Typically a fiction writer, I took on writing an early childhood memoir. For those who write in this genre, you know all the many challenges. I thought I’d escape a few, since it’s been long enough and enough people have died to make it a safer prospect. I hadn’t anticipated just how many difficulties come with writing the truth about a life, even when the likelihood of being sued is minimal.
First, I wrote about evil people who are dead. A drunken pedophile raised me from the time I was about 4 years old and his stay at home wife enabled him, even helped groom me. I suffered this man’s daily sexual abuse my entire childhood until he kicked me out of the house right when I turned 18 for getting a boyfriend and becoming sexually active. I’ve long since forgiven these people. Yet, here I was portraying their evil acts. (Because I forgave doesn’t mean I soften labels for them and their actions, particularly since they abused other girls, too). I felt wrong about this. I still feel a sense of guilt. Readers are not going to like these two.
I had to work through it, and did, coming to the conclusion that I have a responsibility to others who lived through similar events. Not too many of us can truthfully tell our stories without again being victimized. It’s a risk, for me, too, but one I’m willing to take on. I’d been reading about the statistics on foster girls like me, and they’re grim. I’m in a very small percentage of those who graduated college and are healthy. I haven’t been without tremendous difficulties in life, but I’ve overcome enough to be solid enough to write about what happened and see about the possibility of offering what I might to alleviate suffering for others. That’s my intention.
Next, and to that end, I was faced with how much of the abuse to include in the book, how grim in tone overall, and how to write about it to reach those I want to reach. My hope is to have created a memoir that high school aged girls can read and will want to read–though it’s for anyone who had it rough in their childhood years. I was a high school teacher; that experience was instrumental. I know what troubles arise in the classroom when reading sensitive subject matter, how parents might object, administrators, too–not that my book is meant to be read in a classroom setting. But having some understanding of teenage development and parental reactions was a plus in the writing process.
I had questions about how to portray my foster mom and dad beyond what they did to me. Was it necessary to show a complete or complex view? That one question kept the writing process going along at a slow pace. I kept coming back to the unfairness in not showing other sides of them. Ultimately, the book became one that highlighted my own growth and ability to get through it, less about what kind of human beings they happened to be, not to slight them, but in interest of a relatable story.
I settled on subtlety. The book is nearly complete. And I can’t wait to go back to writing fiction. Although, I’m hoping my book opens a dialogue for some (or continues an existing one), with me, because we live in time when it’s becoming acceptable to discuss these things. I’m so thrilled about that. It means potential for healing. It’s awful to go through life thinking you’re alone, the only one at the water cooler who can’t share his or her stories. And if I’m going to toss my story into a discussion, I know I need to be present and take part in it.
In case you’re reading this and wonder, the story is entitled “You are Priceless.” It’ll be available in June. I’m back here on my blog after scrubbing it clean of old posts precisely for the purpose of having a forum for discussion on the book. I also just miss having fun on a blog.
Have a beautiful day,