaries, and news articles related to yet another institution that, until recently, was in operation. I am not going into details at this time. The book is still being written. I can say that we should pause and try to understand what is happening with children worldwide. At least we need to comprehend the practices that have continued throughout the centuries. We are constantly being bombarded with images that we cannot say with 100% conviction are real. We are only told what is intended on the surface—what the establishment wishes for the masses to believe. In the age of technology, perhaps we should consider looking more closely at what we think is going on rather than what we are shown. We must see for ourselves and not sit back and be fooled (again). This is an age-old dilemma. There will always be stories seeking storytellers, like me, to release their trauma and wounds, allowing in much-needed light. Would it not be better for us to rise up to a higher level of being and stop grievous deeds from occurring? As they pile up, wound upon wound, history is repeating itself. If you are reading this article on my website, please go to the “Paupers” link and read the names. There is no need to do anything else. Simply acknowledge that they lived and died. They had names, were someone’s child or grandparent. They are more than a number. They are earlier versions of us. Their stories are no longer trapped in darkness, in time.

1 Comment

Mar 13, 2021

I concur, don't get caught up in the character's pain. I learned to do that as a writer long ago. When you do the character is not them speaking, it is you and you then put out your agenda and not the characters.

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