Until Fiction Do Us Apart

From Publishers Weekly:

Most novelists will tell you it’s okay—even encouraged—to mine your darkest thoughts and bring them to light in your fiction. But what about the dark thoughts that involve the people you love most? And is it better or worse if you do it with humor?

I’m not particularly proud of the moment that sparked the idea for my eighth novel, Take My Husband. It was in the thick of the pandemic, and I was living under the same roof with my beloved and three 20-something children. For someone with an almost pathological need for alone time, it was rough going.

But my messy little office with its desktop computer, two printers, overloaded bookshelves, piles of pages, and compact coffee pot was my haven. To keep from being disturbed while writing, I put a polite sign on the door that read “Please Knock.” When that didn’t work, I added a second sign—this one in bold purple—that simply read “Knock.” When that proved inadequate, I got testy enough to make a third sign reading “Knock Means Knock.”

It worked. Sort of. I was toiling away on a new project—deep in the zone of intense concentration as I tried to untangle a beast of a paragraph—when my husband knocked once, swung the door open, and announced something about a new shipment of toilet paper at Stop & Shop.

That was the moment it happened. My muse barged into the room right behind my husband—without knocking or even clearing its throat—to deliver the idea to write a book about a happily married woman who wants to throttle the man to whom she had pledged her undying love.

No, I thought. Absolutely not. It’s too… mean. But it’s a comedy, insisted my muse. Still, I resisted, as it felt dangerously close to ridicule, which has never amused me, either as giver or receiver. In fact, throughout my long marriage to a very funny man, our teasing has always been of the gentlest sort.

Take, for example, the quip he made years ago when our youngest was reading aloud from one of those corny joke books they publish for children.

“What do you call a woman with a big head?” she had asked.

“Honey,” my husband responded.

I’m still laughing at this joke. And yes, I understand you had to be there. If you were, you’d know I have an unusually enormous head, while my high-IQ husband has a child-size skull. It’s been a kind of running joke between us over the decades of our marriage. The fat-headed girl meets the pin-headed boy, they fall in love, marry, and have three normal-headed children who like bad puns.

Now, I know deconstructing a joke is a comedy crime even more egregious than withholding a punch line, so I’ll just say this: my husband could have responded “Ellen” and it would have been funny. His term of endearment was a better choice, though, thanks to the built-in domesticity. Also—and this is important—it wrapped the tease in tenderness. My husband, bless his heart, would never want to hurt my feelings.

I would never want to hurt his, either. So this book idea was not for me. Still, my muse nagged, and I knew why. There was truth in it, and as a novelist, it was my job to hold that truth up to the light.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

1 thought on “Until Fiction Do Us Apart”

  1. You can’t write what you can’t see.

    Taking real life experience, situations, and using them to “illuminate” a Story is useful. You don’t waste the insight by being specific about what happened to “you”, that always comes across as “false”.

    That’s the old problem of people saying that some part of the story seems “false” yet you know that it actually happened. The reason it seems “false” is because you had to leave out the actual context.

    – Using what actually happened as an “insight” for Story works.

    She changed things up so as not to offend her husband, but in reality she needed a situation that fit her reaction.

    If she’s paying attention, she can use that real event in many books, with different situations, adding verisimilitude to the Story.

    BTW, I have lived that “experience” and will use it as a running Theme in many books. It is too useful to waste.

    Thanks for reminding me.

    Then there is Julia Cameron. In every one of her books on writing she says, “If you didn’t want to be a character in one of my books, then you should have been nicer.”

Comments are closed.