What if you walk right beside your best friend through her personal trial? You see and feel her every moment? Due to the tragedy, your senses and observations are heightened. And so you remember. Years later you still remember: the looks passed, the words thrown, the tensions snapped, while now you have the benefit of time. With distance you can see the truths, the value, even the good inside the horrific difficulty. The question is: do you write about it?
All of my contemporary fiction has sprung from my own life experience. But it’s different when a writer is processing her own life. You give yourself permission to share your secrets, once you’ve grappled with all that means. You’ve counted the costs of transparency and know it’s worth writing to connect with another. I’ve found even my family has been incredibly generous and tolerant to let me tell our story for the good of a story. As if the veneer of fiction can hide them individually, they applaud while I’ve shared about their breast cancer (Loose Threads) or divorce (Hold Me Tight).
But back to the question. What if it’s your friend’s story? When my daughter’s best friend was struck in a crosswalk in 2004, I walked beside her mother, my best friend, through the nightmare. Witnessing moment after moment, the trial seared into my own brain. It took only a few years before my mind began to piece together a novel about this horrific incident. I felt burdened to tell the story, but was it mine to tell? Could I divulge intimate details about friends, an accident, brain surgery, and the layers of pain?
So I approached my friend, her entire family, with the idea. Would they be comfortable with a book written about their experience? The yes came amazingly quickly, even though I would be calling for them to remember, to relive this horror as I would reference them for minute details. They assured me I could keep their names, use their names. Of course it takes years for publication, so the final work seemed incredibly far off, if the piece ever even sold. We had space, time, before they might feel truly vulnerable.
But time passed, and the novel, Hit, sold. As quickly as I could, I shared the ARC with the family. There would be a chance for changes, while the book was fully formed for them to read and grapple with as a whole. Unnecessary scenes were stripped from earlier manuscripts, and the plot stood with clarity. Not only the plot, but my friend and her family’s idiosyncrasies, which made my characters real and round. Thankfully, with the privacy of a read before publication, and a length of time to digest what I was revealing, they were all reasonably comfortable. The greatest boon was the tag of â€œfictionâ€; because of it, they were able to give their nod of consent.
â€œIt’s a work of fiction,â€ my girlfriend reasoned. Over and over. â€œIt’s me, but it’s you. It’s strange to read but good. Really good.â€
â€œAll the foibles and weaknesses are really me,â€ I assured her. â€œIn every character. It’s me living through you and your family. I’ve only snatched your bodies.â€ At that, we laughed together.
Ten years from my friend’s life changing trial, Hit releases. Today, I have a new work of fiction, inspired by a true story, and a very good, gracious friend at my side, cheering for its release. I hope the earlier trial and suffering will now be a sweet balm to another.
While researching for the release, I did bump against #redthumbreminder. Steve Babcock’s simple, yet innovative solution to text safety is awesome. Embraced across the country, men and women are painting one thumbnail red to remind themselves not to text while driving. It worked for Steve, and he was able to break the habit. It can certainly work for you and me. If even only one person is pointed to the effort and stops texting while driving, stops reading texts while driving, stops handling their phone behind the wheel, sharing Hit will all be worth it. For both me and my bestie.
-Lorie Ann Grover