This is the question I receive most often when visiting with book clubs and readers. Haven’t you noticed how books or movies “based on a true story” seem to hold so much appeal? People really want to know what “really happened.” Well, I try not to disappoint. The answer is that EDEN was inspired by events in my life and the lives of women I have known and loved. The key word being inspired, with one small exception, the characters in EDEN are not representative of any real people. (That small exception being Mary Thaw, the Pittsburgh coal fortune heiress who owned the Italianate villa on the hill and harbored residents during the 1938 hurricane.)
I recently attended a breakfast with writer Steve Almond. It was a gathering of several authors and we got onto the topic of “writing what you know.” I asked Steve to help me reconcile that advice with what I had also been told at the Iceland Writer’s Retreat last April, that inexperienced writers are present in their work, whereas evolved writers are invisible in their writing, creating characters who differ greatly from them as human beings. I’m still in the “write what you know” camp. I describe EDEN as a collage of experiences, a sort of cubist painting or kaleidoscope of what I’ve witnessed, all the while an exploration of themes that are best achieved in fiction.
I am in EDEN. I am that ten-year-old girl who counted out the months between her parents’ wedding date and her birth. But that doesn’t mean I’m Sarah. I invested my characters with my own emotional memory. I fictionalized and expanded on other circumstances in my family, other unplanned pregnancies to be specific, but the key word is fictionalized. If the book reads with a ring of truth, it is because I tried to capture the emotional aftermath I witnessed, while never having really known exactly how things came to be.
My second novel, The Nine, (August 2019, She Write Press) has a main character with whom I can closely relate. She is the hyper vigilant mother of a teenage boy. I can already foresee the connection readers are going to make, but I am not her!! Hannah is much more surprising than I could ever be! It is true that I was inspired to write The Nine after my family went through some traumatizing events. The process of writing helped me let go of my personal situation and see what happened as something universal: the mother-son bond (a topic that has been written about for eons), and trust, and betrayal. These are themes I want to explore while developing my plot around a compelling boarding school setting. As I wrote draft after draft and revised my work, the characters developed lives of their own. Again, their reactions and emotions are ones I have invested them with. So at the core of who these people are, there is something of me, my worldview, my heart. I am a fifty-two year old woman with a wealth of experience, and that is the well from which I source everything. So the answer is yes, of course, it is all autobiographical. I scratch my head at any writer who says otherwise.