The Need for Stories by Sandra Carey Cody
“We’re always the same age inside.” Gertrude Stein
The Jennie Connors/Riverview Manor mysteries are set in a retirement community and the characters are a variety of ages. The youngest is Jennie’s six-year-old son; the oldest is a ninety-pound, ninety-something, feisty southern belle who still thinks like a teenager. Other characters run the gamut of ages.
The inspiration for this setting came from a bittersweet time in my life. My mother and one of my aunts lived in a facility similar to my fictional Riverview Manor. Their health had deteriorated to the point where it was impossible for the family to care for them. I won’t go into the anguish involved in this decision; that’s not what this is about. This is about … well, you’ll see.
I visited Mom and Aunt Hedy fairly often in their new surroundings and, as an unexpected bonus, spent time with some of the other residents. Most of them were also in poor health and no longer physically active. They were old. Very old. That’s all I saw at first but, as I got to know them better, I learned to look beyond their physical limitations. I started to listen – really listen – and I saw the young person they still were inside. I realized they each had a story and what they wanted most was someone to tell their story to. They were all individuals, came from different backgrounds, but each had a story to tell.
Are any of these people in my books? Not really. My characters are cobbled together from bits and pieces of a lot of people, myself included. If I had to choose a favorite, it would be Nate, an 84-year-old retired actor who was and, in his own mind, still is, one of the finest interpreters of Shakespeare’s tragic heroes to ever grace the stage. Nate “struts and frets” a lot, demanding more than his share of attention. He’s not a nice man. He does and says the mean-spirited things most of us don’t allow ourselves to do or say. Maybe that’s why I created him. Writing scenes for Nate gives me a place to put out my own mean-spirited impulses. Turning those impulses into fiction forces me to examine and (hopefully) understand them.
That’s one of the reasons we need stories, both as readers and writers. In fiction, we meet people who are of another world, sometimes another generation. Their experiences may be different from ours, but when we hear their story, we begin to understand them and, if we listen – really listen – we see past the differences and realize how alike we are inside.
My characters aren’t real and Riverview Manor isn’t much like the place that inspired it. It’s a mythical place where all problems have a solution and there’s always someone who wants to hear your story. And isn’t that what we all want? Some to listen to our story.
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Sandra Carey Cody was born and grew in Missouri, surrounded by people who loved stories, whether from a book or told on the back porch on a Sunday afternoon. She now lives in a small town in southeastern Pennsylvania. Wherever she’s gone, books have been the bridge to her new community and new friends. Being the quiet member of a noisy family, her story-telling manifested itself in writing, mostly crime fiction. If you would like to know more, you can visit her website: www.sandracareycody.com or her blog: www.birthofanovel.wordpress.com