People write books for mysterious reasons. They think they “have an idea.” But for me, it turns out to be a bit more complex than that. My latest release, at least in part, was written as a do-over. I was once a single mom. I keep the true story of that time here. It won a local award and was published in a national anthology because being a single mom is not easy and overcoming hardship makes good story.
I got the idea to write a novel about divorce and how difficult it can be on children (and the adults who are supposedly the mature ones). It would have a happy ending like my own story did, but it wouldn’t sugarcoat the devastation of divorce. When I added an addiction subplot, my publisher wisely decided to market the book as “contemporary fiction” and not romance like my other books.
Divorce is not romantic. Neither is addiction.
Before I embarked on this project I asked permission from the men in life: my husband and two sons. Not because there would be one true detail in this novel but because there would be an eventual husband and two little boys figured prominently in the single mom’s life. That is where reality stopped and imagination took over.
The relief of writing a better journey than my own was immediate and lasting. Healing, even. Of course fiction needs conflict and the small problems of the lovers were supplemented by an equally fictional ex-husband, who I made a terrible addict. That was not something I’d wish on my own ex-husband, who hardly takes a drink of alcohol let alone any other substances. Sure, the real guy, the father of my children, might not like the fictional ex-husband’s role in my book, but it had to be done for the sake of the story.
I’m pretty sure my ex does not read my books anyway. And no, I didn’t ask his permission. This is fiction I’m writing, although in the thick of it, it feels very real. I used real feelings. My own and and those I could clearly read on my sons’ sad faces those many years ago. Writers use emotion the way actors do. It’s a tool and we manipulate it.
That doesn’t sound very nice, but then there are zillions of articles that talk about how writers aren’t good people, that they’ll use anyone and anything if it serves their story. I take exception to that idea. It’s because I don’t want to hurt the real people in my actual life that I don’t write memoir. I make up the people in my novels.
So why write? For the pleasure of a do-over. For revenge. For absolution. To right wrongs, to dive deep into my peculiar fascination with the human psyche, to create order from chaos, to control the actions on the page so I can let go in real life, where there is no such thing as control, or anyway very little of it. And maybe, to walk a mile in somebody else’s shoes and learn, through this exercise in empathy, how to love a little better.
What about money and fame and glory?
Nah. I wouldn’t bet on those things if I were a young writer. They may come, but the odds are not in your favor. The odds of becoming a happier person, content in a world of your own building, now that is a distinct possibility.