Thursday, November 25, 2010

Food For Thought Thanksgiving, Part 1: Truth To Fiction: The Personal Connection That Makes An Author's Book The One They HAD To Write

I asked Cheryl Rainfield, author of "SCARS,"

"Do you have a personal story behind "SCARS" that made it the book you had to write?" Here's her powerful response:

I know what it's like to be a queer teen who was raped, sexually abused, ritually abused, bullied, a misfit--and in so much emotional pain that I often wanted to die. I know what it's like to use self-harm to try to get through the pain (as well as art and writing). And I know how alone I felt. To feel like you're the only one, to have a society hate you for who you love, to have to struggle so much to get through a day--it can feel unbearable. And to have those things have to be kept secret--especially the sexual abuse and the self-harm--it makes the emotional pain so much worse.

All those things I put into SCARS. I had to write it--for myself, to break the silence, to get out some of the pain, to be heard--and for others, to let them know that they're not alone, to encourage healing, and, for people who don't have those experiences (self-harm, sexual abuse, being queer), to encourage greater compassion. I also wrote SCARS because it was a book I needed and couldn't find as a teen--even as an adult. I think we all need to see our lives reflected (in a positive light) and to know that we're not alone. And I think truth needs to be shared.

So though SCARS is fiction, is has huge chunks of my own story in it, and a lot of my heart, my soul. It's actually my arm on the cover of SCARS; the scars are my own. The outside scars only hint at the pain inside. But there is also hope in SCARS--hope, love and healing--things that are so important for me, for us all.

I am grateful that SCARS is reaching so many people, that it's helping them feel less alone, or more understood. That feels like such a gift to me. I hope SCARS will be a book that speaks to you.

I also asked Author April Lurie the same question

- "Do you have a personal story behind "The Less-Dead" that made it the book you HAD to write?" Here's what she said:

The Less-Dead began solely as a mystery. I planned to write a story involving a serial killer, but when I realized that it was going to be a homophobic serial killer, I decided to explore my own personal experience of growing up in a strict, evangelical home.

I grew up in the seventies, and when I was taught that homosexuality was a sin and that gays led perverse lifestyles, I didn’t really think twice about it. After all, I was straight and I didn’t know any gay people. They certainly didn’t attend our church!

But when I went to college and my world broadened, I began to see the incredible hypocrisy of the statement, “Hate the sin, but love the sinner.” Why was being gay a sin? Why were my loving and wonderful gay friends sinners – destined for hell if they didn’t change their sexual orientation? It made no sense.

In The Less-Dead, my main character Noah became an extension of myself as a teen. He’s the son of the Bible Answer Guy, a radio talk show host who interprets the Bible literally, including the passages on homosexuality. Noah is fed up with all-things-church, and he believes that his dad is spreading hate. Suddenly my story became very personal.

But it became even more personal when I was writing the second draft of the book. During that time my daughter’s friend – a sweet, talented and charming young man – came out in his middle school. He was attending a private Christian school at the time, and when the administration heard the news, they told him he had to leave. They were not going to allow an openly gay student attend their school. I was told that his parents immediately put him into counseling in order to change his sexual orientation.

That’s when I decided to include the lengthy author’s note at the back of The Less-Dead, where I refute the six “clobber passages” in the Bible that pastors use to condemn homosexuality. I also listed several websites and organizations where gay teens can go to for help.

Lately in the news we’ve seen so many heartbreaking stories of gay teen suicides, and while there are many factors that contribute to the prejudice that gay teens face, the teachings of the evangelical church remain a root problem. If a teenager is raised to believe that being gay is a sin, and that loving a person of the same sex is shameful, how can he or she rise above that? If straight teens are being taught from the pulpit that gay kids are perverted and going to hell, how will the bullying and hatred ever stop?

The Less-Dead is a mystery surrounding a serial killer, but it’s also a story about a boy who challenges what he’s been taught. I hope the book will not only entertain, but spark discussion and encourage teens, both gay and straight.

Now for New York Times Bestselling Author Ellen Hopkins, she's spoken and written about her personal connection to her first book "Crank"

(followed in the series by "Glass" and most recently with "Fallout.")

Ellen's shared it was "loosely based on my older daughter's story of addiction to crystal meth. ...Crank began as a personal exploration of the "why's" behind my daughter's decisions, and what part I might have played in them. By writing the story from "my daughter's" perspective, I learned a lot, both about her, and about myself. But I also learned a lot about the nature of addiction..."

But Ellen has also written four books outside this series; "Burned,"


"Identical," and "Tricks,"

- and I asked her, "Was there a personal story behind every one of your books that made it a book you HAD to write?

Here's her answer:

I actually do believe we bring threads of real life into our work. Sometimes it's a personal story. Sometimes it's tapping into the emotion of a previous event in our lives. First kiss, for instance. Or first time we have sex. Or having a baby (or perhaps losing one).

BURNED was inspired by a rash of school shootings in the news. I wanted to explore what might put a girl behind the trigger. As I wrote her, she began to resemble a friend of my daughter's, who was Mormon and had weapons experience. Aunt J in that book looks very much like a woman who runs a bed and breakfast in eastern Nevada, where I spent time as an artist-in-residence. So the whole setting--Caliente--is a place I came to know and love.

With IMPULSE, I wanted to gain some understanding of why a teen, who has so much to live for, would choose suicide. I live in a small valley and we lost two teens to suicide in a year. One was the brother of a classmate of my daughter's. Vanessa in the book is a combination of two friends--one my age, who is bipolar and who has been suicidal; and a young friend who is a cutter.

IDENTICAL is dedicated to three friends, all of whom were sexually abused by their fathers as children. Their stories inspired the book completely.

And in TRICKS, all three of the female main characters' stories came from readers, who shared their heart-wrenching personal histories with me. And Seth (the character, not his story) probably resembles my oldest son, who is gay.

I find it fascinating, as a writer, to consider that no matter what I write that's "fiction" there's an element of my own personal truth to it - otherwise I don't know that I could make it sing. Make the characters feel real. Make readers care.

What about you? Is there a personal connection that you have to the fiction YOU write?

And for those of us in the U.S.A., Happy Thanksgiving!



Pat Schmatz said...

As my former teacher Jane Resh Thomas, always says, I write behind my own back. Generally I start a story off thinking I'm writing about one thing, but secretly, my unconscious is writing about something else. After multiple drafts, I end up with two layers of story - the conscious and the unconscious - and I've written a book I need to read. It's a very fun mind-trick, every single time.

ivanova said...

I love this post! It gave me a lot to think about.

Sally Bibrary said...

Great article. I think every author, regardless of who they are or what they write, puts something of themselves in their work. It may be subtle or even unintentional, but we are the sum of our experiences, and we can't simply push them aside, even if it makes the writing easier.

While "The Less-Dead" sounds like an interesting read on its own, knowing the background has just pushed it a bit higher on my to-read list.

Karol Ruth Silverstein said...

Great post, Lee! And, well, you know CURSED is very much all about me...