Yesterday I was the guest blogger on Rachel Thompson's blog Rachel in the OC, Feel, Think, Share. Rachel has been a leading voice in dealing with sexual abuse and rape. Her book Broken Pieces has won numerous awards for its poignant, heart-breaking beauty about her own struggle with past sexual abuse. I can only read little bits of it at a time because it tears at my own heart.
I chose to write about how a past trauma of my own—one that I was thoroughly convinced I had dealt with—showed up when I was writing my novella The Monday Night Needlework & Murder Guild and how it startled me that I could, after four decades, feel so much emotion while writing it. The only other time I felt that level of emotional intensity while writing was when I wrote The Confession of Genny Franck in The Whiskey Bottle in the Wall. That story was based on the real-life experience of an elderly family member of mine who is long gone but I have never forgotten the pain she went through when she told me about it.
Both as a writer and as a reader I do not like a lot of gratuitous misery in stories. I've ranted before about the “miz-lit” genre and have wondered about the appeal of reading about someone's horrific experiences. But writing the two stories I just mentioned taught me something—writing truthfully about pain is important. It needs to be done. The trick is to walk that balance between sharing with empathy and inviting voyeurism. That is not easy.
There is this tricky little game that sometimes gets played when people share their hard things. It seems there are always a few people who lap up the details and then say, effectively, “Wow, that's terrible. I'm sure glad I never had to go through that.” That dynamic has always interested me because I find something a little creepy in it—it is like the person doing it finds comfort and reassurance in another person's pain that they are a little bit superior for having avoided a similar situation. A cross between voyeurism and egotism that intrigues me—I always wonder what it covers.
As I said in my post for Rachel, I firmly believe that fiction's greatest gift is that it can tell the truth unencumbered by the facts. I have written about domestic violence, incest, child exploitation, sexual abuse, rape, and abortion. Tough subjects. But I write about them as fiction because it is my belief that readers can relate to the character more strongly than to the author. The characters become the object of emotion—the author steps aside. I think this is a good thing. I think it is important to let others explore their own experience without feeling they need to respond to yours.
Writing for Rachel's blog was a powerful experience for me. Telling how Cece McGill (the main character in The Monday Night Needlework and Murder Guild) came to be a murderer gave me insight into why I write. I write to share. I write to give hope and comfort. And I write not to kill anyone—except on the page.
Thanks for reading.