A Writers’s Life:Its Impact on the Story

“It’s funny. When it comes to memoir, we want to catch the author in a lie. When we read fiction, we want to catch the author telling the truth.” ─ Tayari Jones

MacCullough’s Women is a story about a young woman whose husband dies suddenly the week before Christmas. I suppose it is only natural that because I was once a young woman whose husband died suddenly the week before Christmas, I am asked if this is my story. The short answer is no, it is not. But I think the longer answer is more complicated and inherent to the heart of writing fiction. Last month I listened as Tayari Jones answered this same question about her novel Silver Sparrow in an interview with Michele Norris on NPR.

Writers use their own experiences to inform their fiction. What this means is that while the characters and the story are fiction, the experience that the writer adds lends the story its sense of authenticity. Being plunged into the world of young widowhood opened my eyes to the fact that for all of us existing in that gray half-life; it came down to one question: “How well did I really know my husband?”  What I learned from the conversations that I had with many women at formal support group meetings in church basements and informally in friends’ living rooms was that the answers and the stories behind the answers were as different as the women asking the question. In MacCullough’s Women, I try to answer to that question for Franny.  I set the story the week before Christmas because my own experience informed me as to how cruel the juxtaposition of a beloved’s death and the glitter surrounding the Christmas season is.

Amy Hatvany’s novel, Best Kept Secret is the story of a divorced mother who loses custody of her young son because she drinks. This is not a light read and for any mother who has ever gotten drunk or, less threateningly, “tipsy” in front of her children it will be thought-provoking and perhaps disturbing. Best Kept Secret is a beautifully written novel notable for its raw courage and ultimate sense of hope. The characters and the plot are fiction but the story is informed by the fact that Amy Hatvany is a recovering alcoholic.  I highly recommend that you read it.