Although I was married for many years, I’m not sure my mother ever believed I actually had sex. In fact, I had to wait until after she died to write bedroom scenes. Which brings me to a truth about fiction authors: we often grapple with subjects that are usually kept secret.
A novelist has to be capable of diving deep within her characters if they are to be more than stick figures. This means telling it like it is. Maybe the protagonist is a nymphomaniac. Maybe she is a terrorist. Maybe he has incredibly bad flossing habits.
Of course, some unknown buttinsky came along and perpetrated the belief that you should only write what you know. Consequently, a certain amount of readers think if you write it, you’ve also done it. You’ve committed a murder or burgled a bank or omitted shaving your legs. This is nonsense: just because the character carries out a startling act doesn’t mean the author has done the same.
Nonetheless, it is true that a fiction writer needs to tackle the tough stuff. Some can do it through keeping a journal or writing a diary where they reveal their deepest and darkest. I learned to do it by blogging. Dozens of people were reading my words, and I had to make those words worth sharing if I wanted them to matter to anyone, most especially myself.
So I blogged about sex. And fear of fatness. And being a widow. And bankruptcy. And cancer. Personal stuff like that. I got better at it with practice. Writing about things that hurt became a way to heal the wounds.
Then the epiphany happened. If I could do it for myself, surely I could make up characters who could do it for others! I’d learned to let loose and share my feelings all the way to the bottom of the well. It was time to create fictional protagonists who could help real readers through the murky days of their own journeys.
It has taken time to develop the ability not to flinch. But over the years, I have written scenes about the desolation of missing persons, the fury of rape, terror of abuse, grief of a nursing home, rejection by your family. All my novels are about keeping hope through dark times, and doing it with a certain amount of humor intact.
Along the way, I have learned something from my fiction that has been rather startling in my real life: letting go feels great!
We all keep too many secrets, I think, weighing ourselves down with needless baggage, being dishonest with ourselves. Turns out candor is not such a bad thing. Imagine learning such a life lesson from writing stories that aren’t even true!
Linda B. Myers is a founding member of Olympic Peninsula Authors and author of the new historical novel “Fog Coast Runaway,” available on Amazon.com, at linda bmyers.com or at local retailers. Contact her at myers firstname.lastname@example.org.