Monday, October 19, 2015

The Problem With #Family: A #Literary Dilemma

So, I've written three drafts of my next book based on this essay, but I hated the way it sounded (too whiny), so I started over entirely. Blank page. And now I am on page 234 of the new and improved version, which is from a much deeper point of view, much more internal. I am getting ready to head into the second half of the book, which deals with disinheritance. I have to say I'm a little overwhelmed at the idea of delving a new into such a hairy topic, but here I go anyway. What makes things all a bit unfun is the fact that my family wants me to stop writing about the topic. I think they wish I would shut the F*** up, or fall off the planet, but I have to write this book. I have to figure out what exactly happened to me and why. I've even found a decent literary method for never mentioning any of them by name: I write about my brothers as The Three. How about that for clever? But, whatever. They don't get it, and never will.
     If they had the capacity to understand, I probably never would have been disinherited (by surprise) in the first place. Someone would have warned me. Anyway, they are all seemingly insulted by the essay, which I think is fairly gentle, to tell you the truth, and not even technically about them. There's barely a mention of them, but everybody has a right to his or her own opinion. Mostly, I've heard from them on the fact that they think we didn't have THAT many guns in the house when we were young. (!) (!!) (Huh?!) (What are you loons talking about?!) We had plenty of guns, believe me, more than I ever hope to see again in one place.
     And you know what else is freaking weird? The members of my entire family have all managed to act like the novel I wrote and finally published did not ever exist. No one has said a word about it to me or to anyone else. They must not ever run into anyone from the old home time: like, the English teachers who have written me notes, or my classmates, or my childhood sweetheart's encouraging family who posted a picture of them holding my book in the local Barnes & Nobles. My family must not go to the dentist either, because it was right there in People Magazine next to Stephen King and Annie Lamott. (My novel did exist. It did exist. I know it existed.) Ah, forgive my crazy: I grew up in a family without mirrors. No one ever reflected anything back at me that seemed even remotely recognizable. Maybe that's why they don't recognize my written version of them. Maybe I am actually in the same bind as The Three; we are blind to one another. I wish we could join together to work our way out, but that is just another fantasy I sometimes have on a Monday afternoon when I am feeling a little blue.
     Sometimes all this is a bit of a head trip, as you can see, but I know I am not the only writer who has ever dealt with the literary dilemma of having a family. Anyone want to share some wise advice, or links on the issue, or general thoughts, encouragements, criticism? I guess I'm feeling a little lonely in all this. Hoping there are still some mice out there to respond.


Heynonnynomous said...

Would if I could, but I'm an only child and an orphan.
I can tell you one thing, though: It is freeing not to have to worry about what they think, the dead. [Is that insensitive given that your dead father disinherited you, hence the topic of your book? No offense intended]. Anyway, I don't know how people (with living parents and siblings) do it!

Anon. E. Mouse said...

Gah! Fugg 'em and write what you want. If they sue you, it means more money and publicity from your book. Sorry you got dealt a hand of asses. That sucks. But you're a good writer, so that's your consolation.

Anonymous said...

BUT MORE IMPORTANTLY: "This is my story," Augusten Burroughs said. "It's not my mother's story and it's not the family's story, and they may remember things differently and they may choose to not remember certain things, but I will never forget what happened to me, ever, and I have the scars from it and I wanted to rip those scars off of me." See:

Jacob Weber said...

Even if you weren't trying to tell your story, involving your literal family, you'd probably always find family to be somewhat of an impediment to your creative freedom. Let's say you were the sort of person who talked to her mother four times a week and went home for holidays. Would you feel free to put a graphic, violent sex scene in your book if you felt that's what was called for? To put a terrible mother in, even if it wasn't in any way your mother? There are a million ways we can feel pushed by our families to censor ourselves, even if they've never said a word. I've written a few stories involving men ruined by female relationships. They aren't about my wife, but she still gets upset when she reads them.

Whether you want your family's feelings to matter is up to you. I think if you want to write something that is true, you have to put them away from you when you sit down to write. Writing a memoir is, of course, different from fiction, in that you're saying that this is at least a little bit true and about real people. But I don't think it changes the critical contract, which is between you and reader, not you and the people in the book. Your only responsibility to the characters in the book is to do your utmost to get them right.