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Paging Dr. Freud: How Did My Totally Made-Up Teen Novel End Up Being So Eerily Autobiographical? (a guest post by Cal Armistead)

Thanks so much Karen, for allowing me to drop by your blog!  You left the topic of this guest blog up to me, so I thought I’d address something I find fascinating: how a totally made-up piece of fiction can end up being weirdly autobiographical. 

“This compelling, suspenseful debut, a tough-love riff on guilt, forgiveness and redemption, asks hard questions to which there are no easy answers.”
Kirkus Starred Review
This may sound strange, but I didn’t even realize there were autobiographical elements to my book until it was already on its way to publication and someone asked me about the inspiration for the story.  A light bulb went off in my brain and it dawned on me that Being Henry David is in part, my own story.  Granted, I’ve never had trauma-induced amnesia like my character, Hank.  I’m not even a guy. But like Hank, I came to Concord, Massachusetts as a lost young person in search of roots and an identity.  And I found them here.

I was twenty -two years old—not much older than Hank—when the bottom fell out of my life.  That summer, my parents split up, my father left the church where he’d served as a minister, and we had to move out of our house to make way for the new minister’s family.  So basically, I was homeless.  Being young and foolish and adventurous, I thought it would be fun to live in a tent for a couple weeks while I figured things out.  After all, it was summer, and like Hank in my book, I was a kid who loved camping and being outside. Well, I quickly learned there’s a huge difference between a fun camping trip and considering a tent one’s primary residence.  Especially when it rained every single day of those long two weeks. (Or at least, that’s how I remember it.) In short, I was miserable.  Luckily, my mom’s brother Uncle Ray, got wind of my situation and invited me to spend the summer at his house in Concord, Massachusetts to get a new start on a new life. 

When I stepped off the train in Concord, I felt like the sun had come out after very long stretch of gray skies–both literally and figuratively.  Concord is a beautiful little town, and my uncle’s antique Victorian house was right in the heart of it, within walking distance of the library, all the great little downtown shops and restaurants, and yes, Walden Pond.  I went to Walden often, hiking the perimeter of the pond, smelling the fresh piney air, swimming in the clean cool water, and letting my problems fall away for a while.  I spent hours in Concord’s gorgeous library, researching jobs (this was before the Internet) and staring at those creepy statues that talk to Hank in my novel.  And because Concord’s proud literary history permeates everything, I pretty much had no choice but to absorb the aura of the writers who lived there, like Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and most of all, Henry David Thoreau.

While I was living in Concord, my scattered, lost life began to take form.  I found a full-time job in radio, an apartment of my own, and started dating the man who later became my husband.  Little did I know that years later, my own kids would go to school in this very town, or that one day, I’d write a book rooted here. You always hear the adage, “write what you know,” and I guess that holds true on some subconscious level, even when you don’t even know you’re doing it!

Thanks so much for hosting me, Karen!
About the Author: Cal has been a writer since age 9, when she submitted her first book, The Poor Macaroni Named Joany to a publisher. Sadly, this literary gem did not make it to print. But Cal continued pursuing her lifelong passion, and wrote copiously for radio, newspapers and magazines (Cal has been published in The Chicago Tribune, Shape Magazine, Body & Soul MagazineChristian Science Monitor, Chicken Soup for Every Mom’s Soul and others). Although it took years for Cal to try her hand again at fiction writing, her first young adult novel (Being Henry David) will be published by Albert Whitman & Co. on March 1, 2013. Cal holds an MFA in creative writing from the Stonecoast program at the University of Southern Maine, works at an independent book store, is a voice-over actress, sings semi-professionally, and lives in a Boston suburb with her amazing husband and a dog named Layla. (from Cal Armistead.com)
About Being Henry David: Seventeen-year-old “Hank” has found himself at Penn Station in New York City with no memory of anything –who he is, where he came from, why he’s running away. His only possession is a worn copy of Walden, by Henry David Thoreau. And so he becomes Henry David-or “Hank” and takes first to the streets, and then to the only destination he can think of–Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts. Cal Armistead’s remarkable debut novel is about a teen in search of himself. Hank begins to piece together recollections from his past. The only way Hank can discover his present is to face up to the realities of his grievous memories. He must come to terms with the tragedy of his past, to stop running, and to find his way home. (from Goodreads.com)  Coming March 1st from Albert Whitman Teen. ISBN: 9780807506158