The Family Perspective

We are down here in Dartmouth, Devon again this week – preparing for our house move that we hope will take place by the end of July.

[Dartmouth, Devon, England. Photo by me, June 15, 2022.]

It turns out that the couple from whom we are buying our new house by coincidence have the same first names as my father and my (now late) mother. Meeting them yesterday at the house, we all laughed about that. They are also about the same ages as my parents.

The other day I had also seen an Instagram post by a writer in which she discusses her parents as parental inspirations for two of her characters. My parents – especially my late mother – particularly on my mind due also to the names of the house sellers, seeing her post got me thinking. Parents, eh?:

[From Instagram.]

Every author has their perspective on the reality that fiction writers from the beginning of time have sourced characters and stories from some basis in fact.

That post reminded me as well that there are writers out there who are happily unconcerned about those who inspired this character or that character actually reading those characters. They may even revel in those real people seeing “themselves” fictionalized on the pages.

No other commenter addressed this. I recalled my own personal take on that issue. I was curious, so I asked her and she replied…

[From Instagram.]

I do not go around talking up my books to friends and relations. Indeed I would rather those I know personally NOT read them. Why? Mostly because I never want even to risk hurting anyone’s feelings in case they are unhappy with what they read if they think they see ”themselves” in a character.

For example, both of my parents were alive in 2013 and I did not tell them I was writing a fictionalized account of a portion of our lives. I had felt if I had had to put the book before them for their ”approval” that would have forced me to have been more “self-censoring” because one never knows what might cause offense or even anger. I believed having to “water down” anything would likely have been less interesting to a reader and my primary goal was to write good fiction and not a “memoir.”

Another related reason I kept it from them was I did not expect to attract anything but a “niche” readership. Indeed initially I had been planning to write only one book – just to prove to myself I could write a novel as my uncle did – anyway and then having done so “vanish” from the face of the writing earth, a “one novel wonder,” so to speak. So I saw no reason possibly to create family trouble for myself over any of the content of the novel.

[Original 35mm photos by me – that eventually ended up on a novel’s back cover. Top, New York City, 1991. Bottom, Paris, 1994.]

Always in the back of my mind too was this difficult family history. My uncle’s (my mother’s several years’ older brother) time as a New York City police detective had been the subject of a 1970s book and then a film, and as a young teen of course I thought it was cool seeing an actor play not only my uncle, but also another play my (by then deceased) grandpa; but I remember my mother was NOT happy – to say the least – about how their late father was portrayed on screen. (Interestingly, and I never wondered why at the time, my mother was not portrayed in the film.) My uncle had also been an author since the early 1980s, and in the mid-1990s he wrote a short for an anthology in which he discussed their father’s life (he had been a baseball player); again I had thought that was really cool, but after my mother read it she was absolutely livid – ranting over the phone (and separately at me when I meekly tried to defend it) at “the moron” (my uncle) that he had gotten their dad all wrong and that ”c-ap” was there now, forever, in writing.

Both of those experiences I am sure looking back made we wary of my mother reading any fictional portrayal of herself even by me. So I definitely did not want my parents or anyone else close to them to discover my book(s) also by accident merely by, say, searching on Amazon for something else and bumping into my real name on the book(s). Thus why I began in 2013 to publish under the ”pen name” that you now know me by. (In fact I have since learned I had a very good reason for that concern. My mother died in October 2015 and since then some relations and friends on my real-life Facebook have somehow seen there my “pen name” Instagram writing profile. Nothing like “privacy,” eh? Knowing that unpredictable algorithmic marketing nonsense was going on, I have since admitted to several family members what I do in terms of writing and they have been nothing but supportive.)

I had over the years learned lots also from my uncle about the “writing biz.” What turned out to have been my uncle’s final book had been published in 2004, after which he essentially retired to teach university creative writing. In early 2015, during a phone call of the sort we often had, when he again went at me to write a travel or a history novel (as he had been telling me for years), I crumbled and admitted to him I had “secretly” written two already… and he was among those fictionalized in them. After I quickly summarized them he replied that those were not the sort of books he felt he could write (which was certainly true given he had been a crime/police novelist) and he begged me to let him see them and promised he would not go bananas over my portrayal of him. Maybe he was there reassuring me in his way that I would not catch hell from him as he had often caught from my mother or even from his own parents and others. At that reassurance from him, I folded next like a tent and sent him copies of those two published books (and I also told him I was writing a third):

[From Passports. On Kindle for iPhone/iPad. Click to Expand.]

I was not the most fearful of his reaction to my writing skill (or perhaps lack thereof). Despite his attempting in advance to soothe my concerns about how he was portrayed, what far more worried me was if he indeed turned out to have been disappointed with my fictionalization of ”him.” I did not want to fall out with him over what was in it in places:

[From Passports. On Kindle for iPhone/iPad. Click to Expand.]

So I was greatly relieved that he did NOT mind my fictionalization. When we talked again a few days later while he read through that first book excerpted twice above, and he told me what he thought of it, he also revealed he had laughed in reading how I had seen “him” back in those 1990s (when the books are set). Some events and people, he also claimed to me, he had largely forgotten until seeing them resurrected on my pages.

Importantly he also urged me to KEEP WRITING. He told me as well that I wrote “really good.” (Which was another huge relief to hear from him.) He died suddenly only months later, in October 2015, just two weeks before my mother did.

[From Capture The Cause. On Kindle for iPad/iPhone. Click to expand.]

He had also said again that I should eventually definitely try to write a history novel. His encouragement was in part what led to 2017’s Conventions: The Garden At Paris and its two sequels – the sort of tales I had truly long wanted to write…

[Capture The Cause. On Kindle, iPad, iPhone, and in paperback.]

…And damn it, I WISH now he could see them.

But such is writing… and life, of course.

Have a good day, wherever you are. 🙂