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Autobiographical?

A reader asks, "What's the most autobiographical thing you've ever written?"

The flashback to the Challenger explosion section in The Furies. Every single bit of that actually happened. Her name was Becky, not Sam, but she was also going to the Air Force Academy in the fall. Her father was indeed stationed at Tyndall AFB in Florida and she had open toed dress shoes in DC in January. Her feet were size nine, so she couldn't borrow my shoes, but she borrowed my sweaters and a wool skirt with a purple and black ombre print that was really in that year, 1986. We were in the White House when the Challenger exploded, and the next evening we sat on a bus stuck in DC traffic as the snow fell, listening to Springsteen singing "My Hometown."

I'm Sib. That's me, with my purple pen and my sausage biscuits and my fascination with Solidarity and Poland and my determination to draft talking points. I said exactly those things to Becky, and we watched the Challenger explode over and over again on the tv of a hotel room in the Omni Shoreham with the bare woods of Rock Creek Park behind. Every last thing in that section really happened.

So Beck, if you're out there -- I hope all your dreams came true. Mine did.

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( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
aishabintjamil
Nov. 19th, 2013 12:42 am (UTC)
Wait till you start getting people asking you how much of Cythera is autobiographical. People have this tendency to assume when you write sex that you're describing your own sex life (which sadly is rarely true).

jo_graham
Nov. 19th, 2013 02:30 pm (UTC)
Sadly not all of it! :D
anneruane
Nov. 19th, 2013 03:57 am (UTC)
That was one of my favorite passages from The Furies, because it rang so true. It was a defining moment for our generation and I'm always interested to hear how others experienced it. I've never heard it from a military perspective before. Fascinating.

Also, career military officers must have lots of war stories to tell, like when Caldwell commented to Sam about running joint missions with the Russians in All My Sins Remembered. I always thought John missed out on those conversations, so it's nice to see him striking up a friendship with a peer like he does in these books, instead of just finding adversaries.
jo_graham
Nov. 19th, 2013 02:46 pm (UTC)
People always blink when I say I was in the White House when the Challenger exploded, but it's absolutely true! I remember exactly what I was looking at, a pair of Empire candlesticks with a card on them saying they were a gift to Thomas Jefferson from Napoleon. We went to the McDonalds on New York Ave and a nerd in a walkman narrated the news coverage to the whole restaurant, construction workers and politicos all standing dumbfounded with their coffees in their hands. And that night I led a debate about how the future of our military is in space, how defensive space technology will tilt the balance away from offensive weaponry back to defensive, as it was before Blitzkrieg and the tank and the airplane. I came away from that week determined to come back to DC. And of course I did.

So I couldn't resist giving Sam that same experience. Sam could be Becky. (I hope Becky is Sam.)
mari4212
Nov. 19th, 2013 11:00 am (UTC)
The Challenger accident is a marker point for me, because I was just barely born when it happened. It's interesting, sometimes, watching someone's expression when I point out that my mother was recovering from having me when she saw the news.
jo_graham
Nov. 19th, 2013 02:53 pm (UTC)
Hee! I used to get that when I pointed out that I could not possibly remember when Martin Luther King was shot because it was the day I was born! But now I don't get that, because so many people are younger and say, "WOW! You were born in the sixties?"

On the other hand, my niece thinks it's very strange that people get so worked up about history like 9/11. She was born more than a year later.
amygriswold
Nov. 19th, 2013 06:12 pm (UTC)
I will never forget the time I was at an event with you and one of the older guys tried to explain who Martin Luther King was to me. Only being mellowed by very expensive gin and tonic kept me from saying "I'm young, not an idiot."

But now I'm not young anymore, and sometimes I have to repress the urge to say things like "does anybody in the room remember Lawrence v. Texas"? Anybody? Bueller? (Does anybody even remember that?)
jo_graham
Nov. 20th, 2013 02:47 pm (UTC)
Heh. OH you were so insulted! I remember that!
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )