When I first started writing, my coach/friend (Gloria Alvarez) told me, “Write this for you. This is about you. Write the story for you and see where it leads you.”
So, my writing started off that way, about me and my account, and my effort to think deeply about this event. I also started reading old newspaper articles, everyone I could get a hold of. And I started cutting and pasting sentences from each article into a timeline and chronology so that I gathered every single detail about the event that was published at the time from multiple sources and multiple days’ reporting. Not just the big articles with photos of burning buildings, but small clips from letters to the editors and brief news updates. I found articles a week, a month, and many months later about some aspect of the event and the aftermath. I became obsessed over minute details and the order that things happened. I was also interested in what else was happening in the world at the same time; I read whole newspapers trying to catch up on the past, particularly because I was so young when this happened, and I had lost my memories before and after the event for a while.
After that exercise, I started to talk to people. I was given lists of “people who might know more,” but I was very selective about who I wanted to talk to. I wanted firsthand accounts from people in a position to know a little more than the newspapers could offer. I only wanted to talk to people who would understand, like me, how difficult it was to talk about this event, even now. These were sacred stories.
I heard such wonderful stories from folks. Sad, but wonderful in their memories and what stood out for them all these years later. Chapters are full of these stories, almost verbatim, perhaps sculpted by me just a little. The narrative became thicker and fuller by allowing others to share. This was no longer just about me, and I was grateful.
When Normal Blew Up: The Story of the People Who Died and the People Who Lived On