Thursday, 5 May 2011

How do you feel about writing content that might cause conflict within your family?

Clarissa Draper wrote an amazing review of my poetry collection Twisted Velvet Chains. And it poses a very interesting question that I'd like to discuss today. How do you feel about writing content that might cause conflict within your family?

Clarissa, in her review, said, "It's honest. Brutally honest. There were a few occasions I asked, 'Would Jessica's family read this?' or 'Should I read this?' or 'Should I know this?' But, I realized the answer is yes. For the same reason I write fiction based on real life. For the same reason parts of me go into my books. For the same reason writers tell stories."

I'd like to say I didn't think twice about writing this book, but I have to be honest here. I was SO scared to publish this book. Not because it reveals a few truths about me and my mother, but because the poems are very embellished, and I was worried (am still worried) that the people who know both me and my mother and our history are going to think that the way I depict our relationship is REAL. Well, it's not real. The poems may have been inspired by real events and triggered by real memories, but the fact of the matter remains, that after working at these poems, and making them the best they can be, they no longer represent my mother and me.

However, despite this, I'm still scared. Because when my mother reads these poems, she is going to recognize a few elements about her past. And she is going to be thinking, "Oh my God, Jessica, is this how you think of me? Like a monster?" No. I DO NOT THINK OF HER AS A MONSTER. But will she forgive me? Will she be worried that everyone is going to think it's her in this book? Is she going to be afraid to give it to people to read? These possibilities break my heart because that was not my intention at all. These poems may be dark and twisted, but they are also art. Art that I'm proud to say I created. And I'm proud to show it to the world. I hope that my mother can understand this and be proud of me too.

My mother is alive and healthy and we both have a wonderful relationship. I just have a dark mind and vivid imagination. Mum, you are a beautful, kind-hearted woman, who I love with all my heart. I do not blame you for anything. I know you suffered more than me. I love you. And I always will.

(PS: If you like to read poetry, you can now purchase a copy HERE or HERE. It will also be available through all fine bookstores in about six weeks.)



32 comments:

  1. That's a tough question. If it gave away any kind of information about other people and their past I'd talk to them before trying to publish. I've stayed away from certain subjects to protect my family. But each family is different and each writer has to make that decision for themselves esp when fiction is no longer truth.

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  2. I hope she's okay with it. At some point before my chapbook comes out I'm going to need to show my mother my "perm" poem. I doubt she'll be happy about it, more like completely mad.

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  3. As a poetry writer I have in the past written things that have involved my family which was published in a book.
    I write poetry on my life's expereiences well that includes my family. I don't write things that are not true, Why only last Saturday I wrote on on line entitled"It Keeps Hurting" which I am afraid the content is so very true.

    Good luck with your book.

    Yvonne.

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  4. Don't think I could ever write about real people. Besides, my past was really happy and stable. Boring!

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  5. Hi, Jessica,
    I am called Blabbin' Grammy for a reason. ha ha. but I try never to write anything that would be hurtful to my family or anyone else. Also, I check with them about any thing they would not want told. When I write fictional stories in my blog, it is based on things that have happened but one has to write what one knows in order to make it believable. Oops, I just realized I'm rambling. Ruby

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  6. I think that's what threw me a bit. I have heard you speak about your mother on this blog and I know that you love her so when I read the book I wondered: Is this how she WAS? Have they reconciled?

    In one of the books I wrote, I described the relationship between my MC and her sisters as... well, not good. I was so afraid when my sister read the book that she would think I was talking about her and the MC was me.

    But I think that while it's true that parts of the writer go into the work, RARELY will the author bring out actual situations or relationships. (Unless they are writing a memoir or don't care about reprisals.)

    Great post.

    Everyone, I loved this woman's poems! Buy the book!

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  7. My family is a conflict so writing about it only makes sense.
    Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

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  8. In my memoir my mother wasn't thrilled as to how she was portrayed...but she couldn't argue the truth! (And she isn't portrayed badly...)

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  9. I think I'd rather have my mother (if she were alive) read my writing, than my grown daughters. Seems there are some feelings a mom doesn't need to impose on her children. I'll just impose them on my readers.

