How Much of What You Write Is Real? Examining “Memories of Light and Sound”

(Note:  Some small spoilers for the story, and my last comment won’t make sense if you’ve not read or heard the story, so you might want to check out the podcast or eBook versions right quick.)

About a week ago, Tales of Old did an audio adaptation of my story “Memories of Light and Sound“.  I was really impressed with the narration, and made sure to send it to my parents.  (Because, c’mon, that’s what you do, right?)

After commenting that it wasn’t a “typical Steve” story (I’m still not sure what to make of that), my dad asked this question:

After listening to the story, I commented to Mom that I
was wondering how many details were borrowed from family
experiences. I had lived with my grandparents for several years and
loved them both. My grandfather was on one of the ships which supposedly
went to rescue passengers from the Lusitania sinking. He worked in the mines, and so on. I am certain this can be said for a
lot of folks who came over about the time of your story. I was just

Like most of my stuff, it’s a mix of total imagination, historical facts, and personal history and emotions.

Memories of Light and Sound didn’t start out deriving so much from our family’s history.  It actually started with a description of the NYC Zoo combined with a mention that immigrants often first stepped off the ferry still smelling of disinfectant.  (And a few historical and geographical details helpfully provided by Anton Strout.) It was originally part of an anthology based around time travel, and I wanted to do something…well, different.  With so many people tempted to do “time travel” to super-exciting world-changing events, I thought something personally important but otherwise “quiet” would be a good change of pace.

When it came time to add in historical details, I drew some from what my great-grandfather (probably) experienced.  The open recruiting for the mines is historically accurate for pretty much anyone who was from Europe and not from England (Irish, Italian, all of east Europe).  I don’t know if there was a strong Hungarian community in NYC the way I depicted the Italian one.  There was definitely an Italian community in NYC during that period that would take people in (and that’s *mostly* accurate, though the timeline’s pretty foreshortened and fudged here and there).

Likewise, the other details – living with grandparents being a perfect example – are a mix of reality and pure imagination. 

The bratty kid, however, is modeled after me as a teenager.  As is what the (grown up) kid says to the people who raised him.

Thanks, Mom & Dad.

You can hear “Memories of Light and Sound” for free at the Tales of Old podcast page, and can stay up-to-date on my publications by following me on Twitter or this RSS feed.

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