Guest Post by A.E. Hayes
Good morning, everyone!
My name is A.E. Hayes, and today, I’ll be taking over Cara’s blog.
If you’re a fan of Cara’s work (and as a friend and fan, I can tell you that you should pick up everything she writes, as she writes with such eloquence and creativity), then you may have seen my name floating about, as we’ve been writers in two anthologies together: Crazy Little Spring Called Love and Love Across the Universe. And if you haven’t seen my name before, that’s fine as well. I’m not typically a romance writer (my typical genres are memoir, essay, science fiction, and literary fiction), and with the exception of anthologies, I have not yet dabbled in the world of writing a full romance novel.
Then why in the world would I be taking over this blog? What do I know?
I know that I’m going to shamelessly promote myself, because today, my memoir Shattered: Memoirs of an Amnesiac is being released by Terra Publishing, which is an imprint of Stars and Stones Publishing. And if you know Cara’s work, then you know Stars and Stone. Terra is the non-fic/memoir imprint, and I am the flagship author.
Shattered is the fifth full-length book I’ve written, but it was by far the most challenging. The title doesn’t lie: I am an amnesiac. Due to a fall and multiple seizures in August 2010, I have a traumatic brain injury and retrograde amnesia. I remember very little that occurred before my 28th birthday. I can’t recall my wedding, the birth of my brother, or college. I don’t even really know who I was during those events.
And my memoir tells that story. Through weeks of poring over old journal entries, police reports, stories from friends and family members, and hospital records, I could piece together my life in a way that tells the story of my journey from amnesia to – well, to be fair, amnesia, because it will never go away. But all good stories, from romance to memoir, have a twist. As it turns out, I have a condition far more damning than just amnesia. So what could have caused me to shatter so completely besides the day I forgot my life? There’s only one way to find out (and since the obvious answer is to buy the book, I’ll provide the links to do so at the end of this post).
As a person who primarily writes fiction, I have to say that writing a completely factual story about a life I barely know was intense. It was complicated and messy, and not just because it was my story, but because I couldn’t deviate from the truth. I wasn’t going to follow the trend of memoirists and essayists who claim that their stories are true, only to have their readers learn later that everything they put into print was a concoction of lies. There’s a long history of this, and I didn’t want to be part of it. And that meant that, besides making sure I had a top-notch publisher and editor, I had to read through every single word I committed to the page at least a dozen times. If one word seemed too intense or falsified, I immediately deleted and replaced it. I didn’t want to be that writer. I wanted my voice to shine through as a memoirist, and not as a storyteller.
However, it can’t be denied that Shattered, while one hundred percent true (names and identifiers aside, as those had to be changed for legal purposes), still makes me a storyteller. But there is a drastic difference.
When I write fiction, I let characters guide me. I may create them, and I may give them a rough playground upon which to interact, but eventually, they take over. Their lives are in my fingertips: I simply follow their leads. But with memoir? I couldn’t do that. There was no rough playground as a clean slate. There were no fictional characters. I couldn’t make, for instance, an ex-husband severely physically abusive just to further the story – whereas I could easily do that in a fictional setting. Wherever the truth ended, I had to stop.
And that’s difficult as hell.
Not that my life is an easy one – it’s not. To be fair, it’s not so bad now, but those first 30 or so years were not pretty. When salvation came, it came in odd bursts. There are nights when I still wonder how I’m alive. There are other nights when I wonder if I have the right to be alive. And then, there are nights when I stare at the stars, hum to myself, and think, “Well, I’m here. I can breathe. I have a nice home, a great husband, a wonderful son, fantastic friends, and a career I love. Come what may – I’m freaking happy.”
Shattered isn’t meant to be a fun, happy-ending, light-hearted read. I couldn’t tell the truth if I had written it that way. It is dark and gritty. It contains sex – sometimes consensual, sometimes not. It contains depictions of psych wards and self-destruction. It contains drugs, alcohol, moods, and madness.
But it’s real. It’s authentic. And I let go of fiction – of the life I wish I could have had – in order to speak to fact. I tell the life I have lived in the hopes that one day, a single person will read this memoir and say, “I understand. This has helped me.”
If one person can say those words, then I will have succeeded. Fact and fiction won’t matter, because the fact is that we’re all human. We all screw up, and we’re all loveable, anyhow. And that’s not a lie. I’ve heard thousands of stories from thousands of people in my 35 years on this planet, and all of them are intense and personal on myriad levels. Some talk about murder. Some talk about incest. Some talk about a normal childhood with perhaps a wayward theft from a candy store. But all of the storytellers? They are telling their truths. They are keepers of the most important parts of humanity. And when they share those parts with me, I am whole.
Embrace your flaws. Love what you love. And love yourself. It’s taken me three decades (and a bit more) to say those words, but there they are. Love yourself.
How? It’s innately within you. Love is more than just pretty prose on the page. It’s not just the fiction you tell yourself at night. It’s right there. Grab it. Take what is rightfully yours.
But if you need help getting there, my inbox is open, and my memoir is ready for reading.
Thanks for letting me share.
With love and gratitude,
Links to buy Shattered: Memoirs of an Amnesiac (now available!):