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  10. Poems may have a root in biography, but are not autobiography. Poems are poems and are nothing more than a literary work. There was a poet in the U.S. who was going through a custody battle for her children, and the lawyers for the other side used her dark poems to show that she would be a bad mother. She had other well known poets give testimony at the hearing stating that even though some of her poetry was dark and sexual in nature, they were not to be viewed as being autobiographical. They were art, and as such were subject to the imagination. I have read these poems, and approached them for what they were: poems. They are good poems, for that matter, and you should stand behind the work.

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  11. Jess,

    You are one of the bravest people I know. I'm so proud of you for laying it all out there. I wish I had that courage. As with all families, there are demons in our past that I would like to write about, but I know that it would tear my family apart and I couldn't do that.

    You're my hero. <3

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  12. GREAT topic. There are "issues" in my immediate family that "aren't discussed," which I ultimately deal with in several of my books. There are times I've wanted to explore how ignoring certain things affects everyone. I haven't done that yet. I don't know if I ever will, but JRM likes to say my writing will only improve as people die. Hello!

    In other news, your mom's a creative type. I bet she knows how the creative process works. But I do hear ya about worrying others might misinterpret, and now that I'm a mom, I would worry that even if she does "understand," there might be a part of her that doesn't...

    That's how I roll. Isn't it awful? I can't wait to read this one~ <3

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  13. I'm starting to write some things down about my childhood. In them, my mom will inevitably be portrayed as neurotic and unstable, but God love her, that's pretty accurate of the times I will be describing. I won't ask her to read it.

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  14. This is always a tough question. In a case like yours, I think as long as you've talked to your mother about the collection and SHE knows it's embellished and you don't see her as a monster, that's what really matters. That you've explained it all to her, and that she understands. I know your mom is an artist too, and I'm sure she understands.

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  15. Oh, Jess, this is a hard one. I actually waited till both my parents were gone before I published my memoir for this very reason. Only I didn't embellish anything - I wrote as I remembered things. I think the important thing is to not come across as if we are blaming anyone else for our "stuff." I tried hard not to do that. DOn't know if I succeeded. Hope your mum understands your "art."
    Karen

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  16. One of things that is challenging about this for me is that my memories of my childhood are not fair. I remember the bad more than the good, because bad has a way of sticking around and coming up, where good is safely locked away and doesn't bother me. Also, my perceptions of things that happened as a child were MY perceptions, and not necessarily what actually happened or what was the intended motivation. I remember spending much of my childhood convinced I got the raw end of the deal in comparison with my siblings, so I remember memories more vividly that reflect that belief ("How come everyone else already has presents under the tree?"). So I hesitate to write from my perspective as a kid, because it is so subjective. My mom was an incredibly loving mother, so what first comes to mind is not the 95% of the time she was fantastic, but the 5% of the time she seemed harsh or wasn't emotionally available to me when I wanted her to be. I would have to write about it from an holistic perspective and work hard to pull all the positive in instead of focusing on the negative in order to present a complete picture of my family growing up. Negative is actually super easy for me to write about; positive takes work.

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  17. Such a great question. I think writers really put themselves out there, and those fictions with a hint of truth can be taken as gospel. When I grumble and complain on my blog, it is OUT THERE...

    I have a family story I will tell one day. it is my grandpa's story, so i only know the skeleton of it. I will have to make up the rest. But it is a story I don't plan to publish until both of my aunts are gone because until then, I don't feel like it's my right to put that story out there--it's THEIR story, too, for one, and my perception may make them uncomfortable, and I don't want that. But then THAT is a full, long, lifetime, that only overlaps with my own lifetime a little (well, nearly 40 years, but that is less than half of HIS life, and part of mine, I wasn't there much). It's important to me to write it, but not until there is no one to hurt.

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  18. What a powerful question, Jessica. I hope your mom understands. Writers are good at taking what's real and building from there, often into something new. I've heard WONDERFUL things about your book and look forward to reading it myself.

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  19. I'm sort of in the same spot though my story is more fictionalized. It's tough but you have to write what's in your heart.

