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?
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