Ever sit around your family reunion and eye everyone deciding what secondary character they might be in your next novel? Families are breeding grounds for material. A couple of years ago, I received some great advice at a writing group. Write your family novel the one where you were the overlooked child, or bullied by your siblings, or your father was absent due to divorce, death, or neglect. Get that novel out of your system, then, let it go. Most people do not want to hear about your family unless your mother was Bette Davis.
Your family book may never get published, which is just as well. You might end up being unwelcome at the next reunion. My sister is writing a family tell-all book she deems non-fiction. In this charming tale, my name is terminator because of a cat I once threw in the pond. I was testing my theory if cats had nine lives. Hey, I was only four.
My oldest sister is portrayed as a sadistic bully, who does her best to kill the author, my middle sister. My father comes off as a good-looking womanizer. My mother is more like Charlie Brown’s teachers in these tales off to the side, but not interfering too much. Did we find out about this story by picking up the book in a bookstore? Not hardly, my sister treats me to an update every week of what she’s written. The truth is most of us do not remember these tales. We aren’t that thrilled to be portrayed as human or animal bullies. Something similar must have birthed the libel laws.
At our latest reunion, I brought my copy of Ladies Home Journal, where my picture and short article appeared. Suddenly, I was a writer. I have had over 60 articles published in various magazines, appeared in about a dozen anthologies, and published nine books with Secret Cravings. Yet, none of that counted because It wasn’t part of their world.
On the other hand, I could be published in The New Yorker, and none of them would blink an eye. Often it is hard being a writer around your family. My relatives congratulate me on my retirement, believing that I am catching up on my television viewing. They are unaware that writers do not get weekends off, especially if they are in rewrites or edits.
Do any of you suffer similar challenges explaining writing to family members?