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  20. I think the truth always resonates with people. Only the author can know and decide if writing based on reality is right for them.

    Congratulations on your release!

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  21. This is a tough topic, Jessica, and one you address with your usual frank and refreshing honesty. I struggle with it myself, and I admire your courage and willingness to share yourself so freely with us. We all appreciate it.

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  22. It may no longer be your truth, but it will still be someones (probably many someones). And that's important.

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  24. It's definitely a tough situation. Some writers just write whatever, damn the consequences. They seem to live by this bit from Tennyson:

    Rip your brothers' vices open, strip your own foul passions bare;
    Down with Reticence, down with Reverence - forward - naked - let them stare.


    But you aren't like that. You're taking everyone's feelings into consideration. And the fact that the poems might hurt your mother's feelings does trouble you, and that you're seeking understanding, says even more about you and your relationship with your mother than the poems themselves.

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  25. I once wrote a piece that included an experience with a friend, and although I never would have imagined that what I had written would have upset her, it did.

    It's a tough one. You are brave. I am looking forward to reading your poems.

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  26. This is a fantastic question, and it has to be different in every family. I don't think I could bring myself to write something that would be an obvious portrayal of one of my family members, but that's just me and how I relate to my family. HOWEVER, I have writeen and will write things that members of my family don't approve of, and I admit, I do get nervous about that because their opinion matters a lot to me. Fortunately, my agent has been totally supportive as I angst about this stuff, and I'll deal with the rest when the time comes! Fantastic post!

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  27. You can never get away from yourself so it's bound to to show at least a little in your work.
    I'm sure that anyone who see how proud your mom is would no longer think anything negative about the relationship.

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  28. Poetry is art that draws from life. It's highly emotional and not literal in many cases. I can see why you would be afraid that your mother might be upset, but the truth is that this is art. Art is a representation of emotion. It doesn't have to make sense to anyone but the artist. I was recently working on my photography final and my own mother insisted on knowing WHAT it was that I have photographed rather than looking at the photo for what it was and nothing else. It can be frustrating to be misunderstood as an artist.

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  29. Keep speaking and writing your truth. As long as you and your mom have an understanding of what you've written and how it evolved, what others think is just wind. Refer them to this post, or a statement to this, and that's all you can do.
    Congrats on the book!

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  30. When we write about our families, it's hard to know how our words will be interpreted. I think you're brave for publishing it.

    My relationship with my mother is very complicated, to say the least. I've only eluded to it a few times on my blog. As much as I share about myself, there's much I keep private.

    By the way, Amazon US has 100 Stories for Queensland in paperback. I wrote post about it:

    http://theresamilstein.blogspot.com/2011/05/breaking-news.html

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  31. Great post! I just got to this. I must say I've had similar feelings about things I put out there, but I've slowly learned that I have no control over how people react to my writing, and the only thing I can do is remain honest and true to myself. If I don't, I will always regret it. I applaud you for your bravery in putting your book out there. :)

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  32. I had the same misgivings in discussing family and friends in my book, Leaving the Hall Light On. And mine is a memoir - not fiction. I changed a lot of names and the person I was hardest on, my mother, isn't alive. Now that the book is out, I worry if there will be any repercussions from my son's girlfriend, who I write about at length in the book (name changed of course).
    So this is a good subject to delve into, Jessica. I think we authors think about it alot.
    Madeline

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“I'm using my art to comment on what I see. You don't have to agree with it.” ~John Mellencamp

“Allowing an unimportant mistake to pass without comment is a wonderful social grace” ~Judith S. Marin

“I don't ever try to make a serious social comment.” ~Paul McCartney

“I'd make a comment at a meeting and nobody would even acknowledge me. Then some man would say the same thing and they'd all nod.” ~Charlotte Bunch

“Probably what my comment meant was that I don't care about the circumstances if I can tell the truth.” ~Sally Kirkland

“We're not going to pay attention to the silliness and the petty comments. And quite frankly, women have joined me in this effort, and so it's not about appearances. It's about effectiveness.” ~Katherine Harris