writing about real life

July 24, 2018

It’s been on my mind as I slog through the revisions on The Oysterville Sewing Circle (2019), a novel driven by domestic violence and the #MeToo movement. I’ve wanted to write this book for a long time, but the deep dive into research, and laying the characters’ emotions out on the page has been harder than I ever could have imagined.

Illuminating someone else’s pain and trauma filled me with a different kind of pain–and guilt. Am I exploiting victims or bringing real issues to life? What if something I write about hits too close to home?

Image result for "home before dark" wiggs

That happened to me with Home Before Dark. The teen joy-riding tragedy in the book occurred, with eerie similarity, in my town a couple of years after the book was published. I was horrified to witness families I knew dealing with the unthinkable–which I’d thought of and written about in a novel. I wanted to apologize for having written the book. I wanted to snatch all the copies from the library and bookstore.

But did I want to un-write the book?

Richard Russo’s article in New York Times about novels dealing with school shootings offers a thoughtful discussion of the fiction writer’s role in real-world issue. (Shout out to Jodi Picoult for bringing it up.)

What do you think? Are there things that are off-limits for fiction writers? I hope not. But I also hope we write with honesty and humanity. It’s not for us to shy away from tough subjects.

Ultimately, the power belongs to the reader, and that is as it should be. I often say that every reader reads a different book–one of the reasons a book club is such a dynamic thing. The writers write. The readers read. And the words fly free.

#RichardRusso #bookclubs #schoolshootings #domesticviolence #writing #reading

| 1 Comment
  • Are you kidding? I can’t think of a better author to write about the empowerment survivors of domestic violence and sexual harassment experience as they struggle to put the shattered pieces of their lives together and bond with fellow survivors. A sewing circle is a perfect environment for this to happen.

    Enchanted Afternoon is one of my most favorite books. The Persian Pickle Club is another favorite which might inspire you. It is about a Depression-era quilting circle in the Midwest. You also recommended Sophie Littlefield when she was a relatively novice writer. Her theme was domestic violence stitched together at a fabric shop.

    You excel at snarky humor which is how most survivors make it from one day to the next. I’ve probably read more real-life survivor stories than anyone else, and the characters in your books are the kind of women who are able to thrive and find joy after a horrid experience. They find the path to empowerment, and I don’t know anybody who tells these stories better than you do, Susan.

    Please don’t use the word “victim.” A victim is a dead person. Iyanla Vanzant taught me to think of DV, child abuse, and sexual assault and harassment as experiences which don’t define our lives. I was in the audience when she was first on Oprah. Ironically, it was a book club show, and Oprah’s next selection was Black & Blue. Anna Quindlen perfectly captures the experience and the aftermath, but the book is a downer.

    I can hook you up with Kit Gruelle (Johnny Gruelle’s ~ Raggedly Anne and Andy ~ great-granddaughter) who is a DV survivor and advocate in Asheville, NC where she lives with her chocolate lab in a fabulous log cabin in the mountains. Her documentary Private Violence won an award at Sundance, and the rights were bought by HBO. Of course, you can contact me any time with questions or to give you feedback.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *