Monday, May 27, 2013

Novel as Unintentional Autobiography

I finished a rewrite of my first novel a few days ago (look out publishing world--submissions coming your way!).  Reading it again, I realized again how much of myself can be in a piece of writing even when I don't know that I am writing about myself.

I already knew that the germ of this particular novel came from my own life. When my littlest child was still just a baby, I took her grocery shopping. I had parked near the cart corral, so I placed her in her car seat and walked the few feet to put the cart away.  On the way back to the car, I had this sort of day-mare in which I got hit by a car and she was left in the car alone. That was the starting thought that became His Other Mother.

I gave Sherry, my main character a few things that came from me. She's female, not too much younger than me. I made her a middle school teacher. I gave her a love of baking and the use of it as a stress reliever. Those are all me. But other than that, I'm not much like Sherry.

Still, as I wrote the first draft, I realized at some point that some of the relationship dynamics between Sherry and her husband, Kirk, were similar to those between me and my first husband. Apparently, I had some things to work out and understand about how that relationship had gone. (It ended better for me than it did for Sherry and Kirk).

Sherry wasn't necessarily mentally ill when I started writing the novel, but along the way, it became clear that she was schizophrenic.   There are some people in my life that live with schizophrenia.  Apparently, I had some things to work out and understand about that, too. Even Sherry and Kirk's fertility struggles echo somewhat the struggles of some people who are close to me.

As I wrote the second draft, I found some of my ambivalence about organized religion and medical practice coming to the surface.  Apparently, my issues with doctors run deep--they're coming out in the second novel, too. 

I haven't decided what all this means. In the moment of writing, autobiography is about the furthest thing from my mind. I've never set out to tell my own life story, and Sherry's story is definitely not my own in that sense.  My own life, thankfully, lacks the kind of conflict that makes a good novel. But it was surprising and a little disconcerting to find all this personal truth in my fiction.

It has made me regard the novels I am reading a little differently as well. What issues is the author working through in these pages? Does my enjoyment of the book reflect my own issues?  How many novels could really be called "An Autobiography of my Subconscious"? Apparently, mine can.

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