While writing my novel, I accessed dark emotional truths. I took real events (my father trying to kill my mother) and then punted the reality into a far more dramatic story. Fiction. However, what I denied (until forced by writing the Mail article to go deeper into my own family background) was the cost of doing business. Truthiness makes for a deeper more satisfying read. Truthiness often has little (and sometimes nothing) to do with whether one is portraying actual events from one’s past. Sometimes using biographical material adds up to little more than reporting. But when one accesses the emotional truth, the ugly parts of the self that trauma can reveal, that’s a gift to the reader — but it’s often ripped from the writer in a way they don’t immediately recognize.
Writing my book meant digging deep into family secrets and crypts. Family facts weren’t really revealed so much as a family culture was uncovered and combed through. After the book was published, after I raised my head from the comforting minutia of plot and structure and query letters and editorial letters, at some point I realized something: I wasn’t telling fairy tales. I’d ripped away a scrim of denial that I’d spent years perfecting, a scrim made up of food and books and television and all the myriad ways we keep ourselves at a distance from ourselves.
Doctor, writer, friend, Kathy Crowley, talking about a study done by her colleague, Dr. Jane Liebschutz, recently told me that “one of the big things that gets missed is how victims of violence or trauma unconsciously narrow their lives — they do almost nothing, maybe sit and watch TV most of the time, lead these incredibly dull existences, and how this is, in her mind, a protective response to the trauma.” (Please, Kath — do a post on this!)