Every story I write is an autobiography. Yet the closest I’ve ever come to “based on true events” is my story “Monster from Long Ago”, featured in Volume II of the gothic-literary Déraciné magazine.
The story contains some element of magic in the form of symbols and visions—things I can’t outright verify being true. It’s also got some filicide, which is certainly not true! But it’s set at a campsite my brother, father, and I visit every year, and the story was written after a particularly bad fight between my dad and bro. It’s me spilling my guts and emotions out for the first time about a part of my life that felt so unsettled and hopeless, and it was scarier writing it than it probably is reading it.
Taking my dad’s rage towards my brother and manifesting it into a demon was one way for me to cope with his psychological issues in my young adult life. I never knew my father the way most children with a dad at home did. He was an over-the-road truck driver, which meant I’d maybe see him two weekends a month—less, even, than some of my friends with divorced parents. I’d picked up things here and there about his problems with anxiety & paranoia, but it wasn’t until my mom passed away (his caretaker, through it all) that I experienced it firsthand.
The first drafts of the story hid these truer parts behind a police procedural plot, then lots of mishandled demonic possession tropes. Pouring out my thoughts and emotions without a recognizable (and distancing) plot was difficult for me. So I decided to take the story to my first online class with writer/teacher Richard Thomas, “Short Story Mechanics” and find a way to get it down right.
There, we dove into some impressive stories—none more impressive than William Gay’s “The Paperhanger”. Studying Gay’s writing helped me see a way through my story at last. Keep it minimal, keep it personal, heighten the emotion but do so delicately.
Also guiding me with some direction was a song written by a good friend of mine, Matt Wall. The name of my story comes from his song, “Monster from Long Ago”, which I think adds another layer to its meaning. His song is about his personal, honest struggles with mental health, and he’d taken the name himself from the 1984 Tim Burton short film, Frankweenie, where the child and his dog make their own film, “Monster from Long Ago”. The clash of a children’s film and such a personal, heart-wrenching song resonated with me and my story of stepping over a boundary from innocence into a darker world of family dysfunction and learning your parent has a chronic mental illness.
I’m glad to have found a place like Déraciné, with its mix of dark, beautiful poetry, creative nonfiction, and storytelling. Getting a proper & fitting place for one’s work is always a lot to hope for when getting published is hard enough, so I’ll always cherish the editors there for seeing the truth in this story and making it part of their issue. Go take a look when you’ve got a chance, then let me know how you work truths and autobiographical pieces of your life into your